... ... ... Seven years in an unassuming narrowboat on the waters of the "longest, friendliest village in England"  

Dartford Departure
Dartford to Bow - Stage One Pentargon Springer spent ten weeks in Dartford Creek during the Summer of 2015. Mid-October it was time to move on or at least plan it. Tide tables were consulted as the boat was parked on top of a mudbank and could only be floated off at a Tilbury high of OVER 6.3m. Such tides are always Springs; that's how The River works and such tides only happen twice a month and then only if you are lucky. The original intent was to leave on exceptional highs expected at the end of October and, by careful timing, attempt a continuous passage from Kent to Brentford Thameslock in one swoop. To the knowledge of this scribe, such a feat has never been attempted or achieved and certainly not in modern times and would require Pentargon to be on the River, ready to go at slack water at dawn aiming at a Brentford High about 1500hrs thus giving a total elapsed time of 8hrs. We had no previous figures to go by but from previous passages between Bow Creek and Dartford Creek gauged that from the Mardyke outlet opposite the Darent Flood Relief Barrier to Bugsby's reach should take about 3hrs at which time the tide would be racing up Greenwich Reach at over 5kts. In the event, this plan was scuppered on Thu.Oct15. when Pogue Muhone got wind of a word that, during the 'exceptional highs' he had hoped to use, the Thames Barrier might be lowered to prevent London flooding. Timing was crucial. 17thOct was tail-end of the mid-month highs after which the boat could not be floated off for at least a fortnight! Because of a long-standing appointment for Fri.16th, and the last usable tide Sat.16th, life suddenly became interesting. The Tilbury high would be 6.3m at 4pm (1500GMT since we are still on BST). Sunset was 6pm ( and nautical twilight 7.15pm. A phone call confirmed "Crispy Nails", Pogue's preferred bo'sun available, ready, willing and able to come aboard midday Saturday. Two weeks was telescoped into two days as the boat was made ready for sea. Pentargon floats along on the tide rather than being driven by a huge engine. The Lister SR2 is able to push her along in still water at the very most 2 to3 kts. Once freed of the bank and floated down over the lock-sill she could take a gently falling tide down Dartford Creek to the Darent Flood Relief Barrier and out onto the Thames, which would be flowing towards the North Sea at 3 to 4kts. The moment she slipped moorings at Lock Quay she was totally committed. There was no turning back and no access to land until and unless she went all the way to Gravesend Town Pier some 6mls away. Although Pentargon is fitted with nav lights for 'night-driving', Pogue has more sense than to fly-boat on the lower Thames. Town lights merge with house lights merge with car lights merge with marine navigation lights in a visual cacophony that confuses spatial perception and makes for great stress and confusion. Because she is under 11m in length, Pentargon is classed as a 'small recreational craft' by the Port of London Authority. She can, to all intents and purposes come and go as she pleases on tidal water, but in reality she is a 36' long, 7' high steel tank which can paint a massive blob on PLA radar. Most of the 'small recreational boats' are tupperware and Pogue knows PLA radar could shit themselves if they saw a massive radar blob ejecting from the Darent and heading downstream in a fast-ebbing tide. He likes to tell them the boat's passage plan but it is impossible to contact them by VHF from the Creek or even in the Long Reach. Once the boat had been heaved off the shelf (and that could have been a story in itself!) and gotten by the sill it was a matter of planning what to do when one hit the River. We delayed intentionally til about 5pm knowing that sunset was an hour later and put Ingress pier and Swanscombe Creek in our sights. In the event we arrived off Ingress Pier in rapidly deepening dusk at 7pm and threw the anchor. Time for some sleep. During the night the tide would finish its descent, rise some 6+m and fall again, before 'our' tide began to flood about 1030am on the morrow morn. The best laid plans of mice and men.

Ingress Bow via Cymbaline
Ingress to Bow via Cymbeline! We mentioned an original intention of leaving Dartford on exceptional highs predicted for the end of October 2015 to attempt a continuous passage, using tidal power only, from Kent to Brentford. Such a feat has neither been attempted nor achieved in modern times by a narrowoat, although I have second hand evidence of watermen of old doing it under oar. (link: CymbeIine) It would require Pentargon to be on the Thames as high up to Crayfordness as possible, ready to go at slack water about dawn, aiming at a Richmond High of 1600 and giving a total 'window' of 8+hrs. We knew from previous passages of the top end, that a 1315 Limehouse dep. would put us at Brentford between 1615 and 1645. We had no figures for the lower river but, from previous passages between Bow and Dartford on Pentargon, gauged that from the Darent Barrier to Bugsby's Reach should take about 3hrs at which time the tide would be racing up Greenwich Reach at over 5kts carrying us past Newcastle Draw Dock at almost 10mph. But all that beautiful plan was now discarded. The trip we were now to Bow Lock in Bow Creek. The delay til 5pm Saturday (knowing sunset was an hour later) put Ingress Pier and Swanscombe (Broadness) Creek in our sights. In the event we arrived off Ingress in rapidly deepening dusk at 7pm and threw the anchor close to shore but far out enough we thought to keep the boat afloat at bottom of tide. We brewed up and cooked up and Bosun Martin took some photographs. And the boat bottomed. And leaned over 7ยบ as Springers with v bottoms are prone to do. It was about 100m too far in, but we are the first narrowboat ever to engage in this exercise! At 3am there would be another top of tide where we could make "adjustments". 3am we were both up admiring the view and the floating Pentargon Springer when we decided to weigh anchor, move the boat 200m towards the fairway (out to sea for land-lubbers) and drop anchor again. We wanted water under the boat at turn'o'tide. Back to sleep. After breakfast with the last of the tide falling away, Pogue noticed the anchor rope going slack. Realising the boat was still too close to shore t we quickly started the engine, drove up to the anchor and shipped it, swung the boat in an arc to ensure it would stay afloat in a still-falling tide and set a westerly course towards London. This is what real sailing is about. "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" and ne'er more so than on the briny ocean. The clock was at 10. The tide would not turn for almost an hour. But we were free. So we poddled up the southerly side of the estuary in almost slack water in the general direction of the QE2 bridge. Correctly we should have been looking at crossing to the North but there be dragons: a whole line of rather big ships and no sight line for the Long Reach on that side. We had tried to talk with London VTS but their radio equipment is set up to deal with very big boats and aerials about 100' above the water, so we just motored on. Their radar head at Crayfordness would pick us out eventually. Once we had a nice sight line, we took Pentargon right out into the centre of the channel to go under [QE2]. We were aware of traffic but didn't want to go Northside in case one of the tubs decided to do a [four and two], although we reckoned we'd hear them talking to VTS well in advance.A "four & two" refers to four short blasts on a ship's whistle followed by two short blasts. it means the ship is slipping away from a straboard mooring and turning left in the river to proceed to sea. The tide having just turned, the most likely traffic would be from behind. The sloop Ajax was making way up-river behind us under power and sail. She was fairly hard in to the north side by Cross Ness when we saw her change tack and make for the south bank. Looking down-river we saw a huge ferry turning the corner and decided it would be VERY prudent to adopt a similar course as Ajax. Tiddlers are not SUPPOSED to be in the centre of the fairway. Knowing VTS could see us on radar, we tried calling to assure them but again "Station calling London VTS, unreadable". Well bollox to you then! [Cymbeline] passed us about 10 minutes later as we hugged the Littlebrook coolers. She had given us a warning blast a while back passing under [QE2] presumably frightening the livin' shit out of the motor traffic 100' above her. Ajax rounded Crayfordness well ahead of us and hard in. (She was bound for Erith) and about the same time Cymbeline rounded it in the middle of the fairway enroute for Dagenham Dock. Our GPS at 1145 showed we were doing 2.3kts going up the 'wrong' side of the Long Reach! Our clocks and tables showed the tide should have turned, though it did not appear so on the water. About time to make ourselves street legal! Look up and down the river and hard to starboard just short of Dartford Creek, right angles to the fairway, cross over to Purfleet clear of the dragons and steady her parallel to the North Bank one we were over there. Howzat look on radar, VTS?Shall we hold watch on 14 then?

2015 October.Limehouse Brentford
We shipped water over the larboard in a short sea in the middle of London. and tripped over a 2metre bow wave. Mad .. mad .. mad .. .. and later?  Boring as watching the paint dry on Harrods Furniture Depository. ...I've tried in vain to find an internet link which describes or defines a "short sea"  with no success, so here is my own! "A short sea" is a coaster's worst nightmare. Off the North Foreland is a great place to encounter short seas. I was out there about ten years ago in the small hours on a 40' ketch and to say it was 'interesting' is to totally understate the experience. Sailor's call a long sea one where the waves are smooth and far apart "a rolling sea".  A short sea is the exact opposite.I thought my 'short sea' days were behind me 'til I took [Pentargon] out of [Limehouse] for Brentford on a beautiful, calm sunny Saturday at the end of October in 2015. Probably the balmiest day you possibly could have and Pentargon encountered short seas. In the middle of London.

Hang in there awhile til we get that writ large.


It was fukn hair-raisin.

We were already more than a little wound up by the ape who was working [Limehouse] Lock. No! Not the one from the South African navy. He never gives us any trouble. 

The one I've not seen before is an ape who thinks it is his bounden duty to give it large to boaters, especially those in scruffy little coasters. He knows as much about lock-keeping as I do about giving birth but Crispy and myself decided as soon as we got clear of the lock in the company of "Deep Thought" to let it go. We had been talking with "Deep Thought" earlier and planning our moves.There were three rather engaging Tupperware Pots all tied up together and booked out for 1315. I'd phoned in earlier to book 1330 (that being three hours before the London Bridge High of 1630)  and knew "Deep Thought" had done something similar but was going right up to Teddington bound for a new winter berth at Shepperton. Seeing as it's impossible to empty [Limehouse] (of water!) I reckoned Team Tupperware would be released as a unit to let them away, and then the heavy-weights would be sent down. The ape decided to stuff all five boats in together. Fukn cretin. Nobody with half a brain mixes plastic with steel in a lock like Limehouse.

 "Deep Thought" is a very elegant 60 footer and in immaculate condition. Nothing on the roof [Jess Good] but the nicest skipper you could ever come across. No pretensions, no delusions. And his crew the same. Those who know ["Pentargon.Springer"] know she is the antithesis of chic. She does extraordinary things perhaps but she ain't ever going to win a concours d'elegance.

"Deep Thought", with a powerful engine, intended to 'go for it'. (Pentargon drifts along with the tide and usually takes about four hours for the passage to Brentford Thames Lock). We were out of the lock like a hare from the traps and into the tide, a bit choppy, well actually quite choppy and had made a good 100m on "Deep Thought" by the time she blasted her horn and shot out. Long before we had reached the ["Hermes"] fuel barge, "Deep Thought" was already under the centre of Tower Bridge, having passed us within minutes. By the time we made Tower Bridge in very heavy seas she'd vanished upriver!

[Pentargon Springer] encountered her biggest ever side-on wave just before the Tower when a heavily laden cruiser going at full bore generated a 2metre breaking bow wave which lashed the side of our boat. It was the breaking component that caused Pentargon to delay lifting for a nano-second. We shipped  water over the gunnel 1/4 second before we were lifted two metres up and slid down the other side. Glad to report both crew are hardy sailors who retained both dignity and lunch.

I advise ANY narrowboat AGAINST going up the River on Saturdays.

The seas lasted right up to Westminster after which things calmed down hugely. By Vauxhall the surface was like a sheet of glass and really the next two hours was just a matter of holding the rudder through bridge after bridge and mile after mile while repeating out mantra "we come this way because it takes three hours instead of three days". Suffice to say we arrived at Brentford Thameslock right at top of tide having taken a 30 minute break down hear Fulham earlier, where we attended to a little engine glitch.

Crispy was on his bus by 6pm. Pogue snuck up to the Gauging Lock, planted a daffodil bulb at Milestone 93 and continued up to a favoured mooring by the A40. Later a dander up to Clitheroe with a windlass ensured the lock would be set for first light.

2015 Late Oct Hanwell
Hanwell to Morrisons for milk

Three Bridges to sleep on! Credit Lengthsman Chris for getting us to the E5 bus.

 Work in progress! .............. coming to a laptop near you shortly.



 For a lone ranger, without the company of another boat, The Hanwell Flight is a bit of a climb. Arriving at Three Bridges from below is a hard day's work and a good excuse to tie up and admire the genius of a very famous Victorian Engineer, who contrived to pass a railway line UNDER a canal which had a road passing OVER it. Wikipedia says Three Bridges (a transport intersection designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel) is an "ancient monument".

Located where the north-south aligned Windmill Lane passes over east-west aligned Grand Union Canal, the canal goes over a railway line aligned NE-SW. There are in fact only TWO bridges at "Three Bridges" (road-over-canal and canal-over-rail) but the road the canal the railway and the bridges are stacked, one above another, with the road on top of the canal which is on top of the railway which is in a deep cutting below the canal.

It was a nice day, sunny and light, ideal for a spot of house-keeping and even sleep over. The morrow morning, up early, we met Lengthsman Chris heading towards Northwood Top. Enquiring whether we were going up, he kindly offered to set the lock! I have great time for the canal people "on the ground": people like Chris who are the salt of the earth. We took his offer and this being the last lock for quite some time, We could get milk for a late breakfast at Morrisons in Yiewsley where Pentargon Springer has it's very own mooring device [picture].

After the Yewesley breakfast we moved on and around the corner discovered a whole hew housing development incorporated into a 'new' Tesco of maybe it's vice-versa. Astounded to find RINGS, we tied up and decided to advance a little "inside carpentry". With a a day or two in hand before our date with Sarah (who was,we now had established, at "Highline" down the Slough Arm and not "Highline" on the Paddo as we'd expected.

Hanwell Bottom and a Bottle of Wine  

Sometimes our past comes back to haunt us. In the nicest and most expected way. Bringing with it a bottle of wine! They call it "Serendipity". You'll recall yesterday we moored for the night at GlaxoSmithKline by the A40 and before bed had set the first lock (Clitheroe) for the morrow. On Sunday then, it was away at 'first light', shortening days mean dawn is about 7am. The passage from Brentford to Bull's Bridge is only about three miles but contains the infamous Hanwell Flight. Ten locks in all and requiring much prior knowledge and pre-planning if you don't want to take all day. The Hanwell Flight itself runs behind Ealing Hospital and is, I believe, a listed momument and former lunatic asylum.

Clitheroe is the first lock out of Brentford and from there to Osterley the canal runs very close to the M4. There is a weir and the whole area is covered with trees which cause leaf-mugging and slowly fill the cut with vegetation which becomes silt and impedes progress. C&RT have lost the plot in canal maintenance and in few places does this show as clearly as the vicinity of Hanwell. 

Between the two locks, we came upon a small flotilla of tupperware sporting Dutch Flags which we'd last seen in Limehouse lock on Saturday. Smiles and waves were traded and it occurred to me to wonder what exactly they were up to. Arriving at Hanwell bottom, setting the lock took a few minutes when out of the gloom appeared the flottila. Realising they could all go up together and get on with their day, I waved them through. Not only that but helped them work their way up the first part of the flight and showed them how to plan forward. More smiles and chat. They were Walloons and quite chuffed to find an Irishman on a narrowboat they had last seen in East London in Limehouse Lock.

Out of the blue appeared a bottle of wine, which was accepted with good grace for Pentargon's meagre wine cellar. They had trailed their boats over by ferry from Belgium to Willowtree Paddo, slipped them and did a London Ring before the closures at Vicky Park. All that remained was for them to complete the loop back to their cars, hitch up and head home. So I suppose they were pleased to be 'let through' and shown how to work Hanwell! 

For me nothing changed by being nice. The flight had been against me anyway. But there was one more pleasant surprise. Coming opposite was a dark fat-boat of Pedro Fernandez. Pedro is an old farceburk friend, but apart from meeting him very briefly on the Lee Navigation, I'd not 'met' him in the real sense. Pleasantries were swapped and we proceeded, he with a big smile knowing it was likely that every lock to Brentford would be set for him. Pentargon got just one lock, the next and so I slogged away slowly, to "Three Bridges"

Arriving short of midday and having done a day's 'lock-miles' it made sense in the warm sunshine to moor up. There was plenty house-keeping to do and Three Bridges is quiet and pleasant.


An ongoing project inside the main cabin is somewhat disruptive, to make massive amounts of storage space in what will later become the spare bed. The area designated as The Mess came originally as more than a mess, having been lashed together with all sorts of mis-matching timber and marine ply sheets, completely unsuited to the needs of a constantly moving boat where it needs to alternate between office, dining area, map table, electronics work bench, rest area and a usable double bed.

I've worked with ship's carpenters and found them highly skilled,meticulous, inventive and lateral thinkers who can always produce a tasty solution to any challenge. I'm happy to advise that I have never seen a ship's carpenter's work on a canal boat, apart from Pentargon. Most of the mucking I've seen on canal boats is copying someone else's bodging and I was determined not to perpetuate that nonsense. Some time ago I had a large number of wooden drawer/trays made (By a ship's carpenter!) and these were to mount in aluminium rails to provide sliding storage trays. and the complete units would act as a base for seating or sleeping. This work has been ongoing whenever it has been possible to moor up and advance the work. Today at the top of Hanwell was to be such a day.   

2015 Oct Morrisons bottle of milk
Hanwell to Morrisons for Milk. Day Two
23/12/2016 Work in Progress

2015 Jun Jul