The tide dictated that this was going to be a midnight affair and so we prepared accordingly. Going up the river during the night is quite nice. The first part up to the Thames barrier is boring with passing only the car factories at Dagenham and the occasional power plant but after the Thames barrier it becomes very scenic. The London skyline produces so much light that there is not much difference in sailing on the river during the day or during the night. Most London pilots said that they even prefer the night as there is less distraction, most of the time less traffic and somehow the place looks nicer. As we are docking on the buoys in Greenwich, the voyage up river is timed to arrive there during the period of slack water. It take about 30 minutes for the current to go from Ebb to Flood and vice versa and that is normally enough time to get the mooring ropes on the buoys.
I had set the departure time at midnight as the last train from London was coming back at 23.45 hrs. However all our guests were already back onboard by 10 pm. Most still had to pack and apart from 50 guests, who are going with us for the next cruise, everybody would be disembarking in the morning, somewhere between 05.00 and 09.30 depending on flight times and destination. By 01.30 we were full underway and racing up river instead of the sedate speed I had planned for. The pilot brought the interesting news that there was a cruise ship coming down river, the Silver Cloud, and if we were going slow then we would meet exactly at the Thames barrier. Although the river is quite wide there, it is preferred to leave the whole area to one ship alone so it can line up perfectly for the barrier opening and pop through the hole, without having the bother and worry about other ships being around.
So the plan was to park ourselves about a mile above the Greenwich docking location. Here the river is wide and also has two deep patches. We could sit in the one and the Silver Cloud could sail by via the other one. With only one mile to go we could then still be on the buoys very quickly and moor with as little influence of the current as possible. So we did and we raced up river with a speed of about 16 knots. Only slowing down when we passed other ships moored along the river banks, this to avoid them surging and maybe breaking their lines. By now it was wind still and we zipped through the barrier with a speed of just under 10 knots. The faster you go the less you drift and although we have 45 feet clearance on the side of the ship, you want to drift as little as possible here.
The river Thames is prone to silting and river dredges are constantly busy with keeping the river depth sufficient for the ships that need to go to the various terminals. However in the outside bends, where the current is the fastest, it is scouring out the bottom itself and that gives quite deep water even when it is low tide. Greenwich is such a place, which is on the outside bend as the river turns here to the North West. One mile before it is similar as the current turns from North West to South West. Only the hole is now on located on the other side. That is where we parked ourselves and waited for 20 minutes until the Silver Cloud came sailing by. Quite a festive sight with the Greenwich skyline; dominated by the Royal Observatory on the top of the hill and a small sleek white cruise ship coming by.
30 minutes later we were sitting on the buoys and we had the first luggage barge alongside for the early birds bus to the airport. We will be here until tomorrow afternoon, when we sail on the high tide again. The forecast is for partly cloudy skies with temperatures somewhere in the 70’s and very little to no wind.