In winter quarters


Betty Alan’s going to have to work for her living, and in the winter months is going to be a London flat, in Limehouse Basin, between Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge.

The basin, where the Lee Navigation meets the Regents Canal (which in turn joins the Grand Union Canal that connected the Midlands and London) and where both debouch into the Thames, once heaved with real things being moved around the world in the great contractions of Empire. It is now between the two hubs of the new Britain, where the only things that move are digits and money. We see the lights blazing all night in the towers of Canary Wharf: have any buildings of that size ever appeared so temporary? There is an insubstantialness to the whole place.

Our end of the basin is a colony of narrow boat dwellers – a population that embodies the essence of adjacency – providing an attractive contrast to the dystopian world populated entirely by ambitious young accountants in over designed apartments. The actual East End continues, just 100 metres away, the other side of the A13, behind the riverside fringe of prosperity that’s as thin as the veneers on their temples at Canary Wharf.

Up the London River

Very Burnham scene, as the party wraps up

The mizzen was pulled out to have a new bit scarfed in at the foot by Priors, to address some rot – this was about the only defect the surveyor found – and after a small party for friends on the end of their pontoon we headed off down the Crouch, first right, and up the Thames for winter.

Dawn in the Whitaker channel

Starting before dawn, the first challenge was finding Dan Tribe’s TRAIGH, on her mooring. A blessedly short lived but quite dense fog patch made it difficult, but they conned us in, and we picked up the rest of the crew. Surprising, we made 12 in the end, but she never felt crowded.

Ed lashing down the tack of the mainmast topsail

Motoring most of the way to make it on one tide, we had a nice hour of topsail sailing in the East Swin, and got to Limehouse dead on time, at 1600. It’s an act of faith to get in there – you have to aim at a gap between the flats, which is almost invisible when you’re coming from downstream.

Dan Tribe looking characteristically suave in Limehouse

What strange new world is this?

Betty Alan comes to Burnham


Betty Alan arriving in Burnham
Betty Alan arriving in Burnham  – photo by Shirley Tribe

On Saturday October 1 2011 at about noon we motored over the tail of the Swallowtail and switched off the engine, unfurled headsails, hoisted topsails, and began to sail the last leg of our delivery of Betty Alan from Lymington.

With barely steerage way at first we came up the river, the breeze finally building so that we were doing the best part of six knots over the ground. The breeze just hung on, and we reached Burnham under sail at the very moment of high tide.

The town can never have looked better, with a big tide filling the river and the scene flooded in miraculous October sunshine and the temperature only just short of 30 degrees in new money. Priors Boatyard was having their annual mini-regatta and had the bunting out: Robin and his family came out to welcome us in their launch. All was as well with the world as it ever can have been.

Later that afternoon, at her mooring. Photo by Chris Roberts.