Reflections Flotilla Part 2

A buoy outside Chelsea Harbour Marina to Limehouse Basin

*This post contains some slideshows. I’m not sure if these will work if you get the post emailed to you, so you may have to go to the website.*

Getting into position

It took a little while for us all to get into position as the flotilla started to move away downstream. In all the paperwork we’d been given about the event we’d not seen how far apart to the side boats should be. Infront and behind should be about 60ft, a boats length. As our huddle of boats moved into position we decided that maybe a similar distance to the sides would be good too.

Beam us up Scotty! Quite an artistic mistake!

It was dusk, you could just see peoples lights. I had my camera and fully charged phone on hand to take photos. I’m by no means a pro, the contrasting lighting along with being on the move meant there have been many a photo head straight to the bin. Add to the mix keeping an eye on the flotilla, checking which bridge arch we should be heading to and whether we’d be sharing it with neighbouring boat Panacea or not, listening to Flotilla Control instructions, this all made for one busy evening.


By the time we’d reached Battersea Road Bridge we’d all got into position. Already people lined the bridge above us.

Albert Bridge, wonderful in day light, now at dusk a spiders web of Victorian beauty. There waiting on the down stream side was Gloriana the Royal Row Barge. Neon rope light swaged along the gunnels and every long oar stood upright with a straight line of white light. No-one would miss her.

Illuminated Rowing

Flotilla Control called Gloriana into position in the flotilla. Safety gaps had been planned between certain sections to hopefully avoid bunching up. The flotilla was now complete. Motor powered boats in front, Gloriana in the middle followed by man powered boats.

Looking back upstream

Following our charts and the boat ahead. Hang on, shouldn’t we be going through the span to our port? This only happened at one bridge, we then kept to the plans we’d been given. Speed adjustments were required to try to keep in line, but then the boat ahead wouldn’t be going quite fast enough, so we’d slip behind our line. Safety boats moved along the sides, keeping an eye out. Our two red glow sticks were bent, broken and shaken in case we needed to draw attention to ourselves, thankfully they remained unused.

From the river we could see a line of people stood on each bank, just about every bridge too. I wondered if this had remained a Jubilee event would more people have had white glow sticks on the bridges. That would have been quite a sight.

Chelsea Bridge, Victoria Railway Bridge, Battersea Power Station with it’s changing coloured chimneys.

Vauxhall Bridge at 19:32. Lambeth Bridge 19:39

Houses of Parliament

Instructions came through to speed up, get closer, slow down as Flotilla Control required. Positions drifted, then came back. Messages from family about our position needed conveying along with everything else. Sheet of bridge profiles once passed under added to the discard pile on the stern locker lid.

Westminster Bridge. The London Eye. Hungerford Bridge at 19:50

Festival Pier and the South Bank19:52. Waterloo Bridge. Blackfriars Bridge and Rail Bridge 20:01. Here those wanting to stay warm lined the windows looking down at us.

Millennium Footbridge. Was that Andrew, Jac and Josh? Had they got the right bit of bridge?

Yep it was, Andrew shouted to us that they would now head to the pub. I messaged them back telling them to turn round and wait until Gloriana had passed at least.

Southwark Bridge at 20:09 Now we could see Tower Bridge, the towers lit up in blue. The progress of the flotilla slowed, it slowed some more. Cannon Street Bridge, London Bridge 20:15.

Our progress slowed right down, Gloriana a distance behind, a Dutch Barge a touch too close. Keep moving came the instructions.

HMS Belfast was lined with Sea cadets who as Gloriana approached all saluted as did the oarsmen on board.

Were we waiting for Tower Bridge to lift? All boats were finding their own space, we’d liked to have carried on moving but that meant those ahead of us should be doing the same and those ahead of them. We could see double deckers and pedestrians still crossing the bridge.

After what felt like an absolute age Tower Bridge started to lift. Normally it lifts enough to let tall ships and boats through, but today it would lift all the way up in full Royal Salute.

Boats started to move, everyone of us going under the central span. Years ago before we owned NB Lillyanne I gave Mick a birthday card of Tower Bridge saying that one day we’d be going under that central span. Here today as one of the 150 boats we were doing just that, bedecked with fairy lights and at night, we were doing it in style. 20:40

There was now a bit of confusion. What was to happen at the end of the flotilla had changed due to the Queen passing away. Some boats sounded their horns, others remained silent. As Gloriana passed through the bridge and lifted their oars in salute there were three cheers for the King, then over the radio came instructions to sound our horns. Everyone went for it still moving downstream at a steady pace. A last look back to the bridge. WoW!!!

Now what? The narrowboats remained in formation heading down stream. All boats wanting to return upstream were meant to continue downstream and reach a certain boat before turning and heading back upstream along the northern bank. It was nice to see the displays of lights on the cruisers that we’d been behind, some very pretty boats.

The stretch of water below Tower Bridge is normally lumpy bumpy but this evening it was quiet, the river was still closed to normal traffic whilst the flotilla dispersed. Andrew the leader of the narrowboat section said he had a time for the lock, we all continued downstream, now arranging ourselves into our locking groups, there’d be four lockings into Limehouse as only one boat was heading back up stream. I spotted a red light flashing in front of us on top of a pole, as I was pointing it out to Mick, Simon shouted from the boat behind, we adjusted course accordingly passing the light on the starboard side.

Now we had rowers catching up with us, heading downstream, they were going some! Three passed us before we reached Canary Wharf where we turned and followed the north bank back towards Limehouse. One boat swapped to the first locking as they were overheating. Six boats packed into the lock and rose the now 7ft up to the canal.

We were instructed to hold back away from the opening of the lock as the water being dropped from it would make quite a bit of turbulence. The river had now opened to normal traffic, Uber boats zooming from one stop to the next and a huge party boat heading up stream. All those people who’d not been aware of what had been happening upstream of them over the last couple of hours.

Then it was our turn to head into the safety of the lock. A repeat of on the way out, ropes round risers, round the T stud and wait for the surge.

During the day a couple of boats had arrived at Limehouse and moored up. With more narrowboats coming back in and less wall or pontoon to tie to boats were rafting up again. On the pontoon I spied a chap inside his boat, I gestured to see if it was okay to pull alongside. It was, after all it is London! We came in carefully. Pam from Flora Dora came over the stern of the boat to help us with our bow rope.

In the dark on a strange boat Pam hadn’t seen the step down to the boats back door. As I passed our rope towards her, her hands held out to take it she fell towards me and the gap between the boats. Thankfully she didn’t fall between them, but this did mean she bumped her head on our gunnel. Glasses, phone were safe but Pam needed a sit down and to be checked over. After five minutes of quiet her shock subsided.

A quick check on Tilly, I think her evening had been calmer than the afternoon. I wonder if she sat in the window for any of it? The Cruising Association was open for us to be able to have a drink and a buffet had been laid on. It felt like an absolute age since we’d had our pizzas. After all the days excitement we sipped our glasses of wine exhausted.

WOW!! What a day! What an amazing day!!

1 lock twice, 15.95 miles, 9.5 hours on the tideway, 34 bridges gone under, 1 barrier closed, 12 narrowboats, 1 widebeam, 1 faulty radio, 1 borrowed tow line, 1 borrowed radio, 1 fully charged phone, 17 sheets of instructions, 1 dead body on the roof, 2 pizzas, 1 fluffed up Tilly, 1 very choppy ride, 1 dutch barge up the rear, 3 Leckenbys, 1 Cheryl, 2 many photos, 1 bridge in Royal Salute, 1st time under the centre span, 1 sponsored walk held up, 1st time in 300 years, 1 amazing afternoon and evening well worth the effort to get to London for, 2 privileged boaters and 1 cat.

1 very big thank you to all the boaters, friends and family who’ve allowed me to use their photos in the flotilla posts. Thank you.

9 thoughts on “WoW!!!

  1. christinegeraghty

    thanks for getting it all into order and telling such a wonderful story of your unique trip. And how lovely to have fulfilled that birthday wish! Very sorry I didn’t make it but the pictures give a really good sense of what it was like

    1. Pip Post author

      No problem with the shouting, better to make sure we were aware of it. There’s a link in tomorrows blog to your posts about Saturday. Looks like you had a good trip on the Waverely, you’ve had a busy week.

  2. Anonymous

    Wow indeed forgot to post a reply amazing pics fab post Pop as you say a cruise that will stay in the memory for quite some time.

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