Washington Watch

Pamela Glass Taking the Thames to Greenwich

February 7, 2013

Being a sucker for tugboats and all things maritime, my itinerary outside the U.S. usually includes a diversion to a river or ocean, or to a place that highlights maritime trades or history. So my adrenalin started to flow this week in London when I got the chance to visit nearby Greenwich, which has a spectacular maritime museum and can be reached by passenger ferry.

02.07.13.thames1This was my chance to be a sleuth and check out how the Brits run their ferries. My first impression was very positive. There was easy and friendly service at the ticket booth at The Embankment Pier, I got a discount for showing my underground pass, and the waiting area was covered from the elements. (But it was open to the whipping wind off the Thames, so I would shave off a few points for that one.)

Operated by Thames Clippers, London’s leading river bus service, the ferry arrived on time and loaded the waiting passengers efficiently.

The 138-passenger, 106-foot, twin-engine and propeller-driven Moon Clipper was built in 2001 by NQEA Engine and Shipbuilders. It spent its early years shuttling workers to oil rigs in Nigeria before joining the Thames Clipper fleet of 12 high-speed catamarans. Its top speed is 25 knots.

The crew offered a friendly greeting, and then the sun came out. Not bad so far. The river tide was high, winds were strong, and waves were lapping at the bow. The boat met the challenge, as you could barely feel the punishing winds and waves. The seats were comfy, Wi-Fi was free, and the bar was serving British beer and spirits.

 02.07.13.thames3Then, as if often does here, the sun was pushed aside by dark clouds and the rain fell in buckets. No problem. I watched as the crew flipped up the hoods on their rain parkas, opened the door to the deck and flung over the ropes to the pier as we arrived at the next stop and more people boarded. All the stops were announced on an intercom, and plastered throughout the boat were signs warning passengers not to abuse or insult the crew. The company will prosecute! Along the way we could watch London’s workboats at work — tugs pushing barges of coal, sightseeing boats, ferries, police patrol boats, dinner cruise boats. We passed under the majestic Tower Bridge.

The arrival dock in Greenwich was well organized for passengers and within a short walk to the famous Cutty Sark, the Royal Naval College and the Maritime Museum. The maritime museum is a must see. Among my favorite exhibits was the display of imposing figureheads that once graced the bows of some of England’s most famous warships. Sailors believed the ornate carvings of mythological figures, animals or historical figures protected them from the dangers of the sea.

My other favorite was the gold gilded barge of Frederick, Prince of Wales, built in 1713. It was propelled by 21 oarsmen and a barge master, and was gilded with 22-carat gold. Traveling by boat in the 18th century was the fastest way to get around London, and the prince loved to show off his wealth and opulence. In fact German composer George Frederick Handel wrote his famous Water Music for a performance on the Thames in 1717 for Fredrick's grandfather, King George I. As the king traveled on his barge along the Thames, musicians assembled on another barge followed, playing Handel's water music.

Now that's an interesting use of a barge!


Expand/View Comments -  2 Comments
02/07/2013 17:29:22 Pamela Glass says:

Thanks for the comment, Peter. I totally agree, a truly outstanding place, with so much to offer!

02/07/2013 17:05:35 PETER LINDQUIST says:

I did this a couple of years ago and loved it! Greenwich was outstanding!


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