Taking the Thames to Greenwich
February 7, 2013
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.
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.)
by Thames Clippers, London’s leading
river bus service, the ferry arrived on time and loaded the waiting passengers
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
that's an interesting use of a barge!