The tide was still coming in when I left the last lock at Richmond. Portage was dead easy with bays and ramps set up and even rollers to take a boat up or down the incline. None of this was needed though because the difference in water levels was only about 20cm.
A group of young guys was sitting on a bench near the water. This was behind the fence at the edge of the park. Their bicycles were on the pathway just above the water which was about 5m up the grass. Paddling down the river I saw many benches with water around them, even water into a car park, and still the tide came in. It took an hour to change and by that time I was 5km downstream.
A boatshed was surrounded by racing kayaks. At the pontoon out front four girls were balanced in a K4 so I asked them if it was usual to have six inches of water in their boat shed. They said it wasn’t usual but at the same time it is not unusual. About half a kilometre further there was someone having a drink in a beer garden. They were sitting cross legged on a chair with ankle deep water underneath them. Next door a shop had a board inserted into the doorway to prevent the river from going in.
Given the fact that the tidal barrier was built in the late 1970s to stop this I was most surprised to find such significant flooding. Apparently Saturday, still four days away, is being described as Supermoon Saturday when there will be lots of flooding on the Thames caused by “the pull of the moon”. If the barrier needs to be built higher what is going on here? Either London is sinking or the sea level is rising. People just seem to accept the situation as normal though and just adapt. Is this what will happen all over the world as the sea inexorably rises? There will be a time when this becomes impossible but when will that be? How far does water have to rise before buildings and roads are abandoned?
The plan was to paddle to Chelsea where the London Kayak Club has a pontoon. The gate to the pontoon was locked but it is only 1m high and therefore no problem to slide the kayak over it. We had tried contacting the club with only recorded messages and no-one called back. When I was about 5km away I called Jools who was struggling to find the place. Luckily I spotted a large ramp which had rowing and boating clubs at the top of it. I hauled the kayak out, went to the closest street running down towards the embankment and called Jools who put it into the car GPS. It was supposed to be only 10 minutes drive from where she was, but it took about 40 minutes in the London traffic. It all turned out for the better with easy access for both car and kayak.
Next morning we moved the van from Staines to Abbey Wood caravan park which is about 10 minutes from the boat ramp at Erith, the next stop after Putney. This took all day but it also allowed more planning and to get for an early start to catch the tide.
Up at 4.50am and ready to hit Putney at 7.00am. We drove away from the van and got to the park exit. The gate was shut. Padlocked. Three metre high steel gates barred our exit. It was my fault, they had said you could not get the car back in between 10.00pm and 8.00am but I just hadn’t thought that we couldn’t get out because I had seen that the car exit barrier was up and didn’t work. I just didn’t think of giant security gates being locked. That’s the problem with being in another country I guess. You just don’t understand how it all works until you see it.
With no leeway in the paddling schedule it was time to re-think. To actually work out the three day plan for Putney to the end of the Thames estuary had taken a lot of work using tide charts and Google Earth. There was only one answer if I had any chance of paddling to Dungeness in time for the channel crossing, go backwards through London. This was not palatable but there have been so many trip changes, shattered plans and disappointments that one becomes immune and rolls with the punches. So the day was to be Erith, through the Thames barrier and paddle up to Putney.
There was a benefit in this. We could go to a Three store and get more data for the portable hot spot. Ten gigabytes per month was obviously not enough. The problem with the plan is that it is not in my name. I don’t have a UK credit or debit card so the cost would have been $150 per month for 12GB. We put it in Trevor’s name which cost $25 per month for 10GB and I gave him cash for six months after which time he will cancel the plan.
I had tried calling Three when the data ran out during the night but their lines shut at 8.00pm. A major problem since the start of the trip has been phones and internet. So far it has been a lot better in the UK than the USA but in both places I have been amazed at the number of areas where there has been no coverage. We do pretty well in Australia given our much lower population density.
So it was off to Three to get some more data. I guess that is when the real trouble started for the day although one may think it was when we found the gate locked until 8.00am and I needed to start at Putney around 7.00am. It took an hour on the phone to establish that the data plan for the mobile hot spot had a limit of 10GB per month that could not be added to. The rollover date would be 27th September which means that I had used 10GB in the preceding week. I can’t accept that this was possible as I had done nothing different to previous weeks, in fact uploads to the web site were less. All of this had to be done on the store phone. I was offered a new plan of 20GB with a twelve month contract at just five pounds more per month. Because I will be out of here in a couple of months this was not palatable. Luckily the store had one pre-paid sim card left that had 1GB on it at a cost of 10 pounds. I bought that, and then went to the newsagent to buy a twenty pound top up voucher. You can’t top up at the Three store when you buy the sim. We headed back to the caravan to put the new sim in and do the top up. The web site was down so no top up. It was the next day that I managed to get on the site but the options did not include 20 pounds even though that was the value of the voucher I had bought. I chose 3GB for 15 pounds. Two hours in the shop, another hour farting about and really an unsatisfactory outcome. The one positive was that the staff in the Three shop were as helpful as they could be. It is the Three system, no doubt thought up by clever high paid people to find ways to frustrate the customer into committing to higher payments
Given the situation with the tides we decided that I would paddle back up to Putney starting at Erith which is downstream of Greenwhich. The wind was from the north west at about 15 knots. This made the water a bit choppy so I had the skirt on but no jacket. After two hours I rang Jools to say that I was on time and would be at Putney between 4.30 and 5.00pm. Just after that the river traffic started to increase markedly and I would be barrelling along at 12km/hr and then smack through a wave that would bring the kayak to a juddering halt.
It was a bit tricky watching in front and behind. Ships, tugs with barges, sailing boats, boats of one form or another about one kilometre apart on average, kept overtaking my little kayak. My course, as is my wont, was to take the inside line on bends to get the shortest distance so after every bend I crossed the channel. Green and red were on the same side as Australia which felt more familiar than the US “right, red, right.”
Around Greenwich the traffic increased with high speed river cats, cross river car ferries, cocktail cruise boats and fast adventure joyride boats. In the middle of this was the odd tug pulling a couple of barges. Between Tower Bridge and Westminster the traffic seemed to cover about a quarter of the river surface. At the London Eye a tourist cruiser was about to pull out. I waited for him to go but the skipper came and waved me across in front of him. “Thanks mate” I called. “You need to go to the other side here or they will pull ya,” he shouted. With boats everywhere I bolted across the river and was about to go behind a ferry coming towards me that suddenly changed direction. Behind me another ferry gave long blasts on the horn, presumably to the one in front that changed direction and hopefully not at me. I slipped under Westminster Bridge carefully staying near the pylons where only a kayak could fit just as the police launch passed me.
The traffic thinned and the wind dropped until the next bend. The water felt as warm as a bath. It probably wasn’t though, so that meant the wind chill on my hands was significant. With all of the activity and wave action there had been no chance to eat or drink but I was running late. I didn’t want to arrive after 5.00pm so I continued my mad sprint to Putney.
Pulling in at 5.05pm the tide was about a metre below the top of the boat ramp. I had sprinted for four hours. Getting out, walking, and loading the kayak were all problematic as my extremities were cold and nothing seemed to work properly. We loaded up, parked the car on the high side of the embankment road and headed to the nearest pub.
On the way Jools chatted up a bloke with a young child looking at the water rising and found him to be French. She has a talent for picking them I reckon. Anyway, we were sitting in the pub a bit later watching the water come over the embankment when he came up to our table. His name is Gregoire and he was concerned that it was our car that had been left on the top of the ramp and was about to get very wet. We thanked him and said we were fine, but never missing an opportunity we told him about the trip and asked him to remember kayak4earth. He asked if we were going to COP21! That was the first person who had mentioned the climate summit’s real name.
Next day this was in my in box.
I hope you enjoyed your dinner as you must need a lot pf energy after all this journey and until its end.
We were sorry to disturb but so glad to meet you.
On the way back home, I explained your project to my son and shown him maps from your blog.
He just say:”I met a hero today.” I must agree with this.
All the best
Gregoire (the French guy worrying about the car)
When I read it I was emotionally drained, had damaged muscles around my ribcage that affected my breathing and was getting ready to cross the English Channel. His email almost brought tears to my eyes. This is the sort of reward that comes occasionally and makes it all seem worthwhile. Thank you Gregoire.