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Bristolian Yacht in West India Dock

After a quite period in West India Dock, we welcome the Bristolian Yacht into the dock.

The 95.14ft (29m) ‘Bristolian’ was built in 1989 by CNB and refitted in 2002.

The yacht was built in aluminium to a design by German Frers and custom interior by Francois Catroux of Paris.

The luxury yacht can accommodate eight guests in four double cabins.

As is usual with these types of yachts, it is not known who is the owner or the purpose of her visit to London.


Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre on the Isle of Dogs

With the weather getting warmer, it has been time to visit some of the more interesting locations on the Isle of Dogs. Spring is a great time to visit Mudchute Farm and Park or to wander along the river walks. It is also a great time to wander around Millwall Dock not only to look at the birds in the dock but also to watch the many people enjoying the watersports at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre. The centre is located at the far west end of the dock where the dock previously connected to the Thames.

The Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre was set up in the late 1980s by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Sports Council carrying on the work of a  number of water based community initiatives that had been operating since the 1970s , the award winning centre was designed by Kit Allsopp. The centre is now run as a charity by The Docklands Sailing & Watersports Centre Trust.

With so many great community schemes on the Island, the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre is sometimes overlooked, which is a shame because  they have been committed to providing affordable watersports for all for many years. It is worth remembering that young people and adults enjoying water sports in an inner-city environment was virtually unknown when the centre started. Every year, over 6,000 children, school groups, families and people in the community use centre to sail, kayak, canoe and windsurf.

Quite often in Millwall Dock, you can sit and watch the various activities and see the great enjoyment that learning watersports can give to adults and children. The centre has courses for adults where you practise your skills of learn new ones, the centre is known for training competitive dragon boat teams. For the younger generation, there is Dinghy Sailing, Kayaking, Canoeing and Windsurfing.

During the school breaks especially the dock is full of children enjoying themselves and it is a very colourful scene with the different sails bobbing about on the water.

It is one of the less understood parts of the Island that although there are plenty of large developments catering for single people, for those who are raising a family on the Island there is a wonderful range of places for a family day out.

Greenpeace’s MV Esperanza in West India Dock

After my own cruise around Britain, it is some suprise to see the MV Esperanza ship operated by Greenpeace in West India Dock. The ship was originally a fire-fighter ship owned by the Soviet Navy, built in 1984 in Poland. It was recommissioned in 2000 and launched in 2002 after being named Esperanza (‘hope’ in Spanish) by visitors to the Greenpeace website.

The ship has undergone a major refit by Greenpeace to make it more environmentally friendly and has a helicopter deck and boat cranes. The ship is considered a heavy ice class which means it can be used in polar regions.

The ship is quite high tech with live webcams and state-of-the-art underwater monitoring equipment, including a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) which can shoot video down to a depth of 300 m, and a camera capable of reaching depths of 1,000 m.

It has already been involved in many campaigns, but is in London to launch one of Greenpeace’s biggest ever expeditions – an almost year-long pole to pole voyage from the Arctic to the Antarctic – to highlight the many threats facing the oceans and to campaign for a Global Ocean Treaty covering all seas outside of national waters.

The Esperanza is in London this week ahead of the expedition and has been the focus of a number of events which features a multidisciplinary team of climate scientists and marine biologists.

The Esperanza is not the first Greenpeace ship  to visit  West India Dock, MV Arctic Sunrise visited in 2013 before being taken over by Russian authorities during an oil campaign.

A Walk around Limehouse Basin

Recently I wrote a post regarding the joy of walking around Millwall Dock, this week my journey take me a short distance away from Canary Wharf to Limehouse Basin. Although now the basin is quite sedate and full of narrow and leisure boats, It is hard to imagine that in the past the dock would have full of sailing ships, steam colliers, lighters and full of activity with people dealing with various cargoes. However if you know where to look, there is evidence of its illustrious past.

Regent’s Canal Dock 1823

Limehouse Basin or Limehouse Dock as it is sometimes known was previously called The Regent’s Canal Dock because built by the Regent’s Canal Company and it connected the Regent’s Canal with the River Thames at Limehouse. The idea behind the Regent’s Canal Dock was that the basin was to be built large enough to admit sea-going vessels and cargo could be transferred to and from lighters or narrow boats.

Photo – A G Linney 1933

The Regent’s Canal Dock was considered a commercial failure following its opening in 1820, however by the mid 19th century it had become very successful because in the trade in coal and its role as the principal entrance from the Thames to the entire national canal network. The rise of the railways led to some decline but the system was still used extensively in the First and Second World Wars.

On the north side of the basin is a viaduct that was originally built for the London and Blackwall Railway in the 1840s and is now used by The Docklands Light Railway.

Behind a viaduct arch is the tower of a hydraulic accumulator from 1869, The Regent’s Canal Dock was one of the first to use hydraulic power using a system was developed by William Armstrong.

The Basin today is full of narrow boats which is a reminder of its glory days, but other vessels can be spotted including a couple of Thames barges. Many people live on the narrow boats which are permanently moored here.

The connection to the Regent’s Canal is still there, enabling boats to go inland or onto the Thames.

There is also a connection onto the Limehouse Cut which links the basin to the Lee Navigation at Bow Locks. The Limehouse Cut used to be connected directly to the River Thames. From 1854, the Regents Canal took control of Limehouse Cut and built a connecting link into the Regents Canal Dock. However the link was short-lived and in 1864, it was filled in.

In the 1960s, the lock that connected Limehouse Cut to the Thames needed to be replaced. So the decision was made to reinstate a link to the Regents Canal Dock. This connection was opened in 1968 and as you walk around the dock you can follow Limehouse Cut as it makes its way north.

Limehouse Basin suffered decline in the 1970s and 80s like the docks but redevelopment of the Basin was considered in the 1980s. Over the next 20 years, residential development took place on the derelict land surrounding the basin.

Now it is possible to walk all around the basin and enjoy the various attractions, there is plenty of birdlife and even a community book exchange which  I noticed had a book by Carol Rivers who we often feature on the website.

The Island and Limehouse are great places to understand some of the remarkable history of the area. Limehouse Basin and the Docks were important transport hubs that for centuries created important trade connections with Britain and the rest of the world.

A Walk around Millwall Dock

One of the pleasures of living on the Isle of Dogs is it is a great place to walk. Unlike much of London, cars are not found in great numbers and much of the Island has areas to walk well away from the road. Although the promenades next to the Thames are lovely with wonderful views, the walk around Millwall Dock brings you to the heart of the Island and uncovers a number of surprising links to the past.

Millwall Docks 1934

The Millwall Dock was opened in 1868 and is L-shaped, with a ‘Outer Dock’ running east-west, and a ‘Inner Dock’ running north from the eastern end. Millwall Docks originally contained around 36 acres of water and the site covered 200-acres. Originally as shown from the above photograph, the western end of the Outer Dock was originally connected to the Thames at Millwall.

It is now possible to walk around the whole of Millwall Dock, which of course was not the case when the docks were working docks.

A good starting place is South Quay Station, a plaque on the wall pays tribute to the two people killed by an IRA bomb in the 1996.

Around the Inner Dock is new developments that have grown considerably in the last few years. Across the dock is the new Baltimore Tower and the Lotus Chinese Restaurant that has been on a large pontoon since 1994. Up from the restaurant is Harbour Exchange which has two 1960s cranes standing in front of the glass covered buildings.

Glengall Bridge is where the inner and outer dock connect but also marks where many of the large developments cease and the older developments from the 1980s are in view. These older developments were part of more low level housing that used the space around the dock when it closed down.

The Outer Dock is much more relaxing with plenty of swans and ducks swimming amongst the sailing boats from the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which is located at the far West end of the dock near where the dock previously connected to the Thames. The centre was set up in 1989 by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Sports Council and provides plenty of water experiences to a wide range of people especially young people.

Near to the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre was the large West Ferry Printing Works, which was the largest newspaper print works in Western Europe when it was built-in 1984–6. It has now been flattened for yet more residential development. Walking on the other side of the dock gives wonderful views of Canary Wharf and allows you to look at many of the new developments at the top of the Island.

If you carry on, you end up the picturesque Clippers Quay housing estate built in 1984–8. Although now filled with water, this was the site of Millwall Dock Graving Dock which was a dry dock for ship-repair which opened in 1868. Many famous ships have been repaired in this dry dock including the Cutty Sark. It was said this dry docks was the best on the Thames, it was one of the largest, at 413ft long by 65ft wide with a depth of 25ft. It was closed and flooded in 1968 and is a haven for birdlife with swans and ducks enjoying its quite secluded location.

Walking on round the corner, you come across of a number of houseboats, mostly Dutch in origin , they offer some final interest before we come back to Glengall Bridge.

Unlike West India Docks, the  buildings around Millwall Docks were more modest  with sheds rather than grand warehouses. Therefore little remains from the estate from the working docks period other than 1960s cranes and a large number of bollards dotted about. But the docks themselves are still full of water and are an important resource for the Island.  In the frantic redevelopment of the Island , the docks provides an attractive space and peaceful oasis to sit and watch the world go by.

On the Docks Film Premiere at the Museum of London Docklands

Last Friday, I was fortunate to be invited to the world premiere of a film called On the Docks which features the history of London’s Dock Workers from the 1930s up until the closing of the docks from the 1970s.

What was unusual about the film was that it was made by children from Riverside and Westminster Cathedral primary schools with support from digital:works which is an arts and education charity.

Using the resources of the Museum of London Docklands, historians, two local archives and the community of retired dockers. The children began to develop skills like filming, sound capture and interviewing skills while others will began to learn to write historical and creative pieces.

The Friends of Island History Trust supported the project and provided some of the interviewees that appeared in the film.

The end result is a fascinating history of the docks and the people who used to work in the docks. The film is a reminder that working in the docks was often a struggle with little financial security and dangerous, injuries or even fatalities were not that unusual.

Despite these issues or maybe because of them, many dockers spoke about the camaraderie amongst the dock workers both in work and in the local communities. It was this community spirit and sense of humour that enabled people to survive in the depression in the 1930s and during the Second World War.

The film is nicely balanced between the interviews and action from docks to give a rounded view of the whole experience.

There is often a difficulty when trying to explain some of the intricacies of history to later generations because lives have changed considerably, even over the last 30 years. However, by allowing children to use their technological and creative skills is a great way to keep them interested and willing to learn about other periods of history.

If you would like to watch the film, it is now available to watch on the Thames Dockers website here

Congratulations to everyone involved for creating a film and project that pays tribute to the thousands of dock workers that were a vital part of the workforce especially in times of peril like the Second World War.

Superyacht Reef Chief in West India Dock

We have an early visitor to West India Dock with the arrival of Superyacht Reef Chief in West India Dock. The yacht was last in the dock in June 2018 and shares the berth with the tall ship Tenacious.

Reef Chief is a 49.07m, 160.76ft  luxury yacht which was built in United States of America by Trinity Yachts and delivered in 2009. The  yacht was previously named Anjilis and her luxurious interior is designed by Glade Johnson Design and her exterior styling is by Geoff Van Aller.

The yacht has a aluminium hull superstructure with an ultra-modern stabilization system. Reef Chief can accommodate 11 guests in 5 rooms and can carry up to 9 crew onboard.

Various reports suggest the yacht has been sold recently, but as usual it is very difficult to find out who actually owns the vessel.