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For those at the bottom end of the Island, the arrival of the RFA Argus in Greenwich provides considerable interest.
The RFA Argus is one of the more unusual ships in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary operated by the MoD under the Blue Ensign. The ship was built in Italy as the container ship MV Contender Bezant. The ship was requisitioned in 1982 for service in the Falklands War and purchased outright in 1984 for use as an Aviation Training Ship.
Before the ship entered service, the ship spent four-years at Harland and Wolff in Belfast to be converted from a container ship into a hospital ship. In 1991, during the Gulf War, she was fitted with a fully functional hospital to assume the additional role of Primary Casualty Receiving Ship.
The unusual layout of the ship allows the ship to be used for aviation training when small helicopters can land on flight deck.
Since its conversion, the RFA Argus has been seen service in Bosnia, Kosovo, Middle East and Sierra Leone and many other areas.
The ship has undergone upgrades to its hospital functions with its Primary Casualty Receiving Facility consisting of over 40 different medical and surgical specialties, and is manned by personnel drawn from the MOD Hospital Units and Royal Marine Band Service.
The unit has a state-of-the-art emergency department, resuscitation and surgical facilities, a radiology suite that includes a CT scanner, a critical care unit, a high dependency unit and a 70-bed general ward.
Argus is generally stationed at her home port of Falmouth in Cornwall.
Although we have often seen the HMS Ocean berthed at Greenwich, it is rare to see the RFA Argus with its very unusual design.
One of the popular aspects of the Tall Ships Festival is the evening firework displays, even from the top of the Island they looked more spectacular than normal this year.
Fortunately, regular contributor L. Katiyo was on hand to get some photographs of the evening’s display.
The Tall Ship Festivals are a wonderful celebration of all things maritime and are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people over the four days.
We are fortunate on the Island to be surrounded on three sides by the Thames which gives us wonderful views of the various maritime events.
The river seemed very quiet after the last few days and we can now look forward to the next event.
Congratulations to all involved for another amazing event that pays homage to London’s maritime past and provides opportunities for young people to undertake adventures of a lifetime.
Earlier I joined the thousands of people in Island Gardens and at vantage points at the bottom of the Island to watch the spectacular Parade of Sail which was the final element of the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta in Greenwich & Woolwich and Tall Ships Festival.
Locals and visitors lined the riverfront to watch the whole fleet of 30 Tall Ships congregate and then set off from Greenwich to carry onto the next stage of their journey which for many of the ships will be Sines in Portugal.
On board some of the ships will 50 Tall Ships Sail Trainees, local young people who will help crew the ships en route to Portugal over 15 nights.
Over the last few days, thousands of people have enjoyed the various entertainments in the festival culminating in spectacular firework displays. It is estimated over 10,000 visitors managed to get on board some of the Tall ships during the weekend.
Watching the various Tall Ships sailing in front of Greenwich, it was easy to let your mind wander to the past, when the river was crowded with all manner of vessels.
In another nod to the past, The Queen has written a letter to the people of Canada which will be delivered on board vessels taking part in the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta.
The personal message will be carried onboard the Tall Ships taking part in the Regatta from the Royal Borough of Greenwich to Quebec to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Federation. A scroll containing the letter was handed over to Captain Jurgens Hanekom of the Wylde Swan this morning.
Fortunately we do have regular Tall Ship visitors to to provide interest but to see some many Tall Ships in one place is a rare treat that was enjoyed by thousands of people on both sides of the river.
On the eve of the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, I was fortunate to be invited to take a trip on one of the Tall Ships on the Thames from Woolwich to Greenwich.
Whilst I have seen a lot of Tall Ships in West India Dock and at Greenwich and occasionally been on board to have a look around, actually sailing on a ship down the Thames was to be novel experience.
Many of the Tall Ships for the Regatta are berthed at Woolwich and provide a wonderful sight that is perhaps a reminder of past especially in the West India and East India Docks.
Travelling down the river offers a very different perspective on familiar sights and after passing the Thames Barrier, I began to scan the riverside for familiar landmarks.
Not surprisingly, the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf grabbed my attention before we approached the O2 and the Emirates Airline cable car overhead.
The familiar skyline of Canary Wharf dominated the next stretch but I was surprised how the familiar buildings on the riverfront took on a completely different aspect, even the Blue Bridge which is the entrance to West India Dock looked quite small from the river.
Travelling around the bends of the river, new viewpoints appeared quickly until the stately outline of Greenwich came into view and the masts of the Cutty Sark.
With a number of Tall Ships in the river at this point, you did not need a lot of imagination to go back in time when the river was full of ships of all descriptions.
It was not just the views that takes your interest, watching the crew bringing down the sails and carrying out various duties gives a little insight into how much work will be involved sailing one of these ships across the Atlantic.
Which is the destination of many of the boats after the Regatta in Greenwich and Woolwich, the regatta, organised by Sail Training International, will sail from Greenwich to Quebec in Canada, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation. A fleet of over 30 large Class A and B Tall Ships will sail for Canada via Sines in Portugal, Bermuda and Boston.
If you are in London and would a trip down the Thames on a Tall Ship, some cruises will be available over the weekend or you visit some ships which will be open for visitors to get on board to look around and talk to the crew.
Two Tall Ships festival villages are open at the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site in Greenwich town centre, and the Royal Arsenal riverside in Woolwich.
The most spectacular part of the Regatta will take place on Sunday when the huge Parade of Sail starts at 5pm from Deptford Creek, during the Parade of Sail, the whole Tall Ships fleet will sail together down the Thames to the sea, before crossing the Atlantic and arriving in Quebec on 18 July 2017.
If you would like to find out more, visit the Royal Greenwich website here
In an exciting few weeks for the Island, we will have two major events on our doorstep. Later in the month is the London Marathon, but next week is a Tall Ships Regatta at Greenwich.
Over the Easter weekend, Greenwich will host the start of the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta. The regatta, organised by Sail Training International, will sail from Greenwich to Quebec in Canada, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.
The fleet of over 30 large Class A and B Tall Ships will gather for four days on the River Thames at Greenwich and Woolwich before setting sail for Canada via Sines in Portugal, Bermuda and Boston.
The ships will be anchored in the Thames alongside two Tall Ships festival villages. These will be located at the Maritime Greenwich in Greenwich town centre, and the Royal Arsenal riverside in Woolwich.
In the festival villages, there will be food stalls serving street foods and drinks will be available at bars at each of the Festival sites.
Some ships will be open for visitors to get on board to look around and talk to the crew and visitors can buy tickets to enjoy a cruise on the Tall Ships on the Thames to Tower Bridge and back.
There will plenty of maritime entertainment and live music from Thursday 13 April to Sunday 16 April, before the huge Parade of Sail starting at 5pm from Deptford Creek on Sunday 16 April.
During the Parade of Sail, the whole Tall Ships fleet will sail together down the Thames to the sea, before crossing the Atlantic and arriving in Quebec on 18 July 2017.
Watching the tall ships is always a fantastic sight and I will be out and about bringing you some stories and articles from the Regatta.
If you would like to find out more, visit the Royal Greenwich website here
One of the most remarkable stories of the last 60 years in London is the way the River Thames has recovered from being considered ‘biologically’ dead in 1950s to now being home to hundreds of species of fish and animals.
The Thames was declared biologically ‘dead’ by the Natural History Museum in the 50s when its waters were considered devoid of oxygen and unable to sustain life. After the introduction of tough legislation in the late 20th century, the river has made such a comeback that it is estimated that 400 invertebrates and 125 species of fish, have returned to the murky waters.
One of the delights of this turnaround is that we are seeing seals, dolphins, porpoises and the occasional whale further up the river. Although the waters around the Isle of Dogs is considered a bit of a hot spot for sightings, it is more likely that you will see a seal and often you tend to suspect it might be Sammy the permanent resident at Billingsgate Market.
Last week, I was contacted by Andrew Parnell who provided some evidence of a more spectacular sighting. Andrew is a City of London guide who leads walks around the Island, one of the walks entitled Treasure Island: The Isle of Dogs’ Hidden Gems reveals some of the lesser known architectural gems of the Isle of Dogs.
One a recent walk, Andrew was near Livingstone Place when he and his group came across some marine ‘gems’ when he spotted a number of porpoises in the river. Andrew took a brief video on his phone and has kindly given permission for me to use some photographs taken from the footage.
In the video is at least three different porpoises which have been identified as harbour porpoises but there may have been more.
It really is a remarkable sight to see porpoises this far up the river moving towards the centre of London. However it is unlikely they were ‘sightseeing’, quite often marine mammals follow their food for long distances.
On my frequent walks around the Island, I will looking at the river with renewed interest, hoping to spot more of our marine visitors.
Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his sighting and if you are interested in joining his walk around the Isle of Dogs, visit his website here
Regular readers will know that one of my favourite walks on a Sunday morning is from the Isle of Dogs to the Tower of London. Once you leave Canary Wharf behind, you enter the old docklands walking along Narrow Street in Limehouse to Shadwell Basin and then passed by Tobacco Dock to Wapping.
Finally you can walk around St Katherine’s Dock where you will often see the Gloriana and Havengore moored before finally arriving at the Tower. Quite often I will cross Tower Bridge to explore the south side of the river, this week my progress was halted by the raising of the bascules to allow a ship pass through. Although I have seen the bridge raised many times, I have never been on the bridge when it has happened. Therefore I joined the excited throng of people looking over the bridge to see what ship was coming underneath.
To my great surprise, it was the PS Waverley being pulled by the tug General VIII. The PS Waverley is the last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world and since 2003 Waverley has been listed in the National Historic Fleet by National Historic Ships UK as “a vessel of pre-eminent national importance”.
Built in 1946, she used to sail from Craigendoran on the Firth of Clyde to Arrochar on Loch Long until 1973. She was then restored and now operates passenger excursions around the British coast.
She is a regular visitor to the Thames and is one of the great sights of the river chugging up and down with lots of passengers.
Unfortunately there was little chugging this time as the PS Waverley was pulled through the bridge and off to be repaired.