The First SUP Club to paddle through London
OK, this is going to be a long one because it
deserves it, so get yourself a cup of coffee and I hope you enjoy
reading about it as much as we did paddling it.
The SUPer Club:
The Blue Chip SUPer Club has been paddling around the Thames Valley for over two years now and we have been posting our adventures since May 2009. We have a hard core group of paddlers that have literally been through (our around) the mill with us. Over the last year we have often talked about paddling “The Big One”, right through the middle of London on the Thames. So early in the year I started to lay the plans into action.
Choosing the right day:
In the Spring we started our reconnaissance drives up to London to asses and find the right entry and exit points along with the right tidal conditions and it soon became apparent that timing was going to be everything. We had to coincide in daylight time (with a good margin) the correct tide, the correct phase of the moon (to get the right water level at our exit point) and to be on a Sunday so all could make it. After all these variants were taken into account, Sunday 16th of August was the day.
The Thames can be beautiful and also deadly, let us not forget the people jump in the Thames to kill themselves, no weight required, the eddies and whirlpools will take you down no problem so I sounded out the Port Of London Harbour Masters office to find out what was what and a week before the start I also contacted the River Police and emailed them our schedule and asked them to let us know if we needed to be aware of anything that would pose an unacceptable danger. I spoke to the River Police by phone and they thought that I have covered all reasonable bases including the paddlers wearing buoyancy aids and having leashes and safety ropes.
Seven paddlers made up the paddling team, and we also had 3 photographers and spotters on mountain bikes plus 3 cover boats each with two on boards plus a flat bed crew cab truck (from our friends at the National Grid) and driver to transport and collect the boards and paddlers at the end. That made a team of 17 people, 7 boards, 3 mountain bikes, 3 boats and a truck and a London Taxi.
We would start our 8 mile paddle from Putney Bridge at 12:30 and 2-3 hours later reach Tower Bridge at about 1 hour before low water which should give us relatively flat surface conditions in the pool of London and in particular the Tower Bridge area without us having to trek through mud to get to our exit point at Alderman’s Stairs on the north bank adjacent to St. Katharine Docks.
After much planning and preparation the day arrived. Conditions were great with blue skies and a light tail wind. Everything was in place:
07:00: I checked my email and one of the safety boats had engine trouble and had to pull out (Pool of London was not the place for a boat to be with a dodgy engine) so we were now down to two cover boats but that was fine. 08:00 The two cover boats made there way through Teddington lock on their way to the rendezvous at Putney Bridge. 09:00 Kevin (one of the photographers) started his drive up to London with his bike on board where he would park his vehicle and cycle back to Putney for the start, this would give us another vehicle to get us back to our cars that will be left at Putney.
09:30 Tom arrives at Blue Chip with the truck to
pick up the boards and the other two bikes
10:00 We set off for the starting point at Putney.
10:30 We arrive at the Starting point to find Jason and Paul there ready and waiting but the river is still flowing upstream at this time.
11:00 Like clockwork, the river now starts to flow down stream towards London
11:15 The two cover boats arrive and moor up. The final paddlers arrive.
and donning our buoyancy aids and SUPer Club T shirts, the camera crew got ready and Kevin moved up onto the bridge.
We made our way onto the water to test the current and the crowds started to gather on the bridge.
We played around on the water up stream of the bridge to the crowds delight.
On the stroke of 12:30 we where off on our epic voyage, we were going to SUP a journey where no SUPers had journeyed before. The crowds on the bridge gave us a cheer as we passed under the bridge and got our first taste of the tidal Thames. To our surprise the current and the tail wind were moving us at about 6 mph which is about twice the speed I had planned for. That meant the camera crew on their bike would have a job keeping up with us. We were
literally flying past Wandsworth Park and closing in on Wandsworth
Riverside Quarter Pier.
We soon came up on Wandsworth Bridge
and just after that we beached on the South side to regroup and give
the cameras time to catch up.
We kicked off again and soon passed
Lots Road Power Station on our left, followed by the house boats at
Chelsea and just around the corner was Battersea Bridge
and Albert Bridge
right behind it with Battersea park and the pagoda on our right.
We stopped here to regroup again and let the cameras catch up. Also we needed to slow down not to be too early. By now the land marks were coming at us one after the other and as we came under Chelsea bridge we had Battersea power station on our right
and we could just see the MI6 building around the corner on the right just past Vauxhall Bridge. Then a very slick Police RIB closed in on us from down stream and came along side one of the cover boats, stayed for about 5 minutes and then carried on up stream. Mary in the boat said that they wished us well and we should stick to the South Bank and watch out for the pleasure boats and their wake. We decided to stop at the beach near the MI6 building to see if we could get some drinks on the Albert Embankment when the big Yellow Duck came thundering down the ramp and came to an abrupt halt when he saw us,
I think he thought we were some kind of invaders.
Then the Duck drove into the Thames and tootled off. It was so low in the water we all commented that it wouldn’t take much wake to sink it. We walked up the shingle bank to the road and were abruptly sent back with a flea in our ear by an official with a badge on his jumper telling us that duck ramp was private property owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and we had no right there, we explained that we were not on the ramp but on the shingle but he was having none of it and was reading the riot act as we went back down the shingle,
he was still going into one as we went out of sight. I expect he is still going on, and on, and on…
left and we could now see in the distance all the landmarks that London is famous for across the horizon. Next was Lambeth Bridge with the Houses of Parliament clearly in our sights now with the London Eye beyond. Once past Lambeth Bridge we decided to break with convention and cross over to the North Bank for some iconic photos.
to cruise past the houses of Parliament
We all needed a rest so we beached at Festival Pier and had a well deserved rest and some refreshment. The cover boats also stopped and we all enjoyed this respite. After about ten minutes the camera crew caught up with us and we had a short debrief, then Jason and Andrew decided that this was a photo opportunity too good to miss.
The camera crew then set of and we were under strict instructions not to leave until they were at their next location and ready for us. Then we got the call from them and we paddled off again passing the National Theatre on our right
passing under the two Blackfriars Bridges passing Tait Modern
and under the Millenium Bridge
nd then passing Shakespeare's Globe theatre. Then on under Southwark Bridge and Cannon Street Railway Bridge
and then past the Golden Hind on our right.
we paddled off to the right
and towards Horsleydown Old Stairs where we would have a break and regroup for the final crossing to
the North Bank. for our exit. What a trip,
we did it.
Well that is our SUPing the Thames through London
story. Just to say that we SUPers had the best of the day and it would
not have been possible without the help of our back up team who just
kept going and made things work for us:
Cover Boat 1: Dian and George McKenna
Cover Boat 2: Mary and Hil Graham
Mountain Bike cameras and spotters: Angie, Ellie and Kevin
Truck driver: Tom
Paddlers: Gordon, Julian, Rob, Paul, Jay, Andrew and Myself
Plus thanks to the London River Police for caring about our welfare The Port Of London Authority for giving their advice. and a really big thank you to the thousands of people who waved and cheered us on from the bridges, shore and the pleasure boats, it was really good to see you all.
Anyone thinking of doing a similar paddle, you will first of all need to appoint an experienced and qualified paddle leader and produce:-
- A detailed paddle plan for the trip
- Start and estimated finish time
- Including entry point
- Exit point
- Emergency exit points along the trip
- Your point of contact (for the PLA)
- Need to submit a detailed Risk Assessment to the PLA
- Obtain approval and permission from the PLA:
- Each paddler wearing a buoyancy aid
- Coiled leash
- Quick release waist belt
- Throw rope on each board.
- Team leader to carried a waterproof floating VHF on channel 14 & 16 dual watch
here are some useful
London River Police: 020 7275 4431
Port Of London Authority: 01474 562200
Blue Chip SUPer Club 020 8715 0040
SUPing the Thames security alert
John Hibbard, tries to steel a march on the Thames SUPers…
12:00 Sunday Morning: While we were getting the Boards Ready at the launch point, Jason asked, “Did you tell John Hibbard what time we were setting off?” I replied, “Yes, why?” Jason exclaimed,
“I think I have just seen him sneaking past us trying to steel a march on us all”