Boat in a window

Thanks to Martin Walker for these pictures of the very last example of a large Lake Geneva trading barge, which must surely be much the same type as the one in the stained glass window in London (see this recent post). They have very similar hull shape, the two masts are both well forward, and they both carry lug sails. The one shown on the window at 2 Temple Place does not seem to have a bowsprit, but that’s a detail that can be easily modified.

The stained glass window is called A Swiss Summer Landscape and was from the studios of Clayton and Bell in 1895. It is one of a pair of very large stained glass windows on Swiss themes at 2 Temple Place (formerly Astor House) on the Embankment in London. They are unusual in being close to floor level so every detail can be studied. The barge is just one of those details.

The firm was founded by John Richard Clayton and Alfred Bell in 1855 and was a prolific English producer of the revived and – for decades in the 19th and early 20th centuries – very popular art of stained glass.

2 Temple Place is open occasionally to the public for free exhibitions and for the rest of the time it is available as an up market venue for hire. This is its website. I recommend the current John Ruskin exhibition, which is on until the 22nd April 2019.

Taking your dinghy through the Venice canals

After last year’s exploration of the Venice lagoon (see this post), we learnt recently about pilotage inside Venice’s own canal system, with a tour in a private motor boat. With care, you could do the same in a visiting yacht’s tender.

Shout as you approach a junction....
Shout as you approach a junction….

A new set of municipal rules took effect on 1 April, though apparently some of its key provisions, such as limits on the speed of water taxis, were dropped after protests from their vociferous spokesmen.

In a nutshell, drive on the right except for one canal near Piazzale Roma in the North West which for obscure reasons has a keep to the left rule. You also keep to the oar side when you meet a gondola coming the other way, which basically means switch to the left hand side because their oars are to starboard.

When nearing a junction in a motor boat shout ‘oy-oy’ loudly, and give way to vessels coming from the right (as in the collision regulations). Before you go anywhere, make sure you can stop quickly. Keep speed right down, for the newcomer to walking pace or less. And read the little signs, because some canals are one way and others have size limits.

It turns out that there are lots of spy cameras round the canals and fines are handed out, often in the region of a hundred euros. Don’t leave your boat unattended in an empty mooring space, because they are like gold dust and you could find your stay expensive (or even face some form of direct retribution). It is hard to see any way of legally going to a restaurant by dinghy!

The Grand Canal is completely banned to outsiders, including Italians who have moorings but aren’t  residents of the island of Venice itself. But by custom at least, though we couldn’t find a rule, it is open to all on Sundays, except anywhere near the Rialto bridge (but I don’t know how near. Maybe don’t go where you can see it would be a good rule of thumb?)

There’s a strict boat licensing system for anything with an engine bigger than 10HP and fines if you don’t display the boat’s licence number. You need a personal Venice licence as well above 40 HP. With these rules, it is hard to see a reason why a small foreign yacht tender with a modest engine should not venture into the canals.

Even so, if may be  prudent to make sure the driver has an international certificate of competence and the tender displays its national ensign. Belt and braces would be to have the tender entered  on the Small Ships Register, which is possible but not likely for most cruisers. I shall enquire further about the rules, if any, for foreigners. Meanwhile, my advice is to stick to Sunday if you want to potter round in your tender. If you’re on the canals for the first time, the speed and aggression of commercial craft makes it risky on a busy weekday for the Venice novice.

PS The sight of the day last Sunday was a Briton in a kayak paddling along with a red ensign displayed on a flagstaff at the stern.

Thames dangers

Last May I wrote that  actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales were banned from taking their hired narrowboat onto the tidal Thames at Limehouse in 2014 for a TV programme, even though we had managed the same trip with the same company shortly before. I was surprised and puzzled.

I now have to admit that I didn’t do enough research on the problem, having just discovered from the website of Black Prince , the hire company, that they have withdrawn their London fleet. One of the reasons is a ban on using the tidal Thames.

Heading from Limehouse to Tower Bridge

A quick search located a lot of internet discussion of the repercussions of an accident in August 2014, when a hire boat found itself straddled across the bows of a moored houseboat in a strong tide and gusty winds just above Hammersmith Bridge. It was rescued by an RNLI lifeboat. The Port of London Authority’s reaction was to reclassify hired narrowboats as commercial, and effectively ban them from the tidal Thames.

Certainly, when we went from Limehouse to Brentford on a strong flood tide, I was a lot more nervous than I have been in good, calm weather going through the Chenal de Four and Raz de Sein, with their ferocious tides and multiple rocks, or the passage inside the Portland Race, to mention a couple of coastal hazards.

A narrowboat is so under powered and so clumsy to steer because of the flat bottom that we felt exceedingly precarious on the approach to obstructions. A bad alignment followed by an attempt to correct at the last minute could all too easily lead to thumping a bridge pier or – in a nightmare scenario – straddling one (if the engine failed, for example.) We were fine, but I can see the risks, particularly with such a low freeboard, high windage and a steering position with only a partial guard rail.

Under the commercial rules, a qualified skipper would be required. (I don’t know whether RYA qualifications such as Yachtmaster would satisfy the PLA). More important, narrowboats probably can’t comply at all with some of the technical requirements. See this article in the website Canal Junction  for more details.

Quite quickly, after discussions between the PLA, the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators and the British Marine Industries Federation, hired narrowboats were again allowed to use the tidal river from Brentford to Teddington Lock, where the tide ends. This allows boats to complete the Thames/Oxford Canal/Grand Union ring. But so far there has been no compromise allowing hired boats back onto the section from Limehouse to Brentford, preventing completion of the fascinating inner London ring using the Grand Union Canal.

Strangely, if you own rather than hire the narrowboat, none of this applies, and you still have a right to go the whole distance. Never mind: we’ve booked with Black Prince this spring for the beautiful Llangollen canal, so we won’t be worrying about tides.

Earlier posts:

Limehouse to Brentford with the tide

Timothy West and Prunella Scales





Pilotage in the Venice lagoon

A Vaporetto at speed

Quite by accident while wandering around Venice with friends who live there, we crossed paths with a neighbour of theirs, who turned out to be one of only two women drivers of vaporetti on the lagoon.

When told we were on a hire boat she pretended to collapse in hysterical laughter, and then recounted tales of rescues from the mud and near collisions with vaporetti, and demanded to know how people without official licences could be let loose on the lagoon. (No licences were required by our hire company). So we were determined to show we could do it.

If there’s one tip we learnt about the Venice lagoon, it is to be ready to ignore the international collision regulations and just keep out of the way of commercial craft, even if they are small and don’t have right of way. Don’t demand your rights when you are crossing tracks with a vaporetto.

Read the rest, including details of navigation marks, by following this linkPilotage in the Venice lagoon

Round the Venice lagoon by barge

The beauty of Venice is so great that even the high-season overcrowding is still bearable. Now we’ve found a way of seeing the city in spring, summer and autumn without feeling oppressed by the sheer numbers around us. A week afloat on a barge is is the answer, because you see Venice in the context of its whole lagoon, and can slip easily away from the crowds.

Arriving, for example, at the island of Torcello in the evening, after the day-trip boats have left, is a blissfully peaceful experience. We found a mooring up a tree-lined creek on the far side of the island from the excursion landing stage, right behind the basilica. It was just an hour and a half slow cruising from Venice. In the city itself, we spent two nights in the peaceful surroundings of a yacht club marina at St Elena, in easy reach of the sights but away from the crowds.

Read the rest of the post by following this linkRound the Venice lagoon by barge.

The mooring on Torcello
The mooring at Torcello