St Katharine’s Dock Classic Boat Fest


Cambria against the Tower Hotel at St Katharine’s Dock, Pic by Matt Care

You’ll know if you have been following this blog, that ‘we’ are currently moored up in St Katharine’s Docks right by Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We are part of the St Kat’s Classic Boat Festival so we are open to the public (free of charge) for the 9 days from September 7th through Sunday 15th. We are in a prime position just inside the lock entrance on the right, the first boat you come to and we can be seen for miles when we have the big logo topsail up and glowing in the sunshine; we can be seen from way across the river by anyone walking on Tower Bridge and we can be glimpsed through the access (road) archways to the flats and eateries around the basin.


We are being very professionally and helpfully looked after by Maggs (Margaret) Casey Kelly who is Office Manager for the Marina Office, as well as being a Cambria Volunteer and sometimes female ‘bosun’ on charter trips where we have female carers and sail trainees. The ‘office’ is also a lovely building right by the lock which contains showers and loos for berth holders as well as an Italian restaurant upstairs – luxury! St Kat’s management have also set up a nice discount for ‘boat owners’ during the festival on production of the ‘card’ when you go to eat at the marina-side eateries.



Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster drop by, Unknown Photographer – I will find out.

Having not done St Kat’s before we were not sure what to expect, though being in tourist London and having this huge, red-ochre, 75 foot advert flying, we suspected we might be busy. We were not wrong. On the first Saturday, the barge had only just locked in and been moored up, the crew (Richard T, Hilary and ‘Stretch’) had handed their young charges over to their shore-based ‘responsible adults’, tidied the barge and handed ‘us’ the keys. We were just getting ready with gang planks etc and doing a bit of shopping as the first ‘tourists’ started to arrive. They were quickly pouring on in queues and the flow went on relentlessly right round till 6 pm. Myself, Basil and Nancy Brambleby and Hugh Perks were on the ‘staff’ and we could not really manage the gang plank and count but we think we ‘saw’ anything from 700 to 1000 souls through.


I love this bit – proudly showing off the barge, rattling away enthusiastically about her importance, history, coming out of trade, the museum years, the rebuild and Lottery stuff and the present uses – you can just see the delight on people’s faces when you tell them about the Respite for Young Carers and the Sea Change Sailing Trust work. Cambria is just plain seen as a GOOD THING, a real hit in terms of ways to spend Lottery money.  The children (and the big kids!) love to hold the ships’ wheel and we were able to get pics of whole groups by using their own cameras. They loved to try the hammock we had slung below decks (Thank you Richard T!)  and were impressed by being able to sit in the old Skipper’s cabin aft and to tour the “new yachty bit” for’d – delighted with the galley, the cabins and the way the showers are slotted in among the curved timbers in the bow.



Matt Care gets some rest on the Monday – rain and Monday stopped play a bit. Pic by Tricia Gurnett.

All life seems to pass through there. There were old men remembering their associations with the London River and how run down was St Kat’s after the war, smart ladies whose Grandfathers had been barge skippers, children of all ages, shapes and sizes and everyone in between from a Turkish lady eye-ing me through the slit of her yashmak, to the buffed ‘pretty boys’ with their fake tan and their matching ‘Jedward’ quiffs, a Taiwanese lady who asked some very tough and searching questions – she obviously knew her barges, all walks of life, colours and creeds. We even had the team from the ‘Cambria’ pub in Brixton drop by.


On the Sunday we were more together. We’d lost Hugh but we had been joined by Dave and Julie Brooks, so we were able to used the counter-clicker and we know we saw 919 people. Again the flow was relentless, only easing at around 18:30 when we were meant to have shut up shop. Several pots of tea were made but left to go cold and stewed where no-one had time to pour a cup and all of us had cold, un-drunk mugs of tea or coffee parked on various bits of barge. We were all elated but exhausted by close of play and delighted to have a nice quiet meal in one of the local restaurants and share a bottle of wine.


Monday was a whole different kettle of fish – Monday and rain, so we only saw 6 people round the tour all day, but that was a relief rather than a disaster and gave us a chance to watch some old videos of barges, wander round and look at other boats, or catch up on some kip in the hammock. Moored alongside us came the Dunkirk Little Ship, New Brittanic with her superbly stereotypic new Ozzie owner, Greg. I had to head home on the Tuesday morning and missed rock legend Rod Stewart and his wife Penny Lancaster dropping by and nicely and generously allowing us to take pictures with our staff and the barge in the background for Facebook etc.


That’s probably enough for this post, but let me put out an URGENT call to arms for anyone reading this who can make themselves available for all or part of THIS SATURDAY (14th September). Due to the Colne Barge Match clashing, we are a bit short of staff to man gangplanks and look after the public, so if you can help out please get in touch with Basil or Dave B, use email for example. You will love it and be proud to have been there.

Thank You.

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