Tugs on the Tidal Thames 3

The tidal Thames is busy these days. Bennett’s Barges is one of the operators supplying parts and equipment to construction projects along the river.

The distinctive livery of passing Bennett’s Barges and their tugs is sure to catch your eye as you look out over the river.  Part of the Livett’s Group, their tugs and barges are working on the western section of the super sewer for London. 
     Bennett’s Barges was founded in 1983 and was involved with a number of high profile projects such as the removal of aggregate and soil from among others, the Limehouse Link tunnel and the Jubilee Line Extension. After further changes they are now part of a joint venture between Chris Livett, Managing Director of the Livett’s Group, and Aggregate Industries. You will see them not only on the Thames but also along the rivers Medway and Swale.

Tug CHRISTIAN pushing empty barge PHOEBE upstream

A fleet of eight large, new, specially designed “Tideway Class” hopper barges was built in order to carry out their work along the tidal Thames on the Tideway Tunnel for London’s new super sewer. They were designed particularly for this task by Bennett’s Barges in conjunction with Baars BV in Holland, where they were built. Barge CHURCHILL was delivered in February 2018, followed by PHOEBE, ZEUS, HERCULES, POSEIDON and APOLLO. The final two, PEGASUS and VALIANT arrived in April that same year.

“Their decks are much wider, and therefore safer than traditional Thames barges,” explains Ed Livett, son of Chris Livett, “and also designed to be pushed, rather than towed, which we find to be safer and more fuel efficient.”

Their boldly painted names are unmissable, heavily accented towards heroes and qualities of courage, giving a pleasing nobility to these latest river workhorses. When asked in an interview by the Thames Festival Trust how they were chosen, Chris Livett said that some were chosen through a Twitter poll but one was rather nicely named PHOEBE after his granddaughter.

Empty barges are pushed upstream by some of the tugs from their fleet that I see regularly, including FELIX, CHRISTIAN and STEVEN B. They are filled with spoil excavated from the Tideway Tunnel sites, particularly at Carnwath Road, Fulham, and in addition the site at Putney.

Tugs FELIX and CHRISTIAN, both capable of towing and pushing, are equipped with a hydraulic wheelhouse making them unique and ideal for use in Central London. Tug STEVEN B is also a familiar sight.

Tug CHRISTIAN pushing empty barge CHURCHILL upstream
Tug CHRISTIAN pushing P2, a flat top pontoon loaded with tunnel parts for the Tideway project

Also making their way upstream to these same sites are rounded tunnel segments transported on flat top pontoons, or flat top barges, which if you have time to look, you’ll see are named SIDNEY L, P2, ROVER and WILLCARRY. Ed tells me that Sidney L is named after the family dog.

Each barge loaded with tunnel segments relieves London’s roads of up to twenty-eight lorry journeys, cutting back on congestion and pollution. And each “Tideway Class” hopper barge removing materials excavated from the tunnel sites by river, spares London from up to fifty lorry loads. This is all good news for the environment for with the super sewer and several other building projects, both Bennett’s Barges and the other companies using the river as a highway, are saving our city from increases in noise, dangerous levels of traffic, and toxic air.

Tug FELIX pushing P2 with tunnel segments upstream
Close up of tug FELIX pushing tunnel parts

Once delivered the segments are offloaded by a harbour crane, ready for installation underground.

Tug STEVEN B passing Thames Marine Services on her way upstream
Barge PHOEBE waiting at Putney
Tug STEVEN B pushing empty pontoon downstream having delivered tunnel segments for the Tideway super sewer
Tug CHRISTIAN pushing earth-filled barge CHURCHILL downstream
Barge VALIANT emerging from under Lambeth Bridge
Tug FELIX pushing loaded barge downstream past Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster Abbey, and the Palace of Westminster
Tug CHRISTIAN pushing heavily-laden barge HERCULES downstream past H.M.S. BELFAST

The filled barges are pushed to Rainham Marshes in Essex, where they are unloaded by Land & Water Ltd., a company working on a wildlife habitat creation scheme in the area.

Tug FELIX passes paddle steamer ELIZABETHAN, also a part of the Livett’s fleet, just downstream from Tower Bridge

Chris Livett, Managing Director of the Livett’s Group is also Bargemaster to H.M. the Queen, and belongs to a family with a long tradition of working on the Thames. In an interview for the Thames Festival Trust of whose Board he is a member, he explains that he is a “Seventh Generation Waterman” but that until now his family had worked as tug or barge captains. He is the first to “run a serious business on the river”. However what comes across in the article is his real love of the Thames, its heritage, culture and way of life. And it is a passion that he has passed on to his son Ed, who takes pride in being an eighth generation Waterman, also a Director of the Livett’s Group. And Bennett’s Barges is an important part of the enterprise, raising the company profile as their tug captains skilfully steer their barges along the reaches of the tidal Thames.

Tug STEVEN B, enjoying a moment of freedom, heading towards Lambeth Bridge

Further Information
Bennett’s Barges and their place in Aggregate Industries.
Discover the wide-ranging services on the river offered by the Livett Group. See Managing Director Chris Livett talking about the company.
You can also follow Chris Livett on Twitter: @ChrisLivett


Tugs on the Tidal Thames 2

Towing away London’s rubbish…

As you walk along the banks of the central London Thames, you can see there’s no doubt about the sense of purpose of waste-towing Cory tugs passing on the river. Their names are a strong indication of their resolve. As Reclaim; Recovery; Redoubt; Regain; and Resource tow their barges up and downstream, you can watch them skilfully navigating the shoals and bridges of this tightly knit section of the river, making use of the tides as they go.

Cory tug REGAIN heading upstream with a barge of empty containers

Cory Riverside Energy have been operating a lighterage business on the Thames for over 120 years, transferring cargo from large ships of different sizes to barges taking short trips to piers, depots or warehouses, so that their Captains and crews have both a long tradition and the experience “to deal with anything that the Thames can put in their way.”

The company started life in 1896 as William Cory & Son Ltd., transporting over five million tonnes of coal, coke and patent fuel into London each year. Their barges, which would have been empty for the return journey, were then used for the removal of household and other waste from London. “Every tug leaving London on the Thames left with a cargo of rubbish from London’s streets, for ultimate disposal on the marshlands of Kent and Essex.”

Cory tug RESOURCE towing empty containers upstream
Cory tug RECLAIM heading downstream with the ebbing tide

Cory are rightly proud of their work along the Thames today. Transporting London’s waste by river saves around 100,000 lorries a year from congesting and polluting the city’s streets. Using the rhythm of the tides, their tugs tow barges loaded with empty containers upstream on the flood tide, delivering them to borough collection points along the river. Once there, empty containers are lifted off and filled containers are loaded in their place by crane. The barges are then towed back downstream on the ebb tide.

Cory tug RECLAIM towing three loaded barges downstream

Cory’s waste recovery service at their Belvedere plant, converting waste into energy, supplies power to 160,000 homes; provides 200,000 tonnes of ash left over from the incineration process to be recycled into aggregate for a variety of construction projects; and recovers 10,000 tonnes of air pollution control residue, which after careful processing is converted into building blocks.

Cory tug REDOUBT making waves as she heads downstream towards Westminster Bridge
Cory tug RECOVERY heading downstream past the buildings, old and new of St. Thomas’ hospital.
Cory tug REDOUBT towing a single barge past the Palace of Westminster
Cory tug RECLAIM about to pass a Thames clipper

The maximum number of crew on their tugs is six, “made up of the Master, Mate and Engineer, plus two or three Lightermen.”

Cory tug REDOUBT heading downstream past the London Eye with her loaded barge
Cory tug RECOVERY approaching Blackfriars Bridge
Cory tug RESOURCE powering solo upstream towards Lambeth Bridge

If you happen to walk along the central London section of the Thames Path National Trail for any length of time, you will become aware of the river traffic, and among the many vessels navigating that part of the river, you are bound see the brightly liveried Cory tugs towing their barges of lemon-yellow containers. Their highly trained Captains make their passage look easy. It is not. The Thames has some awkward and fast-flowing currents, particularly around the bridges, and shallow stretches, all of which have to be learnt. And at the moment, with so much construction under way, on the Tideway sewer and elsewhere, vessels have to take extra care. This is emphasised in short section of one of the films on Cory’s site “What we do”, where Cory Tug Master John Dwan says among all the other aspects of his job “Health and safety come first of all”.

A past winner of the famous Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race John Dwan explains how his family, along with some others, is intricately bound up with work along the Thames, the tradition passing across the generations from father to son, to nephews and cousins… Branches of the Dwan family have worked at a whole variety of jobs along the river for over five hundred years. So if you watch the passing tugs and barges carefully, you will sense the continuity and see a proud strand of history played out before you.

Cory tug REGAIN emerging from under Canon Street railway bridge
Cory tugs RESOURCE, REDOUBT, and RECLAIM at rest

Further information:
Cory Riverside Energy
Thames Tugs for history, images and details of Cory tugs
Follow Cory Energy on Twitter: @CoryEnergy

Tugs on the Tidal Thames 1

Robust river workhorses…

GPS Marine brightly coloured tugs are among many tugs working for different companies along the river. Operating for over fifty years in harbours all over Europe, their tugs are a familiar sight on the waters of the Medway and the Thames.

And from the banks of the Thames in central London you are bound to see them towing, or pushing loads to and from the many riverside construction sites, particularly the massive Tideway tunnel sites for the new London sewer.

GPS tug INDIA pushing a barge loaded with aggregate upstream

Using the tides to their best advantage, every day they save London’s roads from large-scale pollution and congestion by carrying upstream machines, precast products for construction, and around 2,000 tonnes of aggregate, used for mixing with bitumen, cement, gypsum, lime and other material to form concrete or mortar, used for building projects throughout London.

GPS tug INDIA pushing barge of earth downstream towards Waterloo Bridge

“On a typical day,” they tell me, “we transport four barges, each carrying 1,600 tonnes of material, so relieving London’s roads of 352 lorry journeys.”

Coming downstream, again saving London from road congestion and pollution, as this link to a Tideway film explains, you will often spot tugs pushing massive barges filled with spoil from the various sites along the river to ‘spoil reception facilities’ at East Tilbury, where it can be graded for ‘beneficial reuse’.

GPS tug CAMBRIA towing a crane upstream from under Waterloo Bridge
GPS tug CAMBRIA towing an empty barge upstream
GPS BATTLER, designated a ‘special vessel’, is a shallow draft, multi-purpose boat. Last week, she was videoed at work in front of Butler’s Wharf by tug enthusiast @2000MX5 on Twitter
GPS tug Illyria towing machinery downstream
GPS tug CAMBRIA heading upstream with an empty barge to collect excavated tunnel material
GPS tug INDIA pushing a barge downstream with excavated material from one of the sewer tunnel sites
GPS tug IBERIA passing the Houses of Parliament
GPS tug CERVIA and launch ALERT heading upstream from Westminster Bridge
GPS launch ALERT heading downstream

In 2018, GPS Marine added sleek-looking vessel ALERT to their fleet as a “fleet support launch”, fully equipped with a floating office to carry technical officers to support and assist tug crews on the river. She also has equipment to undertake repairs, maintenance, salvage, and first aid. With a maximum speed of 20 knots, she can, if necessary, move swiftly to where she is needed.

GPS tug ARCADIA
GPS tug/workboat FELUCA passing HMS BELFAST

I’m just one of many who enjoys seeing tugs passing along the Thames. Professionals and amateurs alike can be attracted by their technical make-up, the varied work they do, and their sheer physical appeal. They brighten up the views and provide interest as you walk along the riverside. However, aesthetically appealing as they are, it would be wrong to over romanticise them. Even with modern improvements, working on tugs can be uncomfortable, dirty, difficult, and dangerous. You can find out how life for tug crews on the Thames used to be, and how it has changed in recent years, by looking at this short film on Thames doyen Peter Duggan interviewed by Nikolai Bendix in 2015. And it is still changing…

To find out more see:
Posts by GPS Marine on some of their work on the Thames.
The Liquid Highway “A leading River Thames source for news and info with the world’s largest Thames vessel photo gallery”, run by Thames Waterman and Lighterman, Ben, and follow him on Twitter @liquid_highway1
And another interesting resource to explore is: Thames Tugs

From the river….

Views of the Thames by Wal Daly-Smith

Working on the Thames as a commercial Skipper with the Tideway project and as Mate with Bateaux London, Wal has a unique view of the river. Whatever the weather, whatever the state of the tides, he is sensitive to the constant changes affecting the perspective of London’s landmark buildings, bridges, and boats and will when he can, seize the moment to capture them on film. He has kindly allowed me to share his pictures with you. 

Putney Bridge on a misty morning ©Wal Daly-Smith

Working for the Tideway project, building the super sewer for London under the Thames, Wal is based at Carnwath Road, on the north shore, upper side of Wandsworth Bridge. His work often takes him to the Tideway site at Putney, where he gets to see Putney Bridge in its many guises.

Putney Bridge turning the Thames to gold ©Wal Daly-Smith
Westminster Bridge and Portcullis House ©Wal Daly-Smith

His work for Bateaux London Cruises can take him as far upstream as Plantation Wharf, just below Wandsworth Bridge, and downstream to the Thames Barrier, depending on the tides and the cruise time.

A Thames Clipper beneath the London Eye ©Wal Daly-Smith
Tourist passenger boats M.V. SARPEDON and M.V. SAPELE ©Wal Daly-Smith

He knows the various sights and vessels along the river well, having watched and learnt about them since his childhood. And being part of the Thames river family, he knows many of those working on, or along the river.

Wal, centre, taking part in the Apprentices Barge Driving Race from Greenwich Pier to Westminster Bridge in October 2018. Photo ©Thames Waterman and Lighterman, Ben: @liquid_highway1

Wal tells me that his favourite day of the year is the Thames Historic Barge Driving Race, a physically tough seven mile course from Greenwich Pier to Westminster Bridge. Set up in 1975, the race celebrates the knowledge and skill of lightermen, who until the 1930s used these 30 tonne barges under oars as a major means of moving freight along the river. The crews are made up of Freemen and Apprentices of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen, who rely on their strength and knowledge of the tides to navigate the various obstacles on the course. He likes the way “the race brings people together in a good atmosphere”, with spectators on the banks, following the race on different boats, or watching from the bridges, all cheering the teams on.

An extra passenger hitching a ride ©Wal Daly-Smith

The photographs that follow show just a few of the places and the variety of craft, from tourist vessels to tugs working on industrial projects, that Wal comes across navigating the Thames.

City Cruises tourist boat MILLENNIUM DIAMOND ©Wal Daly-Smith
Cory tug REGAIN towing barges carrying waste containers ©Wal Daly-Smith
Sunset from the Blackfriars Tideway site where Wal worked earlier last year ©Wal Daly-Smith
The new Apple HQ in the UK: a major building site along the river – the old Battersea Power Station, its four chimneys now restored ©Wal Daly-Smith
Cadogan Pier ©Wal Daly-Smith
Albert Bridge ©Wal Daly-Smith

Many of Wal’s trips take him to Tower Bridge, a favourite with visitors to London, particularly if they’re able to see a Bridge Lift for ships too large to pass under the roadway – you can discover the timetable on the above link.

Tower Bridge lifts to allow golden super yacht BELLAMI upstream ©Wal Daly-Smith

He clearly loves the river at any time of the day but says: “My favourite time is at night. It can be that bit more special, probably when it’s slack tide and the river becomes a mirror, reflecting the lights beautifully…”

Passing beneath Tower Bridge ©Wal Daly-Smith
Nightfall at Tower Bridge ©Wal Daly-Smith

There are many photographers, professional and amateur, for whom the Thames is a constant source of inspiration. Just as the waters are in a continual state of flux, so the possibilities for individual photographs are infinite. Moments frozen in time, never to be replicated exactly. And Wal is one of many who have their own story to weave into the flow of the river. See here my earlier interview with Wal Daly-Smith.

The Thames: Shining in the Dark

The beauty of the river at nightfall…

As the sky slowly darkens and lights from lamps, buildings, boats and bridges begin to glow, the ever-changing river sparkles into nightlife mode. A magical time.

M.V. MERCEDES preparing for a night out

Party boats are spruced up for the evening before collecting their passengers, while the usual traffic of Thames clippers, tugs and barges carries on with normal work.

Blackfriars Bridge

The water around Blackfriars Bridge, the red chunky, abandoned pillars of an earlier bridge, and Blackfriars rail bridge is beguiling, lit by reflected lights that swirl and dance in the dangerous currents. Further downstream just beyond the Blackfriars bridges, you’ll see the discreetly lit Millennium Footbridge. It’s the first of four Thames bridges to be illuminated this year in a project designed by Leo Villareal for the Illuminated River art commission. It’s difficult to capture in a still photograph as the thin blades of white light are in constant movement through the sections across the bridge but if you’re there, it’s lovely to watch.

The Millennium Bridge
Southwark Bridge in the blue phase of its changing cycle of light

If you turn to look downstream from the Millennium Bridge to Southwark Bridge, and wait awhile, you will see the colours slowly changing.

City Cruises’ vessel CITY DELTA taking passengers to see the illuminated bridges. They are approaching Southwark Bridge, now subtly changed to pink

And onward from Southwark Bridge, is the third of the illuminated bridges, Canon Street railway bridge, again with subtly changing colours.

Cory tug RECLAIM passing under Cannon Street Railway Bridge

As I walk across Southwark Bridge beneath a darkening sky, a tug towing a barge with empty waste containers passes beneath Cannon Street Railway Bridge, bound for collection points upstream. The diversity of river traffic means that safety for all river users is vital and there have been several improvements in the last three decades.

Movements of freight traffic and passenger vessels are overseen by the London Vessel Traffic Services, VTS, part of the Port of London Authority, who are responsible for the management and safety of navigation along the tidal Thames. So, out on a walk, you will see commercial boats, tugs and tourist boats, as well as a variety of small boats. In 2007, the Port of London Authority introduced an automatic identification system, Thames AIS, so that larger vessels and tugs, towing or pushing, have now to be equipped with a screen showing where other boats are on the river. This is particularly useful for the central London Thames, where “visibility is often obscured by bridges and other obstacles.”

Tower Bridge, and just visible to the left of HMS BELFAST is a Thames Rocket heading downstream

Another important safety feature of the tidal Thames is the twenty-four hour presence of the highly-trained Royal National Lifeboat Institution, RNLI, crews in four stations along the river from Teddington to Gravesend. Their arrival is relatively recent and came about after the tragic sinking of party boat the MARCHIONESS on August 28, 1989. Fifty-one young people including the Skipper, were drowned after the dredger BOWBELLE rammed her twice near Southwark Bridge, sinking her with frightening speed. Rescues were carried out by Police launches and sister party boat the HURLINGHAM, who between them managed to save eighty people. As a result of the findings of the Thames Safety Inquiries that followed, it was agreed that there should be a permanent presence of the RNLI on the tidal Thames. After some discussion and delay, this was finally achieved in 2002.

Figures from December 8, passed on to me by Paul Dunt of the RNLI show that since they came to operate along the Thames, the four Stations have launched 14,448 times, saved 587 lives, and aided 5,017 people.

A City Cruises’ boat approaching HMS BELFAST and London Bridge

London Bridge is the fourth bridge to be illuminated this year, and like the other bridges, its colours quietly merge and change.

Tug pushing an earth-filled barge
Walking across Tower Bridge

Alongside the beauty of the night-time river lies the ever-present threat of danger. Swift-flowing currents can sweep away those who accidentally, or deliberately, end up in the water, and the recent terrorist attacks on Westminster and London Bridges have left emotions raw.

Turbulent waters at the Blackfriars bridges

However, life must go on and there is some comfort in knowing that there are those who are on permanent standby to assist in an emergency: the launches of the Marine Policing Unit, the RNLI based at four stations along the tidal Thames, and the London Fireboats based at Lambeth. Depending on the type or place of an incident, others may come to help as well as there is a shared understanding and bond between those who work regularly along the river. And with the advent of mobile phones, anyone concerned about another person, or witnessing an accident, can swiftly dial 999 for help and ask for the Coastguard. Many lives, once lost in the past, have been saved by the quick reaction of the public calling for help.

Night watchmen: a Marine Policing launch heading downstream to Cannon Street Railway Bridge and London Bridge
One of the RNLI lifeboats moored, ready for action, twenty-four hours every day of the year

Our thanks must go to all those ready to come to our aid.
You can find out more about their work by following:
Thames RNLI stations on Twitter: @rnli_teddington; @ChiswickRNLI; @TowerRNLI; @GravesendRNLI
and the MPS Marine Policing Unit on: @MPSonthewater
For all information concerning regulations on the river see: The Port of London Authority.