Symphony “Finished”… surely not !

As City Cruises’ boat MILLENNIUM TIME approaches London Bridge, M.V. SYMPHONY sails away downstream passing beneath Tower Bridge towards Wapping and Canary Wharf, September 13, 2019

During the last week of September 2023, many in the Thames River community were saddened to discover that Bateaux London, who operated restaurant vessel M.V. SYMPHONY, had ceased trading. A stark notice read that they were not “currently operating any sailings, no further bookings would be taken, and no more sailings are scheduled to take place”.
Over the last few years I have taken pictures of her on various stretches along the central London Thames, and here below, beginning with SYMPHONY heading towards Tower Bridge, are a few images from 2019 to 2023, covering this period in her life.

M.V. SYMPHONY about to pass H.M.S. BELFAST and N.L.V. PHAROS, buoy laying/lighthouse vessel, September 13, 2019

SYMPHONY’s usual route was from her mooring at Embankment Pier on the Victoria Embankment, cruising roughly, depending on the tides, between Albert Bridge at Chelsea, and Canary Wharf, serving lunches, teas, or dinners, taking in all the riverside sights of central London.

M.V. SYMPHONY passing H.M.S. BELFAST, April 19, 2019
SYMPHONY Coming through Blackfriars Bridge, her passengers enjoying dinner on a night time cruise, January 4, 2019
SYMPHONY passing the former Tower RNLI Lifeboat Station, by Waterloo Bridge, August 1st, 2019
SYMPHONY approaching Westminster Bridge, having passed under the Hungerford Railway Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges, May 23, 2019
M.V. SYMPHONY and M.V OLD LONDON, coming through Westminster Bridge, September 12, 2019
SYMPHONY passing St. Thomas’ Hospital, November 14, 2021
SYMPHONY heading back past old St. Thomas’ Hospital towards Westminster Bridge, May 21, 2023
SYMPHONY’s floating restaurant, Glass Room, with all round views, March 25, 2023
White table cloths and elegance in SYMPHONY’s Glass Room Restaurant, September 19, 2021
SYMPHONY’s diners in her Glass Room restaurant, relaxing on their central London cruise, November 14, 2021
SYMPHONY’s dining room with all round views of London and the Thames, and a gentle jazz band adding to the atmosphere, September 10, 2023
SYMPHONY turning in front of the Palace of Westminster, July 29, 2023
SYMPHONY heading upstream from Lambeth Bridge, May 27, 2023

Doubtless many have personal stories to tell about special occasions that took place on board SYMPHONY, as must have the crews who operated her. And some might even remember a dinner cruise on October 4, 1999, when she collided with Lambeth Bridge after a steering failure. A government report states: “As the flood tide had started to swing the vessel, the passengers were moved to the port side in case the collision caused any glass panels on the starboard side to shatter.” SYMPHONY was damaged but the Master managed to regain control and to steer her to the Lambeth Fire Brigade pier. Though there must have been anxious moments, luckily no-one was injured.

SYMPHONY passing the Tamesis Dock Bar as she heads back downstream after cruising to Albert Bridge, May 27, 2023

The following pictures were taken on September 29, 2023, after Bateaux London had announced that they had ceased trading, and as SYMPHONY arrived on this stretch of Lambeth Reach it seemed clear that some kind of trial, or testing was going on. Turning, almost pirouetting, she was putting on a show.

After Bateaux London ceases trading, SYMPHONY arrives on Lambeth Reach.
SYMPHONY begins to turn…
Turn almost completed…
Then she turns again…
With skilful manoeuvring she continues to turn…
In a final flourish, she swings round to face Westminster Bridge again…
And leaves.

In 1997 SYMPHONY, was brought over to London, having operated in Paris on the Seine, named Le Cristal. She replaced an earlier, smaller vessel on the central London Thames, also named SYMPHONY, which had been working on the Thames from 1994 to 1997. The smaller vessel was returned to Paris to work on the Seine as Le Symphonie.

M.V. SYMPHONY, moored away from Embankment Pier, awaiting her fate, October 11, 2023

At the time of writing, I haven’t heard what the next stage of SYMPHONY’s life will be but I’m sure her journey is as yet *unfinished* and, as such a lovely elegant boat, she has a good future ahead of her.

Notes and further information
*The above article has been concerned with M.V. SYMPHONY but the future of her sister ship M.V. HARMONY, also owned and operated by Bateaux London, is in question as well.
**Wishing all the crews and staff who worked on both boats, the best of luck on whatever paths they follow.
***With thanks to Ben, a Thames Waterman & Lighterman, who keeps me in touch with events on the river. See his articles at Liquid highway and follow him on Twitter -X @liquid_highway1
**** And thanks to Wal Daly-Smith who, working on board, made sure I had a great birthday cruise back in 2019.

The Great River Race Guardians

First sight of the Great River Race flotilla with the Lady Mayoress shallop, accompanied by safety boats, leading the way

As with all official events on the River Thames, there were a number safety boats watching over the tough 21.6 mile course of the Great River Race, rowed from from Millwall to Richmond on Saturday, 16th September. Here below are a few pictures of the safety boats I managed to spot from my perch on Lambeth Bridge.

Detailed rules were issued to those taking part concerning equipment such as towlines, bailers, multitools, mobile phones, and life jackets. Safety boats, watching over them, included Port of London Authority vessels, LAMBETH and BARNES, and Marshalls mainly on Ribs, whose instructions or red flag signals have to be respected by all, or risk disqualification. There are other rules too. Competitors must be off the water six hours after the start of the race and in case of difficulties, any crew accepting a tow, will not be counted in the results.

The race is for boats with ‘fixed seats’ only, and must carry a passenger and a cox but is open to all kinds of craft including “traditional Thames Watermen’s Cutters, Gigs, Skiffs, Celtic Longboats, Cutters, Currachs, Dragon Boats, Whaleboats and an assortment of novelty craft.”

Compared to the rigorous challenge to row the distance, safety boats have it easy but their responsibilities are serious and I saw a couple giving clear *guidance* to a few of the boats as they splashed, clashed oars, and scrambled on their approach to Lambeth Bridge…

A Port of London Harbour Master’s boat leading the flotilla

The Port of London Harbour Masters ensure compliance with the Port Marine Safety Code by all vessels on the tidal Thames. Their boats are often to be seen accompanying events taking place on the river.

DD Marine Services’ Ribzilla

Approved by the Royal Yachting Association, Ribzilla is a powerful Rib with the latest training and safety equipment.

Thames Trainer Rib support boat

One of Thames Active’s Ribs watching over the flotilla. And as well as other functions, they supply boats for event preparation, provide umpires, and act as safety and escort vessels.

A northern Exposure support Rib

Northern Exposure, a registered charity, operates on a not for profit basis supporting events across the country, and have been engaged with the Great River Race since 2005.

Thames Rowing Rib support boat
The flotilla, escorted by support boats ready to intervene if needed, approaching Lambeth Bridge
Support boat Valliant
The flotilla of more than three hundred competitors, flanked by support and safety boats as they approach Lambeth Bridge
Rib support boat Scorpio
Thames Active’s safety boat Molly Brown

Thames Active’s fully PLA licensed commercial safety boat MOLLY BROWN is based in Greenwich and available for charter from Gravesend to Teddington.

Port of London Authority vessel LAMBETH
Cornish support boat PEGGY towing a Rib
A Wheely boat making a splash
Port of London Authority vessel BARNES overtaken by a Marine Rescue Company Rib
BLUE LIGHT, from Kingston Maritime Volunteer Service, following the race

The Kingston Maritime Volunteer Service’s boat, BLUE LIGHT, a former Thames Police launch, is usually to be seen on the non-tidal Thames but on Saturday, September 16th, as she approached Lambeth Bridge she was sailing upstream following the race having, as James Deller told me, “acted as a marshalling boat at the first critical bend on the river to ensure the competitors stayed alongside the right hand side and did not cut the corner and move into the middle channel.” He added that “Once the race had been through, we assisted by following up and helping to keep other vessels away from the rowers.”

However, as well as the boats photographed above, there are others regularly involved with patrolling events on the river. London Fire Brigade fire rescue boats, RNLI Lifeboats and the Metropolitan Police Marine Policing Unit, as well as their normal duites, are frequently to be seen watching over competitions and ceremonies on the Thames.

Plans are already in motion for next year’s Great River Race which will take place on September 21, 2024. If you’re in London then, it’s worth an hour of your time to see this flotilla passing by at some point along the course. It really is a lovely sight.