At least once a year I like to get back to the UK and clap eyes and hands on Cambria and any other barges I can locate. Last year and this, my opportunity came as she was moored up in St Katharine Docks as part of the Classic Boat Festival which was, in turn, part of Bo-Jo’s “Totally Thames” event. There are other barges ‘living’ in St Kat’s (Adieu, Gladys etc) but we moor up in a ‘pole position’ just by the inner lock entrance and Marina offices, dressed over with bunting and, if Skipper Ian Ruffles thinks it is safe, flying our huge logo’d tops’l, the mizzen sail and with the brails on our mains’l loosened to let the red sailcloth down as far as the sprit pole. We look magnificent and can be seen for miles – certainly by anyone walking across Tower Bridge – so we are a big draw for the show itself and always get plenty of punters on board.
We staff up with a goodly collection of volunteers (Thank you everybody) manning the access stairs, guiding people around, working in the shop (brilliant new range of hats, polo shirts, mugs etc), selling raffle tickets and, this year, selling teas, coffees, home made cakes and so on. I generally go ‘guide’ and they tell me that I have a natural gift of the gab and a way with the guests (Blarney, maybe?) as I waffle away happily about loads, freeboard, spritsail rigs and respite care. This year we saw record numbers through the barge, easily knocking last year’s proud ‘thousand a day’ record into a cocked hat. We started tentatively on Friday pm – we weren’t meant to be open yet but it was a sunny afternoon and a few tourists were starting to gather against the rail near to us. That was 45 folk shown round, but on Saturday it went a bit crazy in the sunshine, with 1705 people getting the tour. On Sunday we ‘did’ 1125 ‘real’ people and then at 4 pm we had to close the ‘shop’ while Cambria’s deck became the venue for a Prize Giving Reception for the boat owners (another 71 heads!). The prizes were bottles of fizz and these were doled out to some light hearted and fun categories dreamed up, judged and presented by former Mate of Cambria in Trade, Dick Durham. There was champagne for best ‘dressed over all’ but also best fairy lights, best “dog and deck furniture” , for ‘Traveling Light’ (a Belgian sailor who had forgotten his clothes) and to ‘Spirit of the Show’ ( a boat owner found some jewelry left in the Marina washrooms and managed to return them to their owner). All great fun.
The volunteers were exhausted from all those hours on our feet and speechifying but St Kat’s is now all very done up, with nice apartments in all the buildings and chi-chi restaurants and cafés on all the quays, so it was lovely to retreat to an eaterie, sip our wine and watch the craft and the lights reflected on the water. These were all sunny days and balmy evenings; we were very lucky with our weather.
Now it’s all over for this year and I hear from Dave Brooks that the barge locked out of St Kat’s this morning on schedule at 08:00 and is under tow down to the barrier, from whence it will set a few sails and head for Gillingham Pier ready for the next charter. It was a very successful event, so if you were part of helping or even if you were one of our very welcome guests and visitors, then thank you very very much. It is pure joy to be aboard, to show off the barge as we do.