Due to the cancelled visit to the AHOY Centre, on Thursday 28th of July, together with the City Livery Yacht Club (CLYC), in order not to disappoint those who had already booked to visit the AHOY, Stephen Bernhard of CLYC proposed a Thames River trip on his magnificent Dutch barge, Leonie.
I (Ken) had no hesitation in accepting because it was the day before my birthday and what a treat to go for five hours on a Dutch Barge owned and skippered by Stephen Bernhard (Gardeners), moored at St Katharine Docks, which has access to the River Thames near to Tower Bridge.
You may be wondering about Agatha Christie and Poirot, well Leonie’s former owner was the famous actor David Suchet, who played the part of the Belgian detective Poirot in many of the TV series based upon the books of the famous crime writer.
On the cruise, along with our Master Sarah Lancaster and her husband, Steve Batchelor, were Edward Sankey (Commodore of CLYC) William Avery and his wife “galley slave” Bridget, whose Livery is the Carpenters (more on Bridget later), Dr Michael and Helen Taylor and Liz Thrussell, whose Livery is Information Technologists together with Launderers’ Liverymen, Senior Warden Simon Fordham, Ron and Claire Davidson and of course, myself, Ken Cupitt, Deputy Master Launderers.
Now this is not just any old Dutch Barge that once carried coal. Skipper Stephen Bernhard bought Leonie from David Suchet, who had had it converted into the floating mini-palace that it is today. More on the actor later.
The day was perfect with sun and a mild breeze as we left the secure moorings within the Dock. Skipper Stephen navigated his way skilfully into the lock that separates the dock from the tidal River Thames. After mooring at the lock, we were joined by three smaller craft before the gates closed and the lock filled with water. Leaving the lock, skipper Stephen had to navigate this 28 metre barge around four sailing craft blocking his way upstream in order to pass under Tower Bridge. Later he explained that they had not followed the rules of the river as they should have waited downstream to enter the lock, or at least moved away to allow the bigger craft to join the mainstream waterway. We were now on our way sailing at just under 7 knots past the battleship Belfast, moored on the bankside of the pool of London, before London Bridge, and then passing our Hall and the Hall of the Fishmongers on the opposite bank.
More on David Suchet, who was, as well as being a well-known actor, was also officially voted in as chairman of the River Thames Alliance in November 2005 and at the July 2006 Annual General Meeting he agreed to continue being Chairman for another year. He was also a patron of the River Thames Boat Project, which is a registered charity offering therapeutic and respite cruises, and environmental education days for primary school children – School on the River and Eco Venturers. Their home mooring is in Kingston, which is on the route planned for our excursion today, and their office is in Teddington, with beneficiaries and volunteers coming from all over Surrey and London, and their clients have included groups of ex-servicemen, carers, children with cancer, multiple sclerosis, stroke recovery, care homes, dementia, and disabled clients amongst many others.
They say that they offer a safe and caring environment with a volunteer crew, who are happy to go that extra mile to make trips memorable and exclusive and are well known for their friendliness and camaraderie.
They have two boats, one of which is the Thames Venturer, which is a specially converted Dutch barge with a large upper deck offering superb views of the Thames and passing scenery and this is perhaps the connection with this barge the Leonie.
Other benevolent work that David Suchet did when he was vice-president of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Trust, whose most challenging achievement was perhaps securing funding concerning the building of the M6 Toll motorway where it cuts the lines of the Lichfield Canal and the Hatherton Canal, both of which the Trust wished to see re-opened, therefore, before selling this barge to Stephen, proved his dedication to boating.
I earlier mentioned our nicknamed “Galley Slave” Bridget and she was superb, prepared a delicious lunch, served drinks, opened the security gate allowing us access to the Leonie.
This was a special day for us, and you get that also if you view this video of photographs taken on the day, you will also be able to see how wonderful the layout of the Barge is.
Thank you Stephen, Commodore Edward, Bridget and Margaret.