For the Olympic boaters amongst you.

I’ve been looking forward to this summer for ages, hoping that the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics could turn out to be the boating event of the century given the location of the Olympic Park in relation to London’s waterways. (I wrote about it here last year and if all goes to plan will be writing about it from right close up later this year).

Well, now we know a lot more about how those waterways will be managed during the games so let’s have another look.

See .. it's right by the canal.

There will be debate elsewhere as to what the exclusion zone means for the many ‘continuous cruisers’ who move and live and work on and near the Regent’s Canal and the Lea; they have to move out of central London, for anyone who might wish to visit London next summer but gives not a hoot for the Olympics; you can’t, and for those with home moorings in central London.

I want to look at two other issues; the (high) prices being charged for temporary moorings during the games period and the restricted freedom of movement, resulting from the security measures being introduced, of those who do pay for temporary moorings.

I’ll declare a personal interest, I’ve paid for three weeks mooring in two locations (Old Ford Lock and Victoria Park) on the Regent’s Canal and the Hertford Union. I booked last April when moorings first became available and before knowing whether I had any tickets for the games (I haven’t, but nevermind, I’m going anyway). I’ve booked for the three weeks that cover the 17 days of the main games, surely the most popular time.

Waterscape’s booking system could be a bit clearer and easier to use but it works well enough although, despite promises, not all locations have become available yet, nor do we know exactly where each location is, how many berths are available at each or what levels of services and security will be in place.

About six months before putting these moorings on sale BW carried out a consultation asking how many boaters intended to go to London for the games and how much they would be prepared to pay for a mooring. Well it must be the well healed who replied to that survey because, whilst a week on Hackney Marshes costs a pretty reasonable £100 (if you don’t mind leaving your boat in what’s actually Tottenham), a week at Old Ford Lock, next to Victoria Park (where there will be an Olympic ‘live site’) on the Regent’s Canal will set you back £360. My three weeks have cost me about £1000 in all. That’s a lot of money, especially for a mooring that would usually be free of charge (subject to the normal restrictions on length of stay).

Looking at the website since making my booking it’s interesting to note how few of the sites have become unavailable due to be fully booked and little additional capacity has been made available. I do wonder just how many bookings have BW received as yet.

No-one’s going to question the need for security to be a very high priority for those planning and running the games (LOCOG), for the Metropolitan Police and for the various branches of national and local government and of the security services and I can understand why British Waterways would want to play its part in supporting these bodies and making the games a success.

The Olympics run from the 27th July to 12th August and the Paralympics run from 29th August to 9th September, twenty-nine days in all. An exclusion zone stretching from Little Venice to Limehouse Basin and Lea Bridge, north of Hackney Marshes, will be in place from July 3 to September 10. That’s sixty-nine days, with no easing of restrictions between the two sets of games.

Throughout this period passage between Kensall Green and Paddington basin and between Limehouse Basin and Lea Bridge must be pre-booked a week in advance and both the bottom lock on the Hertford Union and Commercial Road lock on the Regent’s Canal will be closed. The Hertford Union junction with the Lea is just metres from the Olympic stadium and a closure there can probably be justified but the closure at Commercial Road, preventing access to Limehouse Basin and the Thames from the Regent’s canal is less easily understood and has significant implications.

There will be no possibility of taking a temporary mooring on the Regents Canal or Hertford Union and then moving via Limehouse Basin on to moorings at Hackney Marshes or to explore the Lea north of Lea Bridge or the upstream Thames. Or vice versa; anyone taking a mooring on Hackney Marshes and then moving onto moorings on the Hertford Union or Regents Canal or wishing to join the Grand Union and the rest of the network will have to book passage between (one week in advance, 6-9am or 7-9pm only) between Lea Bridge and Limehouse Basin and then go out onto the Thames (which not all crew will be comfortable doing and for which some craft may not be suitable). Or vice versa.

THERE HAS BEEN A CHANGE I read early in April that the Commercial Road lock will now be open to allow pre-booked passage between Regent’s Canal and Lee via Limehouse Basin. Some sense has been seen at least.

Book a week’s mooring on the Regents Canal at Old Ford Lock (Victoria Park) and a subsequent week at Hackney Marshes and you will have to make a journey via Brentford and the Thames to move between the two. What would normally be a ninety minute, three lock trip becomes a two day, seventeen lock cruise.

It was originally intended that there would be no access from the Lea into Limehouse Basin either. Fortunately this is not the case but any boats using temporary moorings on the Lea will be expected to pass through London before the exclusion zone comes into force and then stay on the upper part of the Lea until ‘dropping down’ onto their moorings at the appropriate time. That’s a long time to wait if you booked a mooring on Hackney Marshes for the Paralympics.

The key issue is surely what is the nature of the threat presented by slow moving, small craft and how is it best neutralised. (I had presumed terrorists were the worry, but I hear that Occupy-style protests and maybe guerilla marketing stunts are also a concern). For sure a 70ft boat fully loaded with a fertiliser bomb or a any more sophisticated explosive would make a pretty big bang and cause a lot of damage to people, property and the reputation of the games and of London. But it’s in the nature of boats on canals that they move slowly, cannot stray from the course of the cut and that they have to stop at locks where ‘one man and his sniffer dog’ would have a good ten minutes or more to search and sniff through them. Who would object to such a search if it were the small price to pay for freer movement on the waterways during the games? (And anyway the Taleban would stick out like a sore thumb on a narrowboat – what with being so young.)

Overall it all looks like a recipe for confusion and discontentment rather than the activity and excitement that BW promise. Certainly there are plenty of reasons for boaters to think it all too much trouble (and expense) and to stay away.

Is it possible that far from being the boating even of the century, the London 2012 Olympics will mark a period when very few boats are on central London’s waterways? That would be an Olympic pity.

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2 Responses to For the Olympic boaters amongst you.

  1. Pingback: For the Olympic boaters amongst you … I posted something here. « Mandalay's Away

  2. Andrew says:

    You’d better bring your own water (for the canal, not necessarily for drinking). Looks like it’s going to be mighty dry round these parts…

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