Woolwich Ferry comes on stream

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Today the new Woolwich ferry was running a limited service. Its quite impressive when it actually works. The only drawback was the process of trying to moor it was very slow. There are still so many problems it took ages to square the boats up and even so they tend to drift. I arrived very early and caught the ferries’ second crossing of the day, so it was still pretty dark to begin with. This is just a quick report of my first trip on the new ferries.

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The ferry at 6.45am this morning!

As I have exposited in my previous article the ferries do indeed have to go quite a way out and approach the piers at an angle that is beneficial to their being able to dock. But even so, its very slow. It took five minutes of positioning and repositioning before the boat could dock properly. Thats without the very slow approach that is needed too. The first trip (north to south) took seventeen minutes altogether, and its more like a 25 minute interval service rather than the ten advertised.

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Dame Vera Lynn going out quite a way before making her approach to the north terminal.

They have to employ their props as well as the magnetic mooring system in order to moor which is not ideal. This system is much like the old one, where they too used prop power to push the boats against the piers, except they too are using prop power with the new boats PLUS the magnetic mooring system!

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The props are used to hold the ferries against the terminals as well as the use of the magnetic mooring system!

The original idea was to use the props for the crossing and then employ the magnetic mooring system so the ferries could essentially shut down the propulsion system in order to reduce any emissions. But they are having to do the very opposite of what the system was designed for!

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Approaching the south terminal.

There’s something a lot of people have NOT noticed. This is the need for the River bus services to slow down to a minimum when passing the Woolwich Ferry. This never happened with the old ferries. Its a bit of a come down in that river traffic has to slow in order to allow the new ferries the opportunity to moor at their terminals. The fact it is even happening means there is a long way to go yet before the mooring system can be said to be satisfactory. As we have seen the tides can upset it and now the high speed river boats can too!

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Every single River catamaran service had to slow down passing the ferries! The ferries crossed the North Sea yet their systems cant cope with the wash from the River services because it affects the ferries’ mooring capabilities!

That also brings up other new and unanswered questions about the new mooring system and perhaps I’ll explain these factors in yet one more article!

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Panoramic windows with great views of the river in the public seating areas!

On our return trip the mooring was a bit more aggressive and Dame Vera Lynn took took less time in docking. The return trip (south to north) took just eleven minutes. However this is the problem as I have explained before. With the old ferries they could do it fairly aggressively but with the new they can’t really. It was managed quite well on this occasion and I was impressed, but there was still a lurch forward (it was most acceptable I must stress) yet this is a very fine line because of the new arrangement and any stronger could catch people unawares and they may fall or hit some object on the boats.

The old ferries had a lurch too when mooring up however the difference is the new boats and floating pontoons have a different geometry and great care must be taken because even with this slightly more aggressive mooring on the new boats the lurch has the potential to be more amplified than that on the old. The approach conditions on the old ferries remained more or less similar throughout the various phases of the day. On the new the approach conditions are different each time and do change quite perceptibly even when the docking is taking place.

This is why the River bus services have to slow down. Their wake is like a butterfly causing a hurricane on the other side of the world! The wake changes the whole setup enormously. The old ferries didn’t cough one bit when the River buses sped past. This is one reason why the ferry operators are having to approach the terminals – using kid gloves so to say. Its a somewhat poor design and I have doubts it could ever work exactly as the designers had intended.

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Ben Woollacott and Canary Wharf reflect the first rays of an imminent sunrise.

What I liked is the ferries move extremely fast. They have a much faster swing than the old ones and its great! They probably dont need to move so fast but the fact mooring takes a lot of time probably means they need to speed up the process in other ways.

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Look at how the ferry moves sideways! Its got so much more go than the old ones!

Even so, they still have to however use a much longer approach techniques as J explained in my previous post, and it involves going out on quite a tangent and then employing a considerably long approach to the terminals. A number of the assertions I made in that post with regards to the new mooring system are indeed correct because they were confirmed by this morning’s trip.

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Ben Woollacott on its very long approach to the north terminal.

The system has by no means found a balanced technique. It’s still messy, dodgy and the fact they have to use prop power as well as the magnetic mooring system makes one wonder what the magnetic mooring system is doing here in the first place and whether it is actually of benefit or not. I mean it is because of this magnetic mooring system the new ferries have had so many setbacks and this is why to date the ferries have hardly been in service.

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Traffic at North Woolwich about to embark on the new ferries.

Currently the operators are only allowing passengers to use the larger public area (the bit that goes underneath the bridge) and they are keeping that side away from the mooring pontoons. That perhaps might be a means to stop us public nobodies gawping at the magnetic mooring system as it struggles to operate – but as was observed there is also a guy who comes down from the bridge to the closed off smaller public area and looks over the side to observe the mooring progress – and indicate to the bridge any difficulties that may be arising. The bridge/captain has cameras of course but the fact they need to have someone go down and check the mooring progress means they system is still not working as it should ideally.

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There were at least three people on the bridge. Each has been built to be worked by one person, everything from A to Z can be operated from the bridge including the movable piers and magnetic mooring system. Clearly for now, extra staff need to be on hand until all the problems are resolved – that is if they do get fully resolved!

Generally there are more things that can go wrong than the old. Maybe it wont and I hope it won’t for the service’s sake as a pretty good performance is now needed if it is to regain any semblance of integrity.

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A multiple exposure picture from this morning!

Update: My video from this morning is now at You Tube. Note at 0.34 and also 2.26 where I clearly show how they are using the props to keep the boat hard against the terminals as well as using the magnetic mooring system!

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