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Dutch Barge Apolonia on the Grand Union

Apolonia was built in Holland about 1913. There are not many trees in Holland, so the Dutch have long specialised in building metal boats, and Apolonia was no exception being made of riveted iron plates. She was eventually motorised with a magnificent Gardner 5LW diesel (100hp at 750 rpm), and traded until probably the mid the 1960's; she then lay derelict until 1985 when she was found by John and James Griffin of the Wyvern Shipping Company.

John and James welded a sheet of steel over her hold, started up the engine, and brought her across to England on the next calm day. I met them at Brentford to help with the task of bringing her up to Leighton Buzzard; this was a doubtful enterprise as BW had assured us that it was impossible because she was 76' long x 14' wide, with a draft of 3'6".  In fact, apart from constantly running aground and inevitably shaving trouble getting round the bends, the biggest problems were at the low bridges. At the locks we had no difficulty apart from needing to put the rudder hard across to shut the gates - unless you count the problem of how to stop 60 tons of boat when there's not enough water available for the propellor to bite.

The two lowest bridge were the small white arched bridge at Apsley (right outside what was then my office) where we had to hacksaw the stern rails off, and the flat-topped newer bridge near Berkhamstead where we got wedged with the folded-down wheelhouse hard against the underside of the bridge and the underside of the boat firmly on the canal bottom. It was an interesting exercise at any flat topped bridge, for you had to aim the barge then remove the steering wheel which projected above the lower part of the wheelhouse, duck down until the bridge was past, and then replace the wheel.

We made it to Leighton Buzzard, possibly the biggest boat ever to do so. John and James did a magnificent job fitting her out as a luxury cruiser, then we took her back to the Thames. The pictures below were all taken on that southbound trip.


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Apolonia dwarfs the narrowboats at Linslade
Concentrating hard on steering
Concentrating hard on steering
A tight squeeze under the bridges
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Approaching Grove Lock
Will she fit under the bridge?
The bow is in the lock but the wheelhouse still has to pass the bridge
Squeezing under the bridge
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Apolonia enters the lock
Apolonia completely fills the lock
Apolonia completely fills the lock
Rising high in the lock

We reached Brentford mid-afternoon and asked the lock-keeper when the best time would be to go out for our trip up the tideway to Teddington. The keeper said we could go out straight away, which we did, but the creek below the look seemed very shallow and we asked if this really was the best state of the tide; the disconcerting answer was "I don't know about the tides, I just recommended you to go out now because I'm about to go off duty". Well actually there was only just enough depth and it was a falling tide. We barely made it out to the river, but there was a further problem for us there: it was the annual river-bed cleanup, when they leave the Richmond barrier open so that the stretch below Teddington will dry out and scour away the rubbish from the river bed. This meant that our only option was to wait around in mid-river until the tide came in again that evening; except that I pulled too far over to one side when avoiding a pair of rowing 8's that were racing each other down the river, and put us on the bottom near Brentford. At low tide we were high-and-dry enough that we could put a ladder down and walk around the boat, so at least I got a good picture (below).


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It's not easy getting round the bends
The bows tower over the top gates
Beached on the Thames near Brentford
Apolonia on the Thames in 2004

These days Apolonia still lives on the Thames, I last saw her near Taplow.


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