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We go down to the Lea Navigation, my baby and I

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Bill Doughty toasts a canal cruiser, part of his Water Chariots fleet, at 2012 Olympics stadium

Bill Doughty on one of the luxury boats, below right

FORGET hiring a limousine for that special day with friends, a luxury boat on the canals could be the excursion for you.

A company called Water Chariots, utilising one of East London’s most under-used resources, its complex network of waterways, has launched a private navy of 13 barges, or “canal cruisers”, and 17 launches to take people to the Olympic Park, starting either south of it at Limehouse or north at Tottenham.

Their 40-minute glide to the venue passes through the hidden parts of London, providing rare views of shiny new buildings and once-busy wharves from England’s industrial heritage, of lonely churches, of moorings and moorhens, swans and herons, of handsome newly built apartments and offices and, above all, of the Lea Navigation, a man-made branch that flows as swiftly and gently as its uncle, the River Lee and, apparently, as dirtily.

The fleet cost £3 million, so tickets are not cheap — prices start at £45 for a return journey. Its launch is timed to hook affluent Olympics tourists, who can be whooshed along the Thames by a Water Chariots boat from anywhere in central London to embark at Limehouse Marina for the Olympics.

A canal cruiser can carry about 70 passengers and the launch can seat ten. A boat can be hired exclusively for a day, but the prices are affordable only by the kind of professionals who do a job that attracts a popular, crude rhyme word. They and their City friends will simply have to look up the Water Chariots website if they want to splash out (sorry) on a day’s hire. The canal cruisers are the boats with bars and lavatories, including disabled-user toilets.

Water Chariots says it wants “to engage with the local community and encourage enterprise and further investment along the forgotten waterways of the lower Lea Valley”. There is probably more sincerity than the spinner phraseology suggests because the company seems to have a social conscience: among its 200 staff will be 50 or so members of the Armed Forces recovering from severe injuries. Its canal cruisers have been fitted with lifts to the lower deck for wheelchair users. Disabled people go free.

The operator has contracted with the body that manages the waterways to provide an “efficient passenger canal-boat service for the next 15 years”.

The voyage taken by Loving Dalston with chief executive Bill Doughty and several TV teams indicates that the efficiency will be achieved; the question is, will the large investment and consequently high ticket prices make a viable business? * Water Chariots: website and 0845 872 2939  

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Readers Comments (3)

  1. jrg says:

    Risking £3 million of someone else’s money, I heard.

    The service not been doing much business from Tottenham Hale.

    If the business ever breaks even, prices are unlikely to be lowered to a level people at my level could afford. Pity: it is a magnificent and quixotic venture. — Ed.

     Reply
  2. simonh says:

    It is a bit rich to talk of the forgotten waterways of the Lea Valley – have you seen how many people are moored and living afloat? Forgotten by some moneymaking merchant, perhaps, but used every day by the people who live along and around the towpath. No doubt soon to be squeezed out to make way for the likes of Mr Doughty.

    I too mentally questioned the word “forgotten” but I reckoned that the number of backwaters that exist (or did, pre-Olympics) probably justified its use. I hope that the use made of them would not be of the regeneration (frightening word) type but would evolve from what caring users rather than disconnected developers want. — Ed.

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    • marc says:

      “No doubt soon to be squeezed out to make way for the likes of Mr Doughty.”

      Is there a special name for the wingeing, miserabalist comment posters who pour their self-righteous disdain on any new venture in Hackney?

      Someone decides to start up a new business venture, risk £3 million of their money, employ injured ex-army troops and try to bring some tourism to parts of London in desperate need of new opportunities – and somehow this becomes a negative story.

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