When Virgin Media planned a publicity event on the River Thames promoting a campaign linked to Olympic champion Usain Bolt it was a natural choice to select Livett’s Group for the marine elements.

Livett's tugs guide the barge through  London's Tower Bridge (Livett's Group)

Livett's tugs guide the barge through London's Tower Bridge (Livett's Group)

The event involved constructing a 100m long barge to replicate the running track on which Bolt made his name. It was made up of 600m2 of horizontal LED screens where the new video advert was to be displayed. It was a venture never previously carried out on the river and would be the longest barge ever towed through Tower Bridge into central London.

Livett’s was engaged on behalf of Virgin Media to assist with marine coordination of the event and came up with a solution using 110 individual Linkflote pontoons. VolkerBrooks is the only manufacturer to sell and hire 5.2m long and 2.4m wide pontoons in the UK and they were connected together five wide and 40 long to create the barge.

The assembled barge had to accommodate the weight of screens, scaffolding, generators and equipment requiring precise stability checks and the barge was assembled in King George V Dock in North Woolwich involving four days of constant craneage work supplied by 25 lorry loads of Linkflotes. Another four days were required for riggers to assemble the 100 individual LED screens. Livett’s was also frequently required to move the barge to facilitate normal day-to-day tug movements through the lock.

Trials including checking the manoeuvrability of the tugs and barge were carried out at night after nearby London City Airport had closed. The tests were successful and all was in place for the passage up the Thames and through the bridges to its berth at the London Eye the following afternoon, a journey which had to coincide with the correct state of tide.

Livett’s deployed its two new tugs Christian and Felix for the tow and with assembled barge and tug convoy now being over 180m there was little margin for error, the success of the operation aided by the tugs’ twin-screw layout and telescopic wheelhouses allowing clear views over the barge and the adaptability to manoeuvre beneath London’s bridges. On completion of the event the reverse operation was carried out returning the barge to the dock where it was deconstructed, an operation taking another week.

The story cannot be completed without mentioning the interesting back story of the two new tugs Christian and Felix. Purchased from Brunsbüttel-based Schramm Group they are NavTug 18TS designs from NavConsult, a member of the Schramm Group and they previously spent five years in Australia working on the Gorgon Gas project.

Designed and built to GL class they are suited for shallow-draught inland navigation and also certified as seagoing vessels. The pair are 18.5m long with a beam of 6.2m and minimum draught 1.8m. Power is provided by two Volvo Penta D16 main engines developing 882kW in total and driving two four-bladed propellers in Optima nozzles. Performance figures are 16tbp and speed 11kn and the aft deck is fitted with a disc-type 20t SWL towing hook. Interestingly, in addition to two standard bow anchors they also have two 180kg stern anchors each with a wire winch and capstan. Accommodation is provided for four persons in two single and one double cabins.

Livett’s Group has a long and respected history of providing marine services on the tidal Thames with family connections dating back to 1710. The river provides a marine artery through one of the world’s most high profile cities attracting television and film production companies and Livett’s Group is regularly engaged supplying the water-borne aspects of this niche area of activity. Its fleet is a diverse mix of craft with an emphasis on the requirements of the PR and media activities. The company also provide support for marine civil engineering works taking place on the Thames and its fleet includes barges and tugs serving this sector.

By Peter Barker