Thursday, 29 January 2009

More Bothersome Boating

Having hitched a ride on a passing pigeon, I am now ready to embark on the next floating adventure along the Thames - in retrospect, at least.

With Bro and his family by now sampling the delights of New Zealand, the Thames crew that signed up for the trip had a slightly different line up from the one on the Norfolk Broads.
Aged P's, yes, Me and Mine plus two kiddywinks, yes, but then our number was swelled by the inclusion of Cuz and three of our good neighbours.

As their two part, Dutch surname was Van * , they shall be referred to at all times by the short and sweet version. Here's a bit about them; Mr Van was a carpenter by trade, endowed with as much facial hair as my Bush Face Bro, but with dimples and a hearty belly laugh louder than said Bro's; Mrs Van was a midwife who didn't like the sight of blood, and who sometimes had difficulty in understanding the zanier side of our natures, despite always being game for a laugh, and their daughter was a classmate of our daughter and got on well with son. As daft as a brush, one and all, they had no difficulty fitting in with our tribe of intrepid boat people.

It was early summer, and the river was unduly high. Many of the willow trees looked more like mangoes as they rose out of the water where the riverbanks used to be. Sometimes there would be large, broken off tree branches swirling in the rushing current, so the person at the wheel had to keep a good lookout at all times. But we didn't have any mishaps - at least with trees...

I've just looked at an alphabetical list of locks on the river Thames. Marlow I remember without the list, as I have a photo I took early one morning when the world was pale rose and still, and the mirror image of Marlow church in the water was unsullied by the smallest ripple.
But some of the other names resonate in my mind, without having the slightest idea of their actual consecutive order...Teddington: Abingdon: Sonning: Cobham: Caversham: Eynsham: Whitchurch. Glorious lilting place names that blur into a haze of lazy days.

Locks, however, are anything but lazy places. There is a lot of tying up and untying of ropes, as boats form orderly queues waiting for a space in the lock ahead. While the lock is filling or emptying, depending on whether you are travelling up or down the river, there is plenty of time to stand on the towpath and gaze at the huge gates that hold back the high level of water from the low. Once boats on this lower stretch chug gently into position, the big lock gates behind them slowly close; those in front start opening and water gushes through the widening crack with a wonderful sloshing sound. The boats bob about cheerily as they rise on its man made tide.

Sounds easy peasey. Bearing in mind the Norfolk Broad mishap of the Hanging Boat, though, you can see the necessity for any craft going from the high to low water to be aware of the amount of slack needed in the mooring ropes.

There is one very clever Nautical Knot , the name of which escapes me, that may be quickly released as the boat sinks lower in the water of the lock and the mooring line needs to be jettisoned. Dad had us well drilled in the tying of this knot, but unfortunately, deck hand Mrs Van had a knotty problem with the intricacies of it occasionally. Galley Slave, (me), was busily concocting dinner for everyone, and saucepans were bubbling happily on top of the cooker as we entered this one particular lock, wherever it was. Kiddywinks were with Gran, in the for'ard cabin (lounge, to landlubbers), watching the weedy stones of the lock walls rise up outside the windows.

Suddenly the world took on a different slant - literally. One of our mooring lines was still firmly attached to both our boat and the lock edge, and was becoming tighter and tighter as the knot refused to be released and the water level rapidly lowered. Soon, horrendous creaking noises began to rend the air, as the stanchion on the boat was almost being pulled out of its socket in the fibreglass hull. We passengers inside the boat, only learned of this after the event. In our little world, the floor and everything else tilted alarmingly, our ears winced at the awful noises, then there was an almighty 'Wumph!' and everything was back on an even keel.

Mr Van. with great presence of mind, had whipped his trusty pocket knife out and sawn through the offending rope.

My saucepans lids eventually stopped rattling, along with small son's teeth, and calm was restored. Luckily, Dad's skill with ropes enabled him to splice the cut ends back together again, or goodness knows what we'd have used from then on!

So the sun sinks in the West, and I think its time to put the entire boat saga to rest in the watery reaches of the Thames, to sink into its murky depths for ever.


  1. When landlubbers get on boats,
    anything can happen with the ropes.

    I can't remember whether I've blogged my incident or not. I thought I had, but I can't find it.

  2. Methinks you and the family may be allergic to boats or water. :)

    Blog bling (an award) for you will be waiting at my place in tomorrow's post!

  3. The terrors of Thames boating - I remember them well. We came out of our first lock at Maidenhead, caught the wind, shot across the river and hit a tree on the bank. All the china fell off the shelves and I went down into the cabin and put my head under a blanket - that's how good a first mate I was. And those nasty little wooden walkways while you are waiting to go into a lock - water rushing past to go over the weir! Oh my goodness - I feel river-sick thinking about it.

  4. Van ??? How coincidental!

  5. Well, the saga may sink into the depths, but my memory of it won't. Very entertaining.

  6. Quite entertainingly recalled, if fearfully lived!

  7. Ahhh I once did a boat trip on the Thames in the wildest days of my youth. This post brings back all those dreadful memories! Though not of the scenery and the long balmy days but the fact that the original party of six workmates, wittled down to four by the day of departure and as two were a 'couple' I got stuck with the bloke with the drink problem and a bad case of wond most of the time!

    Thanks for poping along to my blog, hope to see you again!


  8. Ahhhh - you see proof reading is a wonderful thing.....

    please read 'wind' for 'wond' although it does have a nice ring to it. "S'cuse me I have a bit of wond today".


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