I was never a brownie. I dropped out of Duke of Edinburgh. I can get lost on one-way streets. I did pass my technology GCSE, but that was more luck than application, interest or talent. I’ve had mixed experiences with rivers so far this year. And I’m a right chicken. So it’s fair to say that I approached our journey along the Thames rigid with fear with mild trepidation.
Oxford to Teddington calmed me down a little. Non-tidal it might be, but the Thames in these parts is still a big old river with locks to match and lots of other traffic to avoid. But what larks. No nasty weirs like on the Avon. No wind like on the Trent. No flooding or strong streams (at least not when we were on it). All we had to do was press a few buttons when we got to the locks, imagine ourselves as Ratty and Mole and drift slowly south.
On the day we went from Teddington to Brentford, I was a bag of nerves. Maybe we should have got longer river ropes and a longer rope for the anchor. I know we don’t have to have a VHF radio, but maybe we should get one anyway? What if one of those sailing boats drives into us? What are those wakeboarders doing? Will they get out of our way? Look at how fast the water is moving! No I do not want to take the tiller; oh OK then; oh it’s actually fine. In fact I’m quite enjoying this, you know. And then before I knew what was happening, we were at the turn to Brentford and whoosh, it was all over.
Limehouse to Brentford was always a different ballgame though. My list of worries was so large I even had a written worry list:
- Limehouse Lock (there are no sluices to regulate the flow of water: they just open the gates, the boat drops down and ‘they’ warn you it can feel quite alarming)
- Thames Clippers (they zoom past and their wake can make the boat jump out of the water)
- Other big boats (what if we don’t see them coming?)
- Anchor (what if it doesn’t work when we need it? What if we need it?! Oh god)
- Man overboard (Oh my god we don’t even have a first aid kit. Should we get a life ring?)
- Lifejackets (which ones should we get, how do they work?)
- Swell (what if everything in the boat breaks if we hit a big wave? What if something falls on our head?)
- Weather. (Let’s check the forecast again. And again. And just one more time)
- Vents (What if loads of water gets in and sinks us. But we can’t cover them all up, the exhaust needs to stay uncovered. Oh my god what if water gets into the engine?)
- Breakdowns (I’ve read that the prop might foul, or our fan belt might slip, or our fuel filters might get blocked if we don’t have enough diesel in the tank.)
- Felucca’s air draft (what if the bridges are too low for us? And yes, I knew that was ridiculous even as I wrote it down)
- Water tank. Better full or empty?
- … I really won’t bore you with the rest of the list…
The only way to deal with the stress was, I found, to go shopping. After sinking what remains of our life savings into emergency life-saving gear and telling the man who filled our tank up to fill it up really, really full, I was OK. In fact, I slept like a baby the night before the big day, unlike others I could name. If I thought at all, I think I thought that it was all a bit too late for worry. We’d done our homework. We were prepared. And when the morning dawned and the lock gates opened and I didn’t immediately fall out of the boat and bang my head, I started to feel good. Well, actually, I felt mildly nauseous for the first five minutes until I got used to the movement of the water. And then I felt pretty darn good. Especially when the Houses of Parliament were glistening gold in the sun and handsome Battersea Bridge appeared in the distance.
So, to conclude: we have a lot of stuff now that, it turns out, we didn’t need at all. But that’s OK. We can do the Thames again next year, right?