Many people enjoy messing about in boats. Unfortunately, the old cliché remains true, a boat is a hole in the water into which one pours money.
My father felt the boating urge, and he solved it reasonably economically by buying a second-hand inflatable two-man canoe. I was detailed as crew for the inaugural voyage, and the River Thames was chosen as the venue, being our local waterway.
We lived in Ealing, so the method chosen for the first stage was to roll the boat up in its bag, and take the 65 bus to Kew Bridge. There, we alighted and walked down to the tow path on the Middlesex side of the river. The boat was inflated and launched, and with some difficulty we got in, canoes being not very stable at the best of times. The tide must have just turned because the water was high but definitely flowing downstream.
We paddled out into the river, allowing the current to take us. Naturally, we were not wearing life-jackets, and I doubt whether my father realized the danger of the current sweeping us against obstructions. The tidal current in the Thames can reach three or four knots, and in those days there were many moored barges in the river with wide, raked bows – ideal for trapping and swamping small boats.
But all was well. We paddled past Oliver’s Ait (or Island), under Kew Railway Bridge and along Mortlake Reach to Chiswick Bridge, and then under Barnes Bridge past Chiswick Eyot and so to Hammersmith. Here, my father wisely decided to terminate the voyage, and we landed either on the tow path or at one of several pontoons in the area. The journey was just over three nautical miles, and had taken somewhat longer than an hour. The boat was deflated, rolled up into its bag, and we took a bus from Hammersmith back home to Ealing.
Some time later, Father bought a small outboard motor and rigged it up on the stern. I had no further trips in the canoe, but my father and mother had a great deal of fun with it. And against all the odds they managed to avoid drowning themselves, health and safety not being a major concern. They took the canoe out off Southsea – next to busy Portsmouth Harbour – and were warned by a official harbour launch that they were in danger of being swept out to sea by the falling tide. On another occasion, they were in Dieppe, paddling around in the harbour there, and wondering why the French were shouting at them, only to realize that they were in the track of the arriving cross-channel ferry from Newhaven …
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs