What Price a Thames Skiff?

Continued from: Downriver

I was not aware until I started to google for hiring a rowing boat on the Thames but there’s an entire industry out there trying to make a living out of Jerome K. Jerome.

And of us fools who want to follow in his wake.

What Boat?

“We won’t take a tent,” suggested George, “we will have a boat with a cover. It is ever so much simpler and more comfortable.”

It seemed a good thought, and we adopted it. I do not know whether you have ever seen the thing I mean. You fix iron hoops up over the boat, and stretch a huge canvas over them, and fasten it down all round, from stem to stern, and it converts the boat into a sort of little house, and it is beautifully cosy, though a trifle stuffy; but there, everything has its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came down upon him for funeral expenses.

I have my doubts about how comfortable the bottom planks of a rowing boat can be for sleeping but the idea of a boat that you can cover with canvas sounds good.

I mean look out of the window right now. It’s raining. It’s been raining all day. In fact, it’s forecast to rain for the rest of the week. The days when it’s not bloody raining in England are far and few between and if you’re going to commit yourself to rowing up the river for a week, you might as well take this into account. When the sun is out and “the lark is on the wing” as the late P. G. Wodehouse liked to quote from a poem by Browning, well, then I too subscribe to Mr. Browning’s views and agree that “God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world”… but rowing upriver while sitting in a puddle with the cold rain trickling down your back is manifest misery. IMO.

The Thames Skiff

So – a rowing boat with a cover.

This being England, it probably comes as no surprise to anybody that it is, in fact, possible to hire the exact same type of boat today as Jerome K. Jerome hired more than a hundred years ago. It’s known as the Thames skiff, a Thames camping skiff to be exact.

thames skiff DSCF1508
Who’s being impersonated here? I think it’s George… A Thames skiff. Photo by: Thames Skiff Hire.

The boats are a joy to look at: I’m completely sold on the idea of having the Thames skiff and no other boat. I mean note that strategically placed picnic hamper! And there are seat cushions…

This hiring company has clearly seen it all, including the kind of incompetence we‘re going to be likely to exhibit on the river. First of all, there’s advice on how not to break your sculls. In fact, they don’t take it for granted that you even know how to row – they’ll train you. They understand that you’re probably overestimating your love of rowing (and your stamina) and they’re happy to collect you from anywhere on the river when you have given up. And they provide the tin opener.

Although I’m slightly bemused reading the advice for two-men crews: one should row and the other should be steering. This boat has a rudder? What for? Up to this point in life I have never felt the need for a rudder in a rowing boat. I mean you’ve got a pair of oars to proceed in whatever direction you conceivably may wish to, including backwards, round in circles or  thirty-two degrees to port (better known as row for that willow on the other bank).

But then there will be those times when my husband will be rowing… maybe just as well that the boat has a rudder!

Just How Rich Was Jerome K. Jerome?

I was always under the impression that Jerome K. Jerome and his friends were your ordinary men of the street; not toffs. I mean they worked for a living! George, for example, went “to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day”, not to mention for half a day on Saturdays. So three ordinary people hired a boat for a week. We’re an ordinary family (we go to work five days a week); money shouldn’t be a problem.

At first glance the prices do not appear to be exorbitant for hiring a camping skiff for a week. And as only an idiot takes a heavier boat rowing upriver than he absolutely has to, the smallest boat will do us fine.

The devil of course is in the detail. First of all, I’m not willing to sleep in a tent every night. Even The Three Men drew the line at camping out in wet weather:

It is evening. You are wet through, and there is a good two inches of water in the boat, and all the things are damp. You find a place on the banks that is not quite so puddly as other places you have seen , and you land and lug out the tent, and two of you proceed to fix it.

It is soaked and heavy, and it flops about, and tumbles down on you and clings round your head and makes you mad. The rain is pouring steadily down all the time…

Rainwater is the chief article of diet at supper. The bread is two-thirds rainwater, the beefsteak-pie is exceedingly rich in it, and the jam, and the butter, and the salt, and the coffee have all combined with it to make soup.

There is much more in the same vein and much as I love the patter of rain on the canvas above my head, I’m too old for this kind of thing now. So I’m wholly in agreement with The Three Men:

We therefore decided that we would sleep out on fine nights; and hotel it, and inn it, and pub it, like respectable folks, when it was wet, or when we felt inclined for a change.

In addition to the boat hire, we’ll have the cost of ‘hotelling it, inning it and pubbing it’. Let’s say every second night, three or four nights in a bed-and-breakfast. In England. By the Thames. Suddenly the price of this holiday rockets alarmingly… And the hiring company requires that we never leave the boat unattended so there’s also the cost of paying boathouses. Then there’s the one-way supplement. Then there’s the charge we might incur if we give up and they will have to collect the boat from some strange location. Then…

“Why don’t we hire a motorboat instead?” said my husband, looking up from his Sunday paper. “It would be only twelve hundred pounds for a week and much more comfortable.”

I was speechless.

Continued with: Three Ways to Dock a Motorboat (I)



4 thoughts on “What Price a Thames Skiff?

  1. He obviously subscribes to the Mr. Toad style of travel. Poop, poop!

    I think this is more what you had in mind:

    “The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded itself in stately procession.

    Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset-cloud was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string music has announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here.” Kenneth Graham, The Wind in the Willows – http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/640134-the-pageant-of-the-river-bank-had-marched-steadily-along

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been decades I read Wind in the Willows… 🙂 But messing about in boats in the manner of Ratty was what I had in mind, yes, not a gin palace… Although I can see it’s advantages when it comes to comfort! The trouble is we’re getting old – 20 years ago it would have been different.


      1. Yes, years ago we used to sleep on mats in a bare field or halfway up a mountain when we went camping. Now we take inflatable mats, chairs and a table. Our children have never had to put up with the discomfort we did. I think they’re missing out on something.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think you’re very right: When I was young I travelled even if it meant sleeping rough in front of a railway station. We used to hitch-hike to get to places… we slept under the stars without bothering to pitch a tent at the end of a day’s hike. Now the only reason why I’m even contemplating camping if we go upriver is because Young Friend of the Elephants has never slept in a tent yet… Nowadays it’s just more comfortable sleeping in a warm bed, in a bedroom with an ensuite bathroom! That’s getting old for you! 🙂


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