Continued from: What Price a Thames Skiff?
We went walking on the Thames path the only sunny day this spring. I was going to point out all the jolly people rowing upriver in their beautiful Thames skiffs to my husband – I thought he needed encouragement to see things in the right light. But all I could point out were motorboats.
When you hire a motorboat, the jolly sailor in enormous wellies who takes you to your boat always asks if you’ve ever driven one before. When you say no, he cheerfully says, “It’s just like driving a car.” At this point I keep silent about never having had the chance to drive a car yet and leave my husband to nod non-chalantly. (The jolly sailor always assumes that he’s the one who wants to go boating anyway.)
Based on casual inspection, I’d say that cars have more things to bother than your ordinary small motorboat – where you’ve got a tiller (or a wheel) and the throttle that controls the engine. No need to fool around with indicator lights, horns and the car radio. No seatbelts! (Although some evil companies will insist on your children wearing life-jackets.) But we can talk about driving a motorboat another time. As to docking it, I know of three different ways:
The First Way: With Precision
Or How to Abandon a Crew Member on Shore in the Norfolk Broads
We had experimented with the first way on the Norfolk Broads. This was the first time we hired a motorboat and if you ever want to hire a motorboat, don’t go anywhere near the Norfolk Broads: it’s flat, featureless and boring although I understand it’s home to a large number of birds. Coot Club, however, was always one of my least favourite Arthur Ransome books and if you think you can observe birds on the water approaching them with a loudly chugging, petrol-smelling evil of a motorboat, think again and then hire a canoe.
Not to mention the weather was rubbish too.
Mr Anglo-Saxonist was driving because he has a driving licence (“it’s just like driving a car, sir”). All went swimmingly: the boat made a racket like ten motorbikes, the rain drizzled and the petrol stank. There was nothing to look at and nothing to do. We were all getting bored and none of us fancied eating our picnic lunch in the boat. (Did I mention the stench of petrol yet? I did?… Oh, all right then.)
There was a picnic area on the left bank of the river however, and a mooring place with bollards to tie boats up to. We decided to take advantage of the temporary improvement in the weather (that’s to say it stopped raining). I took the painter and went on deck, ready to jump ashore. Mr Anglo-Saxonist swung the boat around and started to reverse to approach the shore stern first. At the right moment, I leaped ashore (I had seen this in many films and it was a leap timed to perfection though I say so myself). The kids were impressed. Toddler Friend of the Elephants in fact was so impressed that she thought she’d try it for herself and had to be forcibly restrained by Sensible Elder Sister (not yet aspiring to the name of Sophisticated Young Lady). Apart from that little excitement, however, at this moment in time all was fine both on board and on shore.
But not for long.
Still carrying on like a seasoned old sea-dog, I started to run the painter round the bollard, mentally evaluating various fancy knots I ached to try out. Simultaneously, Mr Anglo-Saxonist stopped reversing and decided to sail back to the middle of the river. Having a value for my hands, I let go of the painter which rapidly uncoiled and splashed into the water, trailing after the boat (the one thing we’ve been expressly told by the jolly sailor not to allow to happen). Deafened by the engine and thus blissfully unaware of the uproar in the stern of the boat where Sensible Elder Sister attempted to retrieve the painter with one hand and keep the agitated Toddler from jumping overboard with the other, Mr Anglo-Saxonist went round in an elegant circle and then docked the boat faultlessly near my bollard as if he was parking a car alongside the pavement. When he stepped ashore, he seemed a bit surprised that I was already there.
“What was the point in that?” I asked a bit crossly, referring to him driving off and leaving me stranded by the bollard.
“I didn’t like my angle of approach,” he said. “How was I to guess that you’d jump ashore? There was absolutely no need for such tomfoolery.”
I feel strongly that my daredevil leap ashore in the manner of a seasoned sea-dog would have deserved a more flamboyant docking. You know: less like a car by the pavement and more like the Royal Navy on D-Day. But men have no imagination.