A week on the Thames
Practical Boat Owner|March 2021
Bill Howlett recalls a blissful holiday filled with gymnastics, locks and a very curious cow
Bill Howlett

In 1972 my sister, Sue, three of her girlfriends and Richard, a mutual friend, went on a holiday on the River Thames, all of us aged between 19 and 22. What could possibly go wrong? We picked up the cruiser just below Windsor Old Lock and after brief training set off west with the aim of reaching Lechlade, the farthest navigable part of the river, and returning one week later, which the marina owner said wasn’t usually achievable. Now there was a challenge!

Just before the entrance to Windsor Old Lock there was a weir stream joining the river and creating interesting currents that seemed to move the boats around in unpredictable directions. Just below the weir stream is a narrow bridge with only room for a single boat to pass through at any one time.

We were trying to hold position near the weir stream, having successfully navigated the bridge, when we heard a commotion behind us. A small cruiser had managed to get itself at right angles to the river underneath the bridge. The helm was shouting at his crew to grab the boat hook and run forward to push the bow away from the side of the bridge. At the same time, he put the engine into reverse. He then shouted at her to run to the back of the boat and push off against the bridge wall, at which time he put the boat into forward gear. This happened twice more before she flung the boat hook down and, screaming some rude words, disappeared into the cabin. He then did the sensible thing and cut the engine to allow their boat to drift out of the bridge on the current. We were then able to enter the lock with the small cruiser coming in behind us.

When we’d taken the boat on a test run earlier in the afternoon, we’d been told very clearly that when you tie up, in a lock or elsewhere, you always attach the stern first because doing it the other way around, if there was any forward motion, would cause the boat to plough into the side. We were careful to follow this guidance. Regrettably, the small cruiser didn’t and crunched, bow first, into the side of the lock and the lock-keeper very calmly went through the correct procedure with them. When we left the lock, we made sure to get well ahead of the small cruiser, hoping not to come into contact with them again for the week.

The locks all closed at 7pm and, wishing to go as far up the river as we could, we planned to try and get through a lock every evening just before they closed so that we could carry on motoring until we were within easy reach of the next lock.

This meant that, except for one evening, we moored out in the country by attaching our mooring lines and anchors to the shore.

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