With plans all made, equipment ready to pack and supplies all purchased, the adventure started to implode. First the new COVID lockdown meant that the second and third nights had to be aborted much to the apparent disappointment of the crew – or was it relief? Assuming we would be okay before the lockdown came into effect, a precautionary telephone call to the Thames Lock, the gateway into the Wey Navigation where the licence was to be purchased, was met with the news that no new licences were being issued and we would not be able to pass through onto the Wey. A hastily convened ‘conflab’ agreed that the much anticipated and planned adventure was not viable in it’s original form and all that we could salvage was a day on the Thames with suitable destinations for refreshment.
Thus it was that an Uber collected us from Sunningdale and took us to the Shepperton mooring.
Pumping the rainwater from T/T and readying her did suggest that it would have been a (not impossible) squeeze with all the gear for several days camping. We also had to be careful with the trimming and balance as two fatties and one child had to be carefully distributed. The river was running very fast after the rain but not threatening and the 6hp outboard pushed us along very satisfactorily over the current. Heading ‘upstream’, we decided to motor until we stopped for our first refreshment, then we would row with the current on the return leg.
I feel completely justified in saying that Toad likes the idea of boating but has absolutely no nautical ability and really no inclination towards learning. He paid ‘lip service’ to rowing with Chief Weasel and put little effort into the exercise, dipping his oars only occasionally and then managing to clash and disrupt the more fluid strokes of the Weasel.
What is more worrying is that he seems intent on making a motorboat purchase, not starting as most enthusiasts do with a manageable small 20 something foot ‘starter boat’ but going ‘big balls’ at over 50 foot. This is totally in character with the Toad and all we can do is advise (ignored), watch and wince.
One of the planned features of our Wey trip was to be the fishing. This was not to have been the traditional hook and bait type of fishing for real fish but the towing of a bleedin’ strong magnet behind the dinghy intending to catch treasure. This would have been fine on the Wey with little current but with the Thames in spate, it presented a problem when we caught a whoppa. Our progress came to an abrupt halt but pulling ourselves back against the stream, we lost our catch and we will never know what valuable hoard we might have landed. In the event, the sum total of our fishing activities was a tin lid, a NOX canister and lots of rust.
To avoid repeating ourselves in this account, I will leave it to the other two to ‘put the flesh’ on the bones of events but please bear in mind that Toad is prone to immense exaggeration and if he had a motto, it would be ‘Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’ – I wonder what that is in Latin?
Firstly; Verum ne impediant et bibamus is the answer to Ratty’s question, secondly ‘Scuppered’ doesn’t even come close to the ‘Omni Shambles’ that Mr Mines oversaw on Tuesday. Because he had not applied for the Wey license until the 59th minute of the 11th hour; we were all dressed up (especially him) but with nowhere to go. He had considered continuing to camp but with the pastures beside the Wey Navigation now replaced by a verge under the flyover at Junction 13 of the M25. This was soon dismissed by the crew.
You will notice from the photo showing Ratty at the rear of the boat, that he looks to be sat in a wheelchair and wedged in place in what Alan has now named the ‘Sunshine Boat’. We appeared to the casual passer-by to be a ‘care in the community’ day-out or acting a scene from Little Britain with Nick playing Matt Lucas to perfection and dressed like him too.
So having dialled back our expectations and cancelling all the previous restaurant bookings that we had secured for a waterway we were going nowhere near, we set off with Captain Calamity in control of the outboard. All was going well for the first 20 minutes until we reached a Lock. As you can imagine Nick leapt, well crawled off the boat and up the steps of the lock to show us landlubbers how this is done. Carl and I would remain in that Lock for the best part of an hour chatting to some casual observers (who are now very good friends due to the time we spent with them, see photo below) that were too polite to walk away and even gave us a cheer as Nick finally managed to work the (automated) lock controls and we were off again.
At this point he informed us that we weren’t going to go through any ‘more bloody locks’ and that would mean we could go no further than Chertsey; a total distance of 2.4 miles or a 6 minute car ride and I’ve taken a whole day off work for this ?????.
I have to admit that I don’t think I have ever laughed so much (for all the wrong reasons) in one day and by the time we chugged gently back to the Shepperton mooring we were ready for beer as the sun was setting on an eventful day.
Chief Weasel writes:-
Many of you sailing types whom partake of Nick’s watery missives will be already aware that the saying ‘ship-shape and Bristol fashion’ refers to a bygone age when ships entering the Port of Bristol, at the time the second highest in the world due to the dramatic tidal range of the Severn estuary, had to have everything safely stowed away and secured, or at low-tide the cargo would fall violently to one side as the vessels ‘keeled-over’ and everything could be ruined. In the interests of bringing this quote up-to-date, I would like to posit a slight tweaking: Ship-shape and Sunningdale fashion.
The true tale of mini-me-Hejira’s maiden voyage was not one of the sharp frost that greeted us on the morning, the necessary pre-requisite River Wey licence not being obtained, the gathered audience at Shepperton lock spontaneously breaking into applause when we finally navigated through, or the lovely, warming Young’s Special bitter at The Bridge. Nor was it defined by the coxless pairs superbly synchronised rowing stroke, surely reminiscent of our very own Sirs Redgrave and Pinsent, or Toad giving it large on the throttle and performing the boating equivalent of a 200m wheelie. It could almost have been given meaning by the fisherman’s adage of ‘the one that got away’ but even the suspected supermarket trolley sadly got the better of us at the net. No, the tale of this voyage can only be told within the context of Captain Catastrophe’s clothing, his jumper, his pullover and the garment from Hell.
Not overly known for his suave sartorial elegance, our erstwhile second-hand skipper really went to town and arrived in an article of apparel that I genuinely hope the photos do alarming justice to. Pregnant women and people of a weak disposition need to be forewarned.
Firstly, it was so large that Toad initially mistook it for the night’s tepee covering, only with slightly less shape. Secondly, exactly what colour was it, as to our eyes it comprised every colour known to man, not to mention a pattern of stripes, circles, blobs and all manner of indiscriminate form? Thirdly, had the belligerent bosun, who had obviously dressed in the dark, actually parted with ‘hard-earned’ for it or had some benevolent handcrafter charitably knitted it for someone three times Admiral Ahab’s already considerable size? And what exactly was it made from? Certainly not wool and my best guess would be shipwrecked, recovered and recycled ships’ twine or perhaps an angler’s unscrambled ‘bird-nest’ of twisted line. Imagine turning-up at the office on Christmas Jumper Day and being sent home for going just too far, and you’ll get the picture.
Notwithstanding, three were counted out, three were counted back and tremendous fun was had by all. As Josh McRae once sang ‘With the wind in your face there’s no finer place, than messing about on the river!’