IT’S QUITE astounding how much junk there is in the River Thames. Everyone has probably seen a supermarket shopping trolley nestling in the shallows close to the bank or the odd lorry tyre rotting gently in the mud. And, of course, there are always dozens of bottles, plastic bags and other general detritus swirling around in the water.
But my brother, my wife and I took a couple of Australian friends out for a potter in our boat from Shepperton down to Teddington on Sunday and during the two hours or so it took us to reach the limit of the non-tidal Thames, I was astounded by the number of huge pieces of driftwood that we had to swerve to avoid.
There were at least three substantial pieces of timber – they looked like scaffold boards each about eight feet long and a foot wide – and what appeared to be half a huge tree trunk.
The problem with all of these bits of driftwood is that they are generally saturated and therefore very difficult to spot as they bob along just below the surface of the river.
Fortunately, we were keeping a good lookout but those following me down the river must occasionally have wondered at my erratic steering as we laid a zigzag course.
We did pull one sizeable chuck of timber over to the bank but, frankly, the Environment Agency aren’t paying me to keep the river clear and I could have spent most of the day ferrying lumps of wood out of harm’s way.
The problem for boaters is that if you happen to run into one of these floating road blocks – even at 5mph – you’re likely to do your boat’s hull, propellor or steering a whole lot of no good.
Dare I point out that one of the valuable services performed by our excellent lock-keepers is that they do try to retrieve the worst of these lumps of timber from the river in addition to passing skippers quickly and efficiently through their locks. But, of course, if the EA has it’s way, four of our local keepers – at Sunbury, Chertsey, Penton Hook and Bell Weir locks – will have to find alternative accommodation because the Agency intends to rent out their existing homes to save a few bob.
And if the lock-keepers are not on site, then their opportunities to drag this kind of rubbish from the Thames are severely reduced.
If, like, me, you think the EA should have a re-think on this ridiculous idea, do write to me and let me know.
TALKING of which, thanks to Pat Brady, Megan Barrett and Bill Watts, among others, for your support regarding the lock-keepers. Bill, a boat owner from Shepperton, says he believes the lock-keepers’ houses should be retained for the purpose for which they were originally built. Absolutely, Bill. However, he takes me to task for my comments about having some kind of qualification before being allowed to take a boat out on the river. This follows the events of the previous weekend when some idiot managed to park his sports cruiser on the top of the bank at Desborough by travelling too fast.
Bill argues that the majority of boaters are sensible people and that the relatively few incidents and accidents are often caused by an irresponsible minority. He points out that having a piece of paper will not necessarily prevent the few loose cannons from causing mayhem and will simply provide more obstacles for the majority of boaters. Point taken – but I still feel that some kind of formal training requirement might be of value. What do other skippers think?