A year in the life of the river

Mort looks back over the last 12 months

IT’S been a pretty busy year for those of us who love the Thames and spend our leisure hours on it, in it, or beside it.

And as I write this final column of the year I’ve decided to look back over the past 12 months to pick some high (and low) points of 2011 and to present my own small (and probably wholly unrealistic) wish list for the river in the New Year.

A year ago, I was belabouring those boat owners who dodge paying their licence fees to the Environment Agency because, I said, it was like stealing from the rest of us who pay up for the right to navigate on the Thames.

If that was true then, it’s doubly true for 2012 because the EA has suffered a major cut in its funding and in order to maintain its prime assets on the river – the locks – boat licence fees are going to have to go up substantially. Fortunately the Agency will be far more rigorous in prosecuting licence dodgers – so you’ve been warned.

I also appealed for information about a boat I used to own called Merry Widow, an ex-RNLI lifeboat built by Thames Ironworks in 1908. She was a floating classic and I was really sorry to have to sell her back in 1997 but she was just too expensive for me to run. I’m still hopeful that a Riverwatch reader might let me know if she’s still afloat somewhere on the Thames.

Then, there was the tragic case of the two men who drowned when their small boat overturned close to Pharoah’s Island at Shepperton. It really did bring home the unavoidable truth that despite its beauty and allure, the Thames can be a very dangerous place.

On a happier note, I reported on the splendid turnout for the annual Shepperton Fair raft race which went to underline what a wonderful bunch of eccentrics the English really are as a whole flotilla of home-made, self-propelled craft waddled their way from Nauticalia down to the riverside at Shepperton watched by thousands of supporters. Always a great event.

In July, I bemoaned the destruction by fire of part of the old Thornycroft boat builders on Port Hampton where hundreds of small naval craft like motor torpedo boats and air sea rescue launches were constructed during the war. A sad day but which brought forward some lovely memories from the people who worked there.

And, of course, work finally started on the new river crossing at Walton which might finally go some way to solving the problem of interminable traffic jams in that part of the world – so ably documented by local artist Doug Myers of Weybridge who will continue to produce his brilliant watercolours of the work as it progresses.

And what of 2012? I have three simple wishes for the New Year:

  1. That from somewhere a fairy godmother will appear to wave a magic wand, find some extra money and allow the Environment Agency to appoint new resident lock keepers at Chertsey and Sunbury.
  2. That the rising crime trend with people stealing outboard motors and Heaven knows what else from boats along our stretch of the river will be snuffed out
  3. That we shall have a long and sunny summer so that everyone can enjoy the river Thames at its sublime best.

Have a very happy and peaceful New Year.

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