PlanetSKI Turns Into PlanetBOAT – Part One
13th July 2021
Last modified on July 19th, 2021
With the mountains effectively out-of-bounds PlanetSKI is confined to the UK. So, we’re trying a few outdoor activities within our shores. First up it’s a spot of river cruising on the Thames. But what an earth does it have to do with skiing?
We’re on a 4-day and 3-night trip with the inland waterway specialist, Le Boat.
Here’s home and transport for a few days – The Caprice.
From the Le Boat base at Chertsey to the west of London our editor, James Cove, and his wife/ PlanetSKI social media supremo, Kisia Cove, are heading towards Marlow in Buckinghamshire.
They may be able to ski and push themselves a bit, but boating?
10+ hours of cruising with 18 locks to progress through.
Passing through Windsor, Bray, Maidenhead and Cookham.
Neither James or Kisia have experienced a river cruise boat in their lives, let alone been in charge of a boat.
But with the mountains on Europe off-limits why not?
Time to try some new adventures.
What could possibly go wrong?
Words and steering: James Cove
Pictures/Videos and knots: Kisia Cove
“You know I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do but I feel with locks to manage, the route to navigate, finding moorings and safely steering the beast of a boat you have hired I think we are perhaps stepping somewhat out of our comfort zone,” Kisia said to me as we drove to Penton Hook Marina.
“Are you sure we are capable of this on our own?”
“Of course we can, I am very confident,” I lied.
Such thoughts had popped up in my head on more than one occasion in the past few days.
“You may be confident, but what about your practical boating skills? Are they going to be good enough?”
“No question about it. I have been viewing all the web site instruction videos and studying the technical advice,” I said with some exaggeration.
The butterflies were fluttering for me.
They vanished as Shelley from Le Boat welcomed us and ran though the basics.
Then it was the turn of Paul.
Ropes are not my strongest suit and perhaps not Kisia’s either and these ones would have to hold us in locks and secure the boat to the shore once I had ‘parked’ it.
Sorry ‘moored’ it.
I can drive a car OK, but I’m a notoriously bad parker and now I have to manouevre a 12m boat into rather small spaces in locks, marinas and mooring spots.
At 12m The Caprice is the exact length of a London double-decker bus, but 1.2m wider.
It may not be as high but it weighs in at 8 tons – the weight of three African elephants, the largest land animals on earth.
I predicted it wouldn’t turn, stop or do things quickly.
My prediction turned out to be accurate, but more of that later in this 3-part blog
Paul took me through the basics of steering the boat.
Then we set off – on our own.
Our first lock was Penton Hook.
The lock keeper responded immediately as I shouted “it’s our first time and we may need help”.
The sort of advice any skier should give to a liftie when taking a T-bar for the first time.
Lock help was duly offered as the lock keeper tied up the bow and stern ropes and we managed it without incident.
We came across the same assistance from all the lock keepers over the next few days when needed, with countless other people helping and showing us the ropes.
Coming to our assistance when they saw we needed some help.
We had entered another world and were made to feel very welcome, despite our limited (non-existent) skills.
We can get around the mountains an auto-pilot, but this was a whole new experience.
We chugged up The Thames and the rat race of life simply slipped away.
Like skiing, you live in the moment.
The riverside scenery was different from mountain scenery, but stunning – just in a different way.
The maximum speed in this part of the Thames is 8 km/h and ‘driving’ is on the right.
One of the lock keepers observed how there has been a sharp rise in people taking cruises on the river as part of a ‘staycation’ due to the pandemic.
“Some like yourselves are new to it, while others have come back to it after a few years away,” one told us.
“We’re missing many foreign visitors but it’s great to see so many people from the UK giving it a go. You should tell your readers all about this.”
“Enjoy yourself at sea level rather than being high up in the mountains.”
The Thames, whose source is near Cirencester in Gloucestershire, slipped quietly by and time simply slowed down.
And just as I was feeling confident with my new-found boating skills, we approached the second lock, Bell Weir.
Bell End might have been a more appropriate name for what was to follow.
We (me) had perhaps enjoyed some beginners’ luck at Penton Hook.
“James, slow down and turn left a bit or we are going to hit the wall of the lock entrance,” shouted Kisia loudly to me from the back of the boat as she remained poised on the edge with the ropes to hand, ready to secure us once inside the lock.
“James, Turn left now!” she shouted even louder a few seconds later.
“For heaven’s sake what’s the matter with you?!”
Her voice caught the attention of the people in the pub garden by the lock who raised their gaze to study my ‘skills’.
They were rewarded with a not-so virtuoso performance as I hit the lock gate with a resounding thump, and then needed several attempts to enter the lock and almost lost it altogether.
It is not so easy manouevering a double-decker bus that weights the same as a few elephants.
And doing it all on water.
But I was at least providing entertainment.
Judging by the jeers and cheers from the pub they thoroughly enjoyed my demonstration of how not to do it.
I did not enjoy the experience and wished I was elsewhere.
Summer glacier skiing that is well within my comfort zone perhaps.
Or outside a pub by a lock with a beer in hand watching an utter idiot making a complete fool of himself.
But one total miss and several bumps later Lock No. 2 was under my belt, though hardly conquered.
I bowed to the pub garden audience as they applauded my eventual entrance.
16 more to go.
I felt like a first time novice on the ski slopes – unable to get up and when I managed it then skiing without control and crashing into anything in my way.
What else could possibly go wrong?
As it turned out quite a lot could go wrong, but it didn’t in the next 30-minutes due to help from these guys from the ‘Windsor Sceptre’.
They helped us though Old Windsor and Romney lock in the early evening as the lock keepers had gone home, having finished their day.
The locks are unmanned after 6.30pm at this time of year, but can be operated manually.
We piggy-backed their expertise and just had to tie up inside rather than open and close the lockgates ourselves.
We met nothing but help and patience in this alternative watery world.
We glided past Windsor.
The castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
The Royal Standard was flying, meaning Her Majesty was in residence.
The castle has been home to British Kings and Queens for almost 1,000 years.
Normally at this time of year I’d be visiting castles in the Alps.
Last summer I spend some time in the Aosta Valley.
Now it is the Thames Valley.
This part of the Thames is steeped in history with nearby Cliveden House and some pubs over 500-years old.
River travel is as old as man inhabiting this part of the world.
For our first night we found a mooring spot on the bank before the Boveney lock.
It is thought there was a lock at Boveney in 1375 as there is a mention in historical records of a dispute over an unpaid toll.
The area is mentioned in the Doomsday Book.
A timber lock was built in 1838 and the lock we were to progress through was constructed in 1898 as river traffic grew.
We certainly did not feel confident to go through a lock on our own, and navigating into a marina was a no-no as we would definitely be unable to control the boat in such a small space.
The Caprice sometimes felt like a cross between an oil tanker and a juggernaut in our unskilled hands, but we’re determined to learn the basics, if not master the skills.
There are numerous places to moor on the river.
The rule of thumb seemed to be if the mooring spots are by the tow path, then it is OK.
Most private moorings have signs to that effect, or if the mooring is the end of a garden it is pretty obvious it belongs to the home-owner.
The first day had certainly been challenging in places (Bell End Weir), but it had been a thoroughly enjoyable initial river boating experience.
Tomorrow holds more in store as we plan to reach Marlow which is a further 5 locks away.
Who needs mountains in the summer?
Next stop Marlow.
Or perhaps not…
Le Boat is the No.1 provider of inland water boating holidays, bringing together 50 years of experience, expertise and memories.
It has a fleet of large self-drive cruisers, allowing entire families to stay on board and to explore their chosen region.
The self-drive Benson Return river cruise, allows holidaymakers to explore the western section of the River Thames.
Here moorings are easy to find and the distance between locks is greater than at the river’s eastern end, which means more cruising.
Staying on Le Boat craft means that guests have their own private bubble, with no need to worry about social distancing.
The dreaming spires and universities of Oxford are a six-hour cruise to the west of Benson, or head east and in six hours boaters can be in Henley-on-Thames, the home of British rowing.
Perfect for those seeking an affordable staycation and with no previous experience necessary, Le Boat’s Thames holidays can be whatever guests want them to be, from a full-on action-packed adventure to a slow-paced, relaxing chance to unwind.
This year, Le Boat’s boating season will run until 31 October 2021 in England. Next year’s boating season will run 1 April – 31 October 2022.
The boat and accommodation For the three nights of your trip you travelled on a Le Boat Caprice sleeping a maximum of six.
The two en-suite staterooms are located forward, leaving lots of room in the rear for the saloon and aft deck. The saloon has a radio/CD player and MP3/USB connectivity.
A three-night self-catered cruise on the River Thames during the 2021 boating season, starting and finishing at Le Boat’s base at Benson, is priced from £389 per boat.
Transport to and from the base is not included.
Contact Le Boat Le Boat (023 9280 9124, www.leboat.co.uk
Summer on PlanetSKI
Across this summer as we can’t get to the mountains of Europe PlanetSKI is trying its hand at some UK based activities.
From hiking the South Downs Way & the SW Coastal Path, to taking a flying lesson over SE England.
We’ll be reporting on our adventures later.
Visits to Scotland and Wales are on the cards.
We’re planning to reach the top of Ben Nevis and Mt Snowdon.
Plus, we’re taking to water with kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and more besides.
But in terms of this Thames riverboat cruise do check back later this week for our blog from Day Two…..