My first look out the window revealed a single greylag goose, no gaggle or brood or even pair. We were planning to head off today having stayed still for a rainy day. We haven’t been downriver and the extra rain made us concerned about the water levels rising, the rate of flow is one thing but also getting stuck on the river was another so we thought moving back was the best plan but Shane was also checking the Environment Agency reports on water levels. He was waiting for an update. At last he got the news he wanted, the area we were in was yellow and decreasing, a relief as if it is increasing it may turn red at any moment and so might the parts ahead as the water flows that way. The three sections we would be heading towards were labelled “no stream warning”.
We would have to turn the boat around and use most of the width of river to do it and be drifting with the current in the process so Shane was anxious to choose his moment carefully. Another look out showed a new hazard. Giant birds were now heading towards us, slowly progressing upstream. Shane didn’t think they had very good steering and were not robust.
He decided we should not set off until there was a gap in the swan and flamingo pedalos that were pedalling hard, passing us then turning round and zooming back downstream. Once they were all returning to base, there was a window of opportunity to take up the space. The day before, we had seen a much smaller boat turn in the spot we were aiming for and bang into a moored narrow boat. The narrow boat owner had poked his head out and as the small boat bounced and apologised, he turned to us and said “too many beers perhaps”. This wasn’t unlikely on a Coronation Saturday but it could just be that it was harder to turn than expected. Shane managed to achieve a smooth turn to his relief.
We continued down to St John’s lock, the sun out and reggae music coming from the staff office, made for a more relaxed atmosphere. Going down in the lock is much less turbulent too, so I had no problem holding the ropes.
Coming out of the controlled waters of the lock area, we turned into the stronger stream again past a pirate ship with a crow surveying from on high but no crow’s nest. The owner looked more Caribbean pirate than Johnny Depp.
Mostly we were taking it quietly. Shane was using electric and very little power, letting the stream do most of the work, but when cornering, we did need to up the prop speed to steer as the river had its own idea about where it wanted to take us. People were taking advantage of the sunny day and we met several small boats on the twisting river. I was a bit worried about taking the tiller at first, but it soon felt okay, with Shane giving me the benefit of his experience as we went.
When we were aiming to pull in for lunch, I was happy to hand back to him. I had forgotten that mooring on the river required turning round so the boat is facing upstream so was surprised at his sharp turn. After lunch, as he was turning back round again, into the stream, he was surprised at the sudden appearance of a family of ducks and the ducklings were surprised at the sudden arrival of a boat on their side of the river as they passed when we were right across it.
We went to get water just before the next lock. There is a rule about using short hoses and non-collapsible hoses at the taps on the Thames but facing this way, the tap is too far from our water tank to use the length of hose described. I asked the lock keeper who said it was because we were facing “the wrong way” but also said it was not a place to turn round either. He said we could use our longer hose as long as it was rigid, which it is, and said to go ahead it would just fill more slowly. Just as we were getting the hose sorted another boat arrived and asked if we were finished with the tap. Shane told him we were only just starting. The lock keeper came over and told the other boat we would be about 40 minutes and the boater decided to go to the next lock for water in stead. I don’t think we did take a full 40 minutes but then we didn’t have an empty tank. We watched a paddle boarder getting in to the water and while agreeing it was a lovely day she said it was very hard work paddling upstream, and she was looking forward to turning round. Beside the lock there was a yellow warning sign for strong water and increasing levels. We overheard him say to another boat that normally he’d tell people to check the website for warnings and water levels, but today that was pointless as the website wasn’t right. So we had made our travel decision based on an inaccurate description.
When at last we had finished getting water, I cast off to go in to the lock to see a swan go in ahead of us. The lock keeper had to shoo it out of the lock before operating it. While in the lock, he asked Shane if he had a licence and remarked it wasn’t on display. The process is on line these days and we don’t have a printer aboard. Shane had to go and get the laptop to show him the online licence. While he was digging that out the lock keeper went to warn some paddle boarders away from the weir and expressed concern at them all out today when the flow was strong.
As he and his assistant opened the gates I heard the assistant ask him if they should warn us about the bridge and the lock keeper said we would be okay as we were heavy enough. Clearly he had been giving out warning and advice to others about the speed of flow at the narrow bridge. When we reached there it was to meet another small boat coming the other way and controlling themselves with some difficulty on the way out.
Still it isn’t white water rafting and apart from the bridge, it was mainly plain sailing and the paddle boarders and inexperienced inflatable rowers were just managing. The sunshine made it a warm pleasant day. The mood would have felt quite different in the rain, so today we are sitting it out and hoping that tomorrow’s water level warnings are accurate. Shane had been checking out a graph and they do seem to be falling.