Wednesday 29 June 2005

Honey - Long Wittenham to Henley

Wednesday 29th June 2005
Long Wittenham to Henley
River Thames

29 Miles
7 Locks
9 hours

We woke to a clear blue sky, washed clean by the overnight thunderstorm.
The pub mooring in the Clifton Weir Stream are small but perfectly formed - and we were the only visitors, completely invisible from the pub gardens.
This was a perfect spot to spend a quiet night but sadly our night was far from uneventful, thanks to Matilda. She had clearly been pondering on the depth of water under Honey's keel and my concerns about the excessive ingress of water from the sterngland. So, she sat bolt upright at 2.00pm absolutely convinced that the boat was sinking and we had to evacuate, straight away. It took all my powers of persuasion to assure her that were remained afloat and that if she went back to sleep she would wake safe and dry in the morning! Honey leaks but not that badly.
This proved to be another lovely day passing through Goring and Pangbourne which were achingly pretty. By lunchtime the heat became too much for us so we moored up under some trees, created a rope ladder from the mooring rope and jumped in for a swim. This was the first time Tilly and Jeff had ever swum in anything free of chlorine or Mr Matey and it rated as a first class Swallows and Amazon type adventure. We did find that climbing back onto the boat was a lot harder than getting in, as the makeshift rope ladder kept swing in towards the swim, but we made it back to the deck in the end. This is what the Thames is all about.
Towards the end of the day we paused at a boatyard in Pangbourne to refill with diesel. I had to wait for another boat to be filled first and there couldn't have been a greater contrast with poor old Honey. This other boat was an open launch, with two engines capable of driving it at 40 mph (hopefully not on the river!). It was clearly the first time the owner had been in it and he was having the controls explained to him. He was accompanied by a trophy wife - all blond hair and long legs if you know what I mean, who was clearly completely bored by the whole thing and kept chivvying him to leave. When they were done I asked the attendant how much the launch was worth - £50k - £100k??? No mate, its a hand made Italian boat and they only make five a year. Actually they cost about £250k. Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds - for a wooden two seater day boat - wow.
He cheerfully filled me up with my diesel and accepted my £10 note in payment (Honey burns £2.50 worth a day) and waved me on my way with a comment that the previous boat had just been filled from empty and had cost £2000! Its a different world.
Towards the end of the day we passed through Reading and heeded the advice in the guidebook to carry right on through. Reading is a sharp contrast to the neighbouring riverside towns, being one of the most impoverished areas in the home counties and therefore not an ideal place to stop. Reading also offers a BW route off to the River Kennett and then to the Kennett and Avon Canal. One day I will return and make the journey to Bath and maybe, just maybe, make a piloted journey up the Severn to Sharpness.
With the day coming to an end and as we approached Henley Lock, Jeff found the female company just too much for him and went pop, as is his way from time to time. It's a diagnosed condition and not really his fault but seeing him trying to strangle himself with his bare hands in sheer frustration was a bit disconcerting. Tilly and Matilda can be a bit irritating at times but this was a bit of an over reaction. I put the boat in neutral and dived below to sort him out - all the time hoping nothing was coming. A couple of mins of fast talking calmed him enough to allow me to return to the helm and pull over to a Eyot (island) where I could stop for the night and hopefully calm him right down.
Well, I made it to a convenient island but Jeff was having none of this conversation malarkey. Oh no, he decided to make a bit for freedom and jumped ashore to run away. In his rage he hadn't twigged that it was an island and after 15 minutes of bashing his way down the riverbank away from Honey's stern he re-emerged, scratched and stung at her bow. Oddly, he didn't see the funny side of the situation so climbed a tree which overhung the river with the stated aim on jumping in and ending it all. I couldn't leave him there so I climbed an adjoining tree with a trunk which had a similarly water ward trajectory and chatted over his options in the gathering gloom. Matilda later told me that this was one of the more surreal experiences of her life, hearing the murmur of our combined voices way out in the dark and apparently hovering, angel like, about 30 feet over the turbid water.
Jeff finally settled, climbed down had a cuddle, tea and by bed time you wouldn't have known that he had ever lost it. That's life with ADHD - although we didn't know what it was at the time, nor had we discovered the calming powers of Ritalin.

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