Confession: Henley Regatta boat tow goes horribly wrong

This month’s Confession involves a pair of outboard engines, an overzealous skipper, and a soaked crew

Many years ago I lived in Henley-on-Thames and as an impecunious student I had always managed to beg tickets to the Henley Regatta stewards’ enclosure for the Saturday.

This particular year I had started working and been away quite a bit, so consequently had been unable to get any tickets. My job had enabled me to indulge my desire of having a boat, and I had bought a 14ft speedboat with twin Evinrude 40hp engines, which was my pride and joy.

On the Friday night we were lamenting our lack of tickets when a solution became apparent. If we got up early we could take the boat to the slipway in New Street and motor around the bottom of the course and up to the boom in front of the stewards’ enclosure, where we would tie up and be in prime position to watch the day’s racing.

The following morning two of us took the boat, Kudu, to New Street and the third member of the party was sent off to acquire the necessary sustenance for a good afternoon, namely wine and strawberries.

Why I named my boat Kudu I cannot recall, apart from the fact that we had to have a name in case the Thames Conservancy came by and, seeing an unmarked boat, asked for our licence, which we would have been unable to produce.

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Anyway, Kudu was duly launched from New Street and we made our way to the boom and tied up, the three of us, all men, getting ready to enjoy the afternoon. Shortly afterwards a hire boat arrived containing four girls and one bloke and tied up adjacent to my stern.

Suddenly the afternoon became more interesting. All was well and we were all enjoying ourselves until they found that their boat was filling up with water and they were in danger of sinking.

The solution was for me to give them a tow around the bottom of the course and back to the hire station. Having got the co-operation of the other boat moored at my bow to keep my place, we transferred the four girls from their boat to ours and tied the bow of their boat to the starboard cleat of mine.

I put on a little power and nothing happened, but then everything went horribly wrong. Since their boat was so heavy I put on extra power, unfortunately too much and the next thing I knew was the boat had flipped and all seven of us were in the water with sandwiches, strawberries and much more floating down the Thames.

Embarrassment does not quite do justice to describe how I felt. I had made a complete fool of myself directly in front of the crowds in the stewards’ enclosure, a number of whom I knew.

Thames Conservancy then arrived and towed the sinking boat away, thankfully leaving me alone. Fortunately, I was able to right the boat, drain the engine and get everyone back on board and motor back to the slipway.

Being the chivalrous individual that I am I invited all the girls back to my flat so that they could shower and change. Eventually everyone saw the funny side of it and we all went out on the town and had a very enjoyable evening.

The sequel to this event was that the ‘Henley Standard’ the following Friday contained a less than flattering account of my expertise in boat handling.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


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