Confession: Thames cruise ends with cow calamity

In this month’s Confession, we hear how a maiden voyage came a cropper when the skipper tried to do the right thing

I became the proud owner of my first – and so far only – boat four years ago, buying a completely refurbished single-engined ‘Broads’ boat for cruising on the Thames.

It ticked all the right boxes and had: a shallow draught, a low air-draught to pass under Osney Bridge, and four berths – all in under 35ft.

I named her ‘First Edition’, an obvious choice given my surname, and moored her up permanently at Bourne End Marina on the Thames in Buckinghamshire, which I’d leased before I’d even found a boat.

Those of you who know the middle Thames will recognise our position – close to the yacht club and opposite a very tranquil scene where cattle wade into the river from the opposite bank.

Now, I am a great believer that the river is large enough for all types of craft. So I had no problem when my brother-in-law (a seasoned riverboater) and his family joined my wife and I for our maiden voyage only to find that there was a dinghy race taking place past our mooring, with all kinds of safety and marshalling vessels milling about.

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As I pulled away from the pontoon for the first time, with my wife expertly dealing with lines and acting as the human bow-thruster for which she had been in training for many months, I privately puffed with pride at my new-found role as skipper of my own vessel.

But all of a sudden I heard someone bellowing, “There’s a race going on, you know,” and I was surprised to find she was shouting at me in a bid to get me to move to port.

My training on hireboats had taught me that anyone with an ensign of any kind should not be ignored, and one with a big blue safety flag seemed quite intimidating at that point, so I did as I was told and moved to port, immediately running aground in a picturesque setting of cow-drinking heaven.

I was completely incensed, to the extent that I did not understand what was going on. All I knew was that there were cows very close by and for some reason we were unable to move away from them, which amused everyone around us, including the yachtsmen, spectators and those aboard my own vessel.

Even the cows appeared to be laughing at me. The more embarrassed I became, the louder I revved the engine, which only made the boat more stuck and the laughter around us more raucous.

Noting that the boat’s draught is a mere 1ft 6in, my brother-in-law volunteered to get out and push. But after some deliberation he decided that the cows’ feet were better suited to standing in the silt and shelved the offer.

However, further embarrassment was close at hand. An ancient dark brown clinker flying
a large flag was approaching us. When it arrived we found it was being rowed by what looked like four First World War veterans dressed in Victorian boating gear.

They kindly offered to row us off, which prompted my brother-in-law to keel over laughing and come close to falling in the water. After six strokes we were away from our cow friends and, while still embarrassed, we were grateful to the pensioners.

Whatever composure I had was now in tatters. Any respect that I had earned had been eroded to the point of extinction. Four years later I am a chastened but slightly more competent skipper – I now stop and think before following instructions from even the most officious river officials.

It is, after all, my river too. For a maiden voyage it certainly had its moments.

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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