Confession: The adventures of the Thames sheep whisperer

In this month’s Confession, we hear how riverboating on the Thames can be much more adventurous that you might think

Coming to Bray from Dover, we thought we knew all about boats but we had no real idea how many adventures the Thames would have in store for us.

We were soon to realise that the leisurely river life we’d heard so much about would all too quickly involve rescuing stranded boaters and actively defending ducks and swans from their aggressive friends – so much for Mother Nature.

After four boats in four years we had decided to search for a more traditional river boat, and in late-2009 we lost our hearts to a surprisingly elegant, 28-year-old, Dutch steel boat, built by the Valk brothers.

After a busy winter refitting her, at last came spring, bringing a calm nirvana. Daffodils blossomed, baby lambs skipped around in the fields and most of all the sun shone. The boat looked absolutely splendid – a pub afloat – just what we’d always wanted.

Keen to get out and enjoy the river, we decided to take a leisurely trip to Henley one afternoon when I heard the urgent bleating of a lamb in distress.

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Insisting we stop to find out, I asked my husband to let some of the boats he’d so carefully overtaken (he’s very competitive) pass us, while I pleaded, St Francis-like, that we rescue this poor animal that was in need.

On closer inspection we could see the poor lamb – not so small – tucked away in the bushes half in the water, four foot down a sheer bank with no way up. Risking going aground my husband nudged the bow into the bank and I stepped off and ran back to find the sheep.

Wearing a lifejacket (I can only swim about 10 metres) my Brownies training kicked in and I was feeling confident. At last I spotted it, but seeing me peering down from above the poor creature was naturally horrified and it decided to dig itself into the bank even further.

Never have I seen such a look of horror on a sheep’s face but I knew I had to save it. Lowering myself gingerly into the water, I held on tight to whatever I could.

Branches pulled out, nettles stung, pink acrylic nails snapped off and floated away downstream but I had just one thing in mind – this lamb was going to be rescued whether it wanted it or not.

Fast running out of energy I knew I had little time. I was now up to my waist in mud and cold water and beginning to worry my lifejacket would inflate.

Within inches of the still burrowing lamb I dug both hands deep into her wool knowing the only way was up, over my shoulder, feet uncomfortably close to my face.

Soon wet mud and sheep’s wool were smudging Dior lipstick into orifices it was never intended for,
as I somehow flung the poor animal, free at last, up the bank and into the field behind.

Overjoyed at my success I looked up to see my husband on the front of the boat snapping away with his camera. As I clambered out I was covered from head to toe in black mud, leaves, weed and twigs, only to be told I couldn’t get back on board until I was clean.

At least I felt some achievement though. I’d actually saved a lamb. Unfortunately, this euphoria only lasted until the following Sunday when, sitting down to lunch, we were faced with roast lamb, and the realisation that it could all have been in vain.

Perhaps next time the lamb will have to come on board?

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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