Confession: Turning tide leaves Packboat hanging by a thread

In this month’s Confession, we hear how a novice boater’s maiden voyage on the Thames ended with a muddy trek to the water’s edge

It was the first boat I ever bought and I still have it almost 60 years later. I bought it from a gentleman who swore that it didn’t leak a drop of water; “ideal for taking the pretty ladies out on the lake,” he said.

The exact lake was not specified. However, at £25 it seemed a good buy because it included a Seagull Minus outboard.

The vessel, a Whittle Packboat, consisted of three sections of moulded ply which could be bolted together to make a 12ft dinghy.

I was just getting into car racing when I bought it, so like most of my subsequent boat purchases, it was something of an impulse buy.

Boating was a subject about which I knew less than nothing but, with the confidence of youth, I decided to take the Packboat onto the Thames below Richmond and persuaded a friend that he should come along for the maiden voyage.

We loaded the three sections on to the roofrack of my car and set off for a launching site in the area. In those happy days one could park a car wherever there was space, so on arrival at a spot close to the river we unloaded and assembled the boat, which had by now been christened Brown’s Yacht by my deriding acquaintances.

Having set off, we enjoyed an afternoon buzzing about on the water courtesy of the Seagull.

In the early evening we found ourselves at Eel Pie Island and decided to tie up and go ashore.
I have no idea what it is like now, but in those days the island had a large ramshackle wooden building, which featured several holes in its walls.

We found an entrance and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a bar inside. We each had a pint of Bass and would probably have left it at that.

However, just before we finished our pints, a group of jazz musicians arrived for an informal jam session. This was magic and it didn’t take us long to get carried away with enjoying ourselves, sinking a few more jars of Bass to enhance what was proving to be a wonderful evening.

As all good things come to an end and the evening light began to dim, we decided it was time to depart. We returned to where we had tied up Brown’s Yacht to find it hanging vertically in the air from its mooring cord (I had yet to learn that this should be referred to as a painter).

How on earth had that happened? At least the string hadn’t broken! Somehow in a sozzled state we managed to get the boat and ourselves back to the water, although not without getting our shoes and trousers incredibly wet and muddy.

Thoroughly chastened and sobered by our experience, we got back to the car and drove home. (Ed – this was the 50s remember).

I managed to persuade my navigator that we would draw a veil over this ignominy so far as my motoring friends were concerned because the facts would only cause more derision.

Later on, suitable and circumspect research revealed that a good knowledge of tides is particularly useful when it comes to boating.

It was the first of many valuable lessons I learned on the water over the years, the most sacrosanct of all being always to have fun!

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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