(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by
clicking on the image)
The motor was running healthily but still we continued to lose propulsion without
warning at any moment. It was quite hairy occasionally. Once we found the boat
heading straight for the gate of a lock and no means of slowing her down, the
propulsion had quit and the way to slow down a narrow boat is by reversing. The
normal way. The other way is by sheer panic and hauling on the ropes, that is
if you happen to get onto land quick enough. Which we did and thereby averted
crashing through the lock gates that were holding back a few tons of water over
a ten foot drop down to the canal. We immediately called on a mechanic at the
time. As experienced and seasoned as he appeared, he did not understand the problem
at all, but gave us some pointers and suggested we looked at our generator system
which could be overloading the engine at strategic moments. Forewarned and a bit
more knowledgeable we think, we headed on down the canals, into London and onto
the river Thames, as the autumn weather was holding up beautifully.
Cruising the Thames had initially sounded like a scary idea to us and we were
not particularly planning on it. Except we happened to be right there and a record
breaking warm autumn gave us courage. Why not, we agreed. Our scale of cruising
was about to expand to a much larger size.
Brentford is the last lock on the canal system and opens out straight to the
tidal Thames. The wild world of true maritime boating is evident in the huge ships
just inside the lock at a massive boatyard there. It was low tide and most of
them were sitting on the river bed. After the miniature world of canals it was
both a welcoming and terrifying sight knowing that these boats would be our companions,
boats a hundred times bigger than us and often even unable to see us if the pilot
house was several stories high. They would rely on radar to spot us. No friendly
chatting between boats here.
This was the first manned lock we had used since our journey began. The lockkeeper
would only open the gates when the tide was right for us to cruise to the next
lock so that we would not be at the mercy of the current. A schedule of tides
was given to us so we could know in advance what times would be appropriate. For
us, it looked like a 7 AM call was on order. We set the clocks.
The day dawned very grey and thick with fog as we untied Oo-La-La and headed
for the lock. Once through, we were actually on the river and it was so calm we
became relaxed as well. Despite the gloomy dawn, it was exciting to see huge barges,
cruise ships and head boats. There were also many privately owned Dutch saddleback
barges, private floating mansions some of them.
We reached Teddington Lock around 2PM and the sun had broken through. Since
our license was only valid for cruising on the canals, we had to pay 85 pounds
to buy a permit to cruise for 30 days on the Thames. We moored in Kingston for
The next day dawned bright and beautiful and we were treated to one of the
most glorious of boating days. First of all, we truly felt like a boat and not
just a houseboat. Second, the scenery was most spectacular with so many interesting
watercraft, parks and eccentric waterside bungalows to ogle. The river is the
width of ten canals and host to very lovely and hospitable towns. We moored that
evening in the town of Staines, right along a tree filled park.
Indian summer continued as Windsor Castle came along and we moored in Windsor
town. Dinner al fresco in the cockpit and we watched the lights of the castle
with a variety of boats for company. The town of Windsor teems with tourists and
merry makers so we walked around afterwards and enjoyed being tourists ourselves
despite the fact home was just a short walk away. We met an extremely friendly
and happy character who claimed to be the head rugby coach of the prestigious
Eton College. Seeming harmless enough we accepted his invitation to tour the famous
It was worth it. With a familiar wave the guards of Eton allowed us. Our new
friend entertained us with stories about the school and some of its famous pupils.
Inside there is a black marble wall with the names engraved of those pupils who
perished in wars It resembled the Vietnam memorial in D.C. a little. We enjoyed
being privileged sightseers and guests of this sociable fellow and wished him
a good evening as we went off home with a (now) cold dinner to bring to his wife.
We asked him to blame it on us and hope that all went well. It he had some warm
friendliness for Americans and we were grateful for it.
Our next stop was Marlow, a beautiful centuries old stone village where we
stayed a couple of days to do some laundry. There was also a wine tasting at the
local pub and we thought it might be enjoyable. It was. The evening started very
formal as we all sat in high backed chairs and demurely sipped different wines
offered by the vintner, our host. There were about 25 of us in the room. After
a couple of hours, it seemed that the room became extremely lively and we were
involved in roaring conversations helped by inebriation no doubt. The tasting
ended and we proceeded to the bar with some new fellow wine loving friends. There
we joined the impromptu going away party for a young couple who were leaving to
back pack in India for a year. Jim, a New Zealander and his Swedish girlfriend
Anna were staff at the bar and treated us to a few drinks that didn't appear on
the tab. They regaled us with backpacking stories and we told them boating tales.
We admired their sense of adventure and they in turn admired ours. Somehow I think
they also envied our boat just a little, seeing as they would be in tents and
sleeping bags. The party broke up around 3AM and we fell into bed, asleep before
our heads hit the pillows.
A couple of days later, as we were tying onto a mooring in the town of Goring,
an old friend John Teichmann called to say he would be visiting with us. He thought
we would be in London (as we had thought as well) and was a bit chagrined to find
us in this out of the way place up the river. But he found the train station there
and we met him on a rainy and romantic night in this cobblestone village. Thus
began ten days of convivial partying as we enjoyed the sights of the river again
on our way back to London with John and Caren, our first guests on the Oo-La-La.
Next Month: Little Venice, Camden, mooring in London, Holidays. Move
to Camden Lock for the winter, discover London, get into music scene.
.....on to December 2001