All I need to know about the gender divide, I learned from my trip with spouse on the Clipper Boat. That day I was in an uncharacteristically poor humour (I was feeling unwell). As we walked towards the gantry to board the ship, the boat staff tried to make us run so they could leave on time. I paid this little heed, but still managed to get on, passing the staff on the door. Their uniforms had a touch of the navy about them, but not much of a cheerful ‘hello sailor’ air. All was sleek efficiency as I tried to soak up the wi-fi. I do no know why it is free wi-fi never seems to work with any of my appliances. There was a Costa Coffee shop on board, but having just drunk tea to warm my aching tum, I could drink no more. So I sat down with spouse uncaffeinated, as the boat moved off from the pier.
“This is a really powerful boat, isn’t it?” said spouse, excitedly. He’s from engineering stock and watches science documentaries for fun. “The engine only coughed and we moved away from the pier. Agile too,” he said, as the boat nearly crashed into another Clipper. “Ho, ho, they take no prisoners here. They could turn this thing on a sixpence. They use the reverse engines like a brake – very clever.”
I looked through the grey, grimy windows at the grey, grimy river and the grey, grimy sky. Tummy in torment, I was not at my best.
Spouse by now had got his smart phone out, and fired up his GPS app. “Look at the speed of the thing!” said spouse. As we whizzed past Canary Wharf, spouse’s app informed us we were holding a steady 30 miles per hour. I looked at the GPS in mild disbelief, and turned back to the river. We were indeed going at some speed. This bit of the river has some very exciting bits, full of history. My favourite is the infamous Prospect of Whitby pub, where Hanging Judge Jeffreys used to hang out, and where both Whistler and Turner paused to draw the view, but you couldn’t tell based on the boat trip.
“Oh yes, it is a slick operation alright, almost more like a train than a boat,” said spouse, as we zipped along, and passengers shuffled forward to alight at startlingly regular intervals. For a moment, I was transported back to a family trip to Paris in my teens. The tour guide had explained how the Parisians use the Seine as a major commuting route. Mother had mused how the English would never think to do that, and our Thames boats were only for tourists. With the Clippers, we Londoners have caught on. Spouse was right, the trip is just like a train on water, with refreshments, wi-fi and instructions on how to reach the lifeboats in case of emergency. There was far too much slick efficiency for my liking, no little talk about the sights like you get with the tourist boats, just regular stops to places you’ve never heard of.
To be fair, as you approach Tower Bridge, it all gets a lot more exciting, as the Shard, Tower of London and City Hall come into view. The photographers hurl themselves at the front of the boat to take shots, and tourists start clambering on the boat in droves at Tower Hill, before the boat pushes on rather more sedately past the sights: the OXO Tower, London Bridge, Tate Modern, Cleopatra’s Needle and the South Bank. We decided to get off the boat at Embankment, and trundled forth to explore the delights of the Mayor’s Festival which celebrates the river. The Clipper doesn’t really celebrate the river, but it does shift up and down it pretty quickly. If you like that sort of thing, do give it a go.
The science bit: Ordinarily, a single on the Clipper from Greenwich to Westminster costs £5.10. We travelled on the weekend of the Thames Festival, so got a two for one deal. Even on an ordinary day, you get a discount on your tickets if you show them your Oyster card. This all seemed very bargainous to me. More details about Clipper boats can be accessed from here: http://www.thamesclippers.com/ and the offer applies to other boat services too: http://www.citycruises.com/riverred.htm http://www.thamesriverservices.co.uk/sight_seeing.cfm, and http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/river-guide.pdf.