True Gripes: Riverboat shuffle: Open up the Thames to travellers

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The Independent Online
Jimmy Knapp provided commuters with a new conversation point last week. 'How did you get into work?' was on most people's lips after his lads went on strike.

Like the thousands stuck in the trafffic on the A2, I drove to work, slowly in the sunshine, dreaming of what might have been. . .if only the River Thames was a proper working river, I could have gone to work in a boat.

Not a river bus. I have done that. All perfectly agreeable, particularly on the way home to Greenwich, when you can have a pint and pick out the points of interest, including Execution Dock, where Captain Kidd was strung up in irons, and Lord Owen's house from which the SDP was launched, to meet a similar fate.

The river bus suffers the problem of all public transport; it runs to a fixed timetable and it never seems to be there when you want it, particularly late at night.

What the lower Thames needs is a 'people's boat park where you can moor your boat, with floating moorings up river where you can tie it up for the day, perhaps on a meter. There are moorings around the bijou residences in Docklands, but how many residents actually have a boat?

If they had somewhere to go with a boat, all that might change. Docklands, as a city water park, would no longer be a glossy fantasy for the brochures.

Encouraging more small craft on the river could open up other possibilities. Water taxis could ply around the river side offices and restaurants. The taxis need not be foul-smelling petrol power boats.

They could be glorious gondolas, or for short journeys, rowing boats, which might bring back one of the old cries of London Town: Pepys allegedly used to go down to the river and shout for 'oars' occasionally to be propositioned by whores.

As a keen windsurfer, I fancy trying to emulate the Milk Tray advert by sailing to work with my pinstripe suit underneath my black rubber wet-suit. Getting the tide wrong might leave me high and dry in Gravesend, but it would provide a new excuse for being late at work.

The river bores are bound to say it is all too dangerous having small craft batting about in between the passenger boats, and the occasional barge that goes thudding by. They must have said the same thing when they removed the man with the red flag in front of cars. London should face it: the Thames is a dead river, a sleeping giant, that needs waking up.

Opening the river to small craft would put life into the Thames and London. Then we might have a chance of recreating the scenes from the Canalletos of the Thames, when the river was alive with bobbing boats.

Greenwich Maritime Museum, which recently hosted the excellent small wooden boat show, could dust the cobwebs from its collection of skiffs and put them to good use. I fancy the fantastic golden gon-dola used to inspect the sailing fleet, or there is a steam launch with brass fittings which may suit the boss classes.

The prospect of small craft buzzing about the Thames would give the river police something to do. They could set up speed traps for the river version of XR3i drivers and breathalyse the late returners.

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