Full speed ahead
Zipping through London on a fast boat is a frothy thrill a minute, reports Amy Laughinghouse
HIS is not the River Thames as you know it. Buckle up for a journey here as only London RIB Voyages offers it: fast and furious aboard a 10m rigid inflatable boat (hence, RIB) powered by two 200hp engines.
We embark at a dock in the shadow of the London Eye; guide David Whitley and captain Rory Sinclair hand out navy life jackets to the full complement of 12 passengers before helping us on to the craft, where we’re given a safety briefing.
In the 50-50 chance that you fall in, the life jackets should inflate automatically,’’ explains Whitley, blond and tan with the gravelly voice of a movie pirate. If not, pull on the red tab, but only if you’re in the water. Otherwise, not only will you be hit with a fine but you’ll look a right twit.’’
We begin slowly enough, but as we near the Oxo Tower, named for the stained-glass windows that spell out the company’s name, the captain kicks it up a notch. We could easily pull a waterskier at this point, but as we fly by London’s monuments old and new — the distinctive dome of St Paul’s, the gleaming glass egg of City Hall, the imposing stone walls of the Tower of London — it seems as if we could attain lift-off on this blazing blue-sky day.
Suddenly the river bends and, for a moment, it looks as though we are on a collision course with Canary Wharf. With my stomach rapidly making its way into my throat, Sinclair promptly veers right. I hang on for dear life inside our bright orange speedboat, which has transformed the Thames into a rabid froth.
If both my hands weren’t locked in a white-knuckle grip on the metal bar in front of me, I could easily dip my fingers into the water, which bubbles up like a fountain, spraying me and my fellow passengers.
We’re as giddy as children on a rollercoaster, exploding with laughter as our
Rolling on the river: A London RIB Voyages boat being put through its high-velocity paces on the Thames dashing skipper nearly turns our sporty craft on to its side before snaking back down the river at 30 knots. As I hunker down on my plastic-upholstered seat, I hear a man behind me explaining to his young son that he needs to hold him close. But I’m fine,’’ the boy protests. Yes,’’ the father says, in strained tones of enforced calm. But I need to do this to make me feel better.’’
Before I have a chance to see who will win this argument, the boat slows beneath Tower Bridge. Right, you’ve had your fun,’’ Whitley growls. Now it’s time to learn something.’’ For the rest of the voyage, Whitley regales us with tales about sites along the river. He points out the HMS Belfast, which took part in the D-day landings and enjoys a leisurely retirement as a tourist attraction, its guns pointed at an unsuspecting motorway station 29km away.
Whitley shows us the distinctive tiered steeple of St Bride’s Church, which has inspired the shape of wedding cakes for centuries, and explains that the medieval Lambeth Palace, across from the Houses of Parliament, once served as a finishing school for ladies-in-waiting at Henry VIII’s court.
As we rip through the water past each monument, Sinclair lets the engines roar, allowing us to complete our tour of the Thames in less than an hour. I disembark on trembling legs, heart pounding, with a newfound respect for the Thames.