Full speed ahead

Zip­ping through Lon­don on a fast boat is a frothy thrill a minute, re­ports Amy Laugh­ing­house

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

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.

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