Wednesday, 9 July 2008

I never could get the hang of Thursdays...

... and I've never particularly thought of myself as having a self-image problem, but it seems I do. You see, until last Thursday, I've never seen myself as the type of person who finds themselves being rescued by the RNLI. But it turns out that I am exactly the type of person who the RNLI rescue, particularly on a Thursday.

Allow me to explain...

We were out in a coxed four. There was a plan for the outing. It was complicated, but as I recall it involved doing lots of hard work. Having got down to Putney with a warm up and some technical work, we spun to head upstream against the tide and start the hard work. It was all going pretty well until we put a hole in our boat whilst being washed onto an island emerging under the ebb tide by a largish boat which was very evidently breaking the speed limit.

Now, boats tend not to float too well when they have holes in them. In fact, if our experience just upstream of Putney Bridge was anything to go by, they acquire extra water at an alarming rate. I cursed our decision to go out in the more spacious and capacious four (lacking buoyancy compartments) rather than taking the older, more tiny and altogether more knackered but ultimately more buoyant four.

We had a problem.

We rapidly donned wellies and got out of the boat into thigh-deep river. We picked up the boat and squelched through the mud onto the foreshore just upstream of Putney Bridge, with water streaming out of the hole under the bow seat.

Out of the river, and holding our boat on the foreshore, we assessed the situation. The tide was going out. This was A Very Good Thing. It gave us lots of time to work out what to do before being in trouble with a rising tide. It was also summer, and despite our soaking and the rapidly dropping sun, we seemed unlikely to develop hypothermia. It also became obvious at this stage that the little we could recall of the outing plan was largely irrelevant.

Arms aching, we looked for somewhere to stash the stricken boat temporarily whilst we formulated a plan. We'd normally carry out this manoeuvre up at the club, where we have reasonably-designed trestles to put boats on whilst we faff. But there aren't many trestles on the foreshore. However, there is an ample supply of mud and rock, so we piled some rocks up and plonked the boat down whilst we faffed some more, with the first priority being to empty our wellies of excess river water.

Freed from the need to hold the boat, we explored possible escape routes. Fortunately, we'd managed to run aground in a rather handy location, just a few tens of metres from an easy means of escape - a flight of steps up to the embankment. Getting ourselves safe was therefore easy. Getting the boat back to decent racking via that route would have been more of a challenge. Not only were the steps reasonably steep, but Mother Nature had chosen precisely that flight of steps to demonstrate her ability to triumph over any environment by growing a large and leafy tree in the middle of a load of concrete. Satisfied that it would be several hours before we need to concern ourselves with life an limb, we returned to the problem of how to get our boat and kit off the foreshore and to somewhere it could be repaired.

It was at about this point that a constable and PCSO peered over the wall to ask if we needed any help. Now, despite my natural instinct to deny any need for help whatsoever, even I was forced to admit that a couple of cops with radios and colleagues might be handy at that point.

After a sizable amount of additional faffing, we asked the police to get in touch with our club to try to get someone to come down in a launch bringing some tape for emergency repairs so we could tow the boat back to the club. It was a solid enough plan, but unfortunately, there was no answer at the club. They tried the club again. No answer. They then got concerned that we might die of hypothermia and offered us space blankets. As we were beginning to get cold with the sun dropping and the wind picking up, we made our way up to the embankment and shared two foil blankets between five of us. This evidently wasn't sufficient, so the nice constable radioed for colleagues to bring additional space blankets for five girls in minimal clothing who'd got a bit wet and shivery.

I was feeling somewhat embarrassed. I work with cops and Specials. I didn't fancy one of my colleagues turning up to 'rescue' me.

We must still have looked cold even with sharing foil blankets, personal space and body heat, as the first cop tried in vain to get us indoors to a local cafe. We all insisted we were fine. (I was cold. I insisted I was fine. Why do I do this?) After a while, he gave up trying to get us into the cafe and instead went to appeal to the better nature of the cafe owner, who provided free tea for us all. This was most welcome.

A few minutes later, three uniforms, two space blankets and car answered the call. I was relieved to not recognise any of my colleagues, and also to have my own space blanket and no longer have to spoon one of my crewmates.

At some point, one of our rowing buddies hurtled past on a training run. We flagged her down, explained the situation, and she hurtled home to get a mobile phone to call a contact at another club to get a launch out for us. Unfortunately, it being Henley week, no bugger was around. We were beginning to despair of anyone with a boat turning up before the tide turned, when a four from one of the Putney clubs sliced into view. Our cox recognised the blades and hailed the club. Their coach very kindly made his way over to the Fulham bank to see what he could do.

He didn't have any tape, so taping up and towing to his club wasn't an option. He did however take our blades and cox up the river to hunt down our launch (out with the novices) to bring the necessary kit (a launch and some tape).

Unbeknown to us, the first cop had evidently got sufficiently bored of the situation that he'd got colleagues to call RNLI. They turned up with a pleasingly large rigid inflatable thing, with blue flashing lights and three sturdy-looking chaps, just as help arrived from the club (launch, coach and tape). It was at about this point that I realised the whole thing was descending into farce, and the chaps from the RNLI were serious about rescuing us.

We piled into their boat, leaving a couple of the RNLI chaps to move our damaged four. We then got sufficiently concerned for the welfare of the boat (being left in non-rowing hands), that two of us jumped out again into the waist-deep water to give them a hand lifting and carrying. I ended up back in the Thames, chest-deep and grateful for my height, supporting our four at head-height whilst it was strapped to one side of the inflatable. I clambered back into the boat. I was wet. It was cold. Did I want a nice, warm, ambulance blanket? No thanks, I was fine.


There was a rather nice sunset on the journey home, which seemed unfeasibly long (probably because I was cold and having a rather large sense of humour failure, because everything was now fine and I could safely indulge in wanton self-pity.) I was therefore enormously grateful to arrive back at the club, thank and bid farewell to our 'rescuers', be ordered into the showers, informed that there were plenty of the novices around to deal with our boat and launch etc., and that my job was to get clean and warm and up to the bar to drink tea and eat free sandwiches. For the first time that evening, I wasn't going to refuse the offer of help.

A week on, I resolutely blame the whole sorry affair on it being a Thursday...


Random Reflections said...

Well, I'm glad you didn't drown or freeze to death. They sound like nice PCSOs and how often do you get to be rescued by the RNLI?

Sounds like a bigger than your normal small experience to me.

But Why? said...

Me too.

The PCSO with cop number 1 looked a bit bored and like she'd be happier using her uniform and radio to fight crime on the mean streets of London. The three uniforms who turned up with extra space blankets had evidently just turned up to see what was going on and have a bit of a laugh.

It was definitely a larger than usual small experience in terms of: embarrassment factor; cost of repair; slightly unnecessary involvement of uniformed emergency services (I assume it must have been a slow crime/river incident day); and number of space blankets involved.

Had the tide have been coming in, and we have been under time pressure to get ourselves (and ideally the boat and blades) off the river, the occasion would certainly have been classified as one of the small number of large experiences which punctuate the humdrum of life's small experiences!

Kahless said...

Definately thursday madness - not accepting the space blanket.

ps - do you know why they call them space blankets? If it is the obvious answer then please ignore said question.

DJ Kirkby said...

Lol. Sorry, did I laugh out loud there? What are you like? You should have asked one of the cops to warm you up! Soooo you work with cops huh? Tell me more. Forensics? Glad you are ok!

But Why? said...

Wikipedia tells me that the first space blanket was made in 1964 for the US space programme. So it's almost certainly not that...

Next time I might be a little readier to bow to impartial, external advice. (I should have guessed it was actually getting cold when the cops reappeared from their cars in big, thick jackets.

What am I like? I don't know... I wouldn't even have neded to ask for the cops to warm me up - they were desperately trying to get us into blankets, cafes and consume hot drinks. Bringing us free tea seemed rather overkill for the situation, let alone calling the RNLI.

Forensics? Sadly not. I am but a humble IT/management/procurement consultant and no longer get to play with shiny science toys. Boo Hoo...

Wayfarer Scientista said...

I'm commenting before reading fo I have a fair number of posts to catch up on but I wanted to say HI and let you know that I'm back. I am reassured that you were able to write this post so the rescue must have been sucessful.

But Why? said...

Hey there, Wayfarer,

Great to hear from you, and ace that you're back - I'll be swinging by your place later to catch up on your news. For now, though, I have to breakfast and get me and half the crew to a regatta. We may have no boat (holed and with the repairers, and with the replacement being damaged overnight on the trailer and now unrowable) and no cox (working all weekend), and up against some tough opposition, but I don't see why that should hamper our chances of winning...

Bollinger Byrd said...

when you have adventures you don't do them by half.
I didn't know the RNLI where about on that part of the Thames, where do they launch from?
glad you enjoyed the sandwiches.

But Why? said...

Well, I think the size of the adventure was out of all proportion to the original incident. 5 uniforms and 3 RNLI chaps still seems a little unnecessary!

I have no idea where the RNLI launch from, but they were heading downstream to Putney when they swung by to pick us up.