Wednesday, 9 September 2009


Even in inshore waters a calm can bring a trace of eeriness, a touch of melancholy. The sailing boats going nowhere with their canvas hanging limply look withered and uncared for and any kind of motor boat that splutters out and scratches the glass is a vandal leaving his tag on the calm of the day. But for the lucky oarsman now is the time and tide to go floating and boating. On such a tide his boat will be rowed with long and leisurely sweeps of the oar for there is no need to pull hard and dig deep and chop in and out of the water as there is when there are waves be to cut across. His boat sweeps smoothly onward, gently, effortlessly like a swan gliding across a mill pond.

When the wind dies, the tide inherits, which is to say that whenever there is a flat calm the tide comes into its own and idle men can take full advantage of its ebb and flow. They can rest their oars, easy all, and let their boats drift with the rising waters up river until such time as the tide is full. If, as here on the Estuary, there is a waterside pub at the top of the tide, I am thinking first and foremost of the famous Turf Hotel, (pictured above,) so much the better. Then, a merry crew, perhaps beneath the setting sun, they can take themselves home again without care, putting their backs into it only here and there, now and again, once in a while. This is the kind of boating of which George and Harris and Jerome dreamt but hardly found on the upreaches of the Thames. It is the kind of boating to be enjoyed full leisurely, all in the golden afternoon, the kind of boating that calls, alas!, if only they were plentiful, for pretty girls in white dresses with pure unclouded brows and straw hats and parasols and picnic baskets.

The old fishermen could see the fish beneath the surface swimming up the Estuary on such a flat tide and once or twice I have seen for myself the faint chevrons on the surface of the water where the mullet and the bass are pushing their noses up river. If they do come up the Estuary when there is dead calm, the bass and mullet leap flashing out of the water and of a blue moon an angler can find himself in the middle of a school of sporting fish and can pull them in on a pipeclay lure.

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