Tuesday, 27 July 2010


The fourth of the Exeter City Council’s Exe Estuary Navigation Byelaws, and the first published in my tide table, seeks to restrict the speed of vessels in the Estuary to ten knots an hour ‘through the water’. There are certain exceptions where the byelaw does not apply and boats are permitted to travel at eleven knots or more but these exceptions are minimal. For most of the Estuary most of the time, ten knots is supposed to be the maximum speed permitted. I suppose some lawyer is paid good money to write byelaws. I doubt if byelaws come cheap.

Ten knots is a reasonable speed to drive a boat. It equates to eleven and a half statute miles per hour. There is, however, hardly a speedboat roaring up and down the channels of a weekend that keeps to this limit and the Exeter City Council which made this byelaw does little or nothing to enforce it. Some offenders not only speed, they seek to break the world water speed record and more than once I have found myself wishing such aspirants the same sad fate as the late lamented Donald Campbell.

I suppose it is difficult to measure the speed at which a boat is travelling. I don’t know if anything that equates to the policeman’s roadside speed camera could or should be fitted on the banks of the Exe. In any case even as I write our coalition government is promising to get rid of speed cameras on the roads. I also suppose that not too many people care who speeds on the Estuary. I care because the Estuary is my escape from a world which I find moves too quickly, a world which I find too noisy. It is the peace and freedom and openess of the waters that I think we should treasure most, first and foremost the peace.

But I find myself in something of a quandary here. I dislike unnecessary regulation. The older I get the more I lean towards anarchy. Where a society has to police, to make rules, to put up notices, it seems to me it is admitting some lesser or greater failure of alternative communication, of culture and of education. At the same time I hate the noise and the apparent mindlessness of the speedboats and ribs and scooters and the trawlers of waterskiers that screech across the Estuary at high speed making waves and frightening the fish. I just wish they would not.

Edward Fitzgerald, who gave the English speaking world the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, kept a fine boat on the Deben and in one of his letters famously wrote: ‘I get to the water where no friends are buried nor Pathways stopt up.’ For my part I get to the water where there are neither lawnmowers nor chainsaws nor drills nor sanders nor strimmers nor discos, except when Powderham Castle offends, nor ghettoblasters nor mobile telephoners nor fast cars nor motorbikes nor televisions nor supermarkets nor garden centres nor wheel clamps. Most of the time I find on the river the peace and quiet I seek but every season there are more, faster and noisier boats.

It would all be a lot better if everyone kept to the ten knot speed limit. Perhaps it really is time the City Council showed its teeth and took the worst offenders to court and punished them adequately, let us say to be hung by the neck until dead and then for their rotting corpses to swing in chains from gibbets for a summer or two. A good place would be the Exmouth Quay Development Marina where they could dangle high above the assorted ‘Private, Keep Out, Go Away!’ signs

Just to discourage the others.

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