Never mind the commentary, feel the wind in your hair. Time Out action woman Sara O’Reilly donned her life jacket to try out the latest speedboat tours making a splash on the Thames.
I screamed the first time we swerved alarmingly sideways, laughed (a lot) and attempted to look nonchalant while clutching the grab rail. I even welled up a bit at one point (it was the excitement of swooping through the Thames Barrier that did it). The new Thames Rocket boat tour, which, uniquely, operates entirely in the new Thames High Speed zone east of Tower Bridge, is a blast. The trip, which starts at St Katharine’s Pier, combines a thrilling ride with the chance to see London from a different perspective. It only has room for 12, lending it a feeling of exclusivity, and it’s aimed at Londoners in search of a legal buzz as well as tourists.
It’s run by Charlie Matheson, who started the capital’s first high-speed boat tours, London Rib Voyages, back in 2006, when the existing tours were about sightseeing rather than thrill-seeking. Adding the element of speed proved an inspired move and the enterprise was a hit, spawning several me-too outfits – and rivalry on the river.
Seven years ago it was a bit a free-for-all on the Thames but last year the Port of London Authority introduced speed restrictions. Now you need a special licence to operate commercial vessels at the maximum speed of 40mph. With enviable timing, Matheson has managed to jump through all the hoops involved just in time to launch his new powerboat trip in the middle of a heatwave. For less sunny days weatherproof gear is provided as well as the obligatory life jackets.
Along with the focus on speed, what’s unique about these tours is that the usual commentary about the riverside attractions has been replaced by a combination of comedy and music – a mix of popular tunes and patriotic classics that taps into the feelgood legacy of the 2012 Olympics.
My fellow passengers were divided on the comic content. I’d have preferred music all the way. Others appreciated the intermittent input from Boris Johnson, Winston Churchill and various other London luminaries (that element will be updated regularly to keep it topical).
A high point of the trip was the moment a flock of seagulls bobbing on the waves took flight all around us as we swooped along, veering dramatically from side to side (according to one of my companions, who knows a bit about boats, the correct term for that manoeuvre is ‘fucking about’).
‘Was it fun?’ asked an envious tourist on the riverbank when we disembarked, having executed a final, showy 360 degree turn as we docked. Really, she only needed to look at our grinning faces for her answer.
Thames Rockets tours depart from St Katharine’s Pier, Tower Hill. Tickets £39.95, £29.95 children (ten-14), £135 family. Booking essential, click here.