What?: A few months ago I got a message from boat-hire company GoBoat asking if we fancied trying out one of their dinky self-drive motor boats for free. We’d recently enjoyed an absurdly relaxing canal-boat tour that took us from Camden to Little Venice and were excited to get back on the water – though this time obviously we’d be driving. With me at the helm a shipwreck was inevitable but thankfully Bab Dad is all about captaining boats so we decided to book our cruise as his post-birthday treat – post because on his actual birthday he was working a 24-hour shift, which incidentally he’d just finished when we collected the boat that he was responsible for driving our children down a freezing cold canal in.
Each GoBoat seats up to eight people so we invited my buddy Kerri and her two-and-a-half-year-old son Finn to boost the numbers, because sticking three under-fours in an open-top boat with no one but ourselves to save them when we inevitably hit something felt like an empowering life choice. We packed up a picnic (ok, we rushed round the nearby M&S Foodhall five minutes before we were due to pick up our boat and came out with two packets of crisps and a bottle of Prosecco), and headed for the GoBoat Pontoon, where we were warmly greeted by our rep, whose name escapes me, and introduced to our boat, Hillary. We were also given life jackets for the kids, including a teeny tiny one for the baby (the adult life jackets were under the seats, allegedly), a captain’s hat in a colour of our choice (Babu went for the pink tropical print for Daddy) and some balloons and stickers for later. After an alarmingly short demo (they’re apparently ridiculously easy to drive) we were left to our own devices and began our voyage east towards Camden.
Obviously an important thing to consider when you’re booking your day out on an open-top boat is the likelihood of it absolutely pissing it down and making the entire experience utterly miserable. We’d had several weeks of really lush weather so when I booked our cruise for early April I assumed it would basically be summer by then. We did manage to dodge those pesky April showers but the temperature had plummeted by the time the day came round and it was fricking freezing. Thankfully I’d thought ahead and we were all wearing our warmest coats but my legs were still basically frozen to my seat by the end of the two hours, so I’d definitely recommend taking a blanket or something if you’re sailing out of season (and sorry if that seems painfully obvious to you but it reaaaally didn’t to me).
Despite the fact that we were all freezing our tits off the two hours went pretty fast, with the adults managing to keep relatively relaxed throughout, the kids managing to stay entertained by what was going on around them right up to the bitter(ly cold) end and no one having to dive in and save anyone else, even when Bab Dad insisted on getting off the boat to find a bin/pick crap out of the propeller (obviously both completely unnecessary). GoBoat claims that two hours is just enough time to sail to Camden and back but we were making good time so we meandered up to Little Venice too before slowly making our way back to base.
Overall and in spite of the cold this was a hit with everyone and we only had to resort to the iPad once very briefly, and that’s always a fairly accurate gauge of how good something is. I did keep thinking about how expensive it would have been if we’d paid for it and worked out that the only way to make it really reasonably priced would be to leave the kids at home and grab seven mates to make it about £11 each, but if that’s not an option and, like us, your kids go where you go, I’d definitely suggest taking another family with you to eke out the cost a bit.
Where and When?: Boats can be collected from and returned to the GoBoat Pontoon in Merchant Square, Paddington, W12 1JZ. GoBoat is a six-minute walk from Paddington tube/National Rail station and is open every day from 9am-9pm.
Best Bits: Provided the kids are in a good mood, this makes for a pretty effortless family day out. I absolutely love walking down this stretch of canal and it’s even lovelier to be able to sit back and sail down it instead.
Worst Bits: Soooo collllld. Wear your thermals.
Facilities: Picnic table with sitting room for eight. Life jackets provided. We folded our buggies and took them in the boat with us but I’m sure it’s probably fine to leave bigger ones with the staff at the pontoon (dunno though, maybe not).
Cost: Monday-Friday: 1hr £59, 2hrs £89, 3hrs £119; Saturday, Sunday & Bank Holidays: 1hr £79, 2hrs £109, 3hrs £139.
Would We Do it Again?: Yes, for a special occasion.
Babu and friends/family aboard the GoBoat, Regent’s Canal.