5 minutes with our Bateaux Windsor skipper
Fezz has been the skipper of our ‘Melody’ vessel since April 2017; when Bateaux Windsor launched. With over 30 years working in Windsor we asked him what it is like to work on the river and how Windsor has changed over the years.
Have you always worked on the river, Captain Fezz?
Yes, I’ve been on boats my whole life. After leaving school I did a season with Salter Brothers who were the original river Thames company. Then I did five years in the navy – in the submarine service. I came back to the river when I left.
I’ve always been interested in boats. My dad was in the merchant navy so I grew up with his stories…I think he’d say “it’s in the blood”.
Has river life changed over the years?
Yes. I’ve worked around Windsor for more than 30 years now and seen lots of changes. When I started with Salter Brothers the crew used to sleep on the boat as well. In fact, we’d live on board all summer. Then it was all about summer workers and everything was quite casual. Now it’s all a lot more professional. The standard of boatmanship on the river has improved no end.
What’s the story of you becoming skipper of Bateaux Windsor?
Well I already knew about the boat because I was friends with a previous owner. Then I heard she had been refurbished and was back in Windsor. I got in touch with the owners at Bateaux Windsor, showed them my CV…and it all went from there.
What does a typical week look like as skipper on Bateaux Windsor?
Well Wednesday is a day when I clean the boat and do any maintenance. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday when we run the cruises I start about 8.00 am and finish about 11.30 pm. After I’ve finished driving for the evening, I’ll tie up and then go down to the galley to help the team with the clearing and washing up. Monday and Tuesday I normally have off unless there’s something that needs doing on the boat.
What’s your favourite stretch of the river in and around Windsor?
I’d have to say Cliveden near Maidenhead. If you’re there early in the morning and catch that view - with an inch of mist on the water and its beautiful riverbank scenery - well it’s something else. You could be anywhere in the world.
I love spending time on the boat taking in all the river has to offer. And I see some wonderful sights when I’m captaining Bateaux Windsor. For example, the courtship ritual of the swans is beautiful.
Do you get to see any famous people on the river?
Well yes and I’m pretty good at name-dropping, so let’s go with Her Majesty the Queen. I’m one of the skippers that drives her boat - the Gloriana - so I’ve been lucky enough to drive her once or twice.
I imagine there’s some funny moments too?
Sometimes people on the hire cruises get it so wrong and it’s really hard not to laugh. In the locks especially. The water goes down but they’ve forgotten to untie their ropes. The next thing is their boats are left hanging in mid-air. I can’t help but chuckle when that happens.
Do you have a favourite boat to drive?
It would have to be the absolutely gorgeous S.L. Belle owned by my friend Steve Harris. She’s a wooden boat, all teak, built in Kingston 1894. She originally ran as a passenger boat in and around Dorchester. She was then bought in 1979 by Steve’s dad, Ted Harris, who renovated her and ran her out of Maidenhead for many years.
Does camaraderie exist on the river?
Yes, definitely. Especially between skippers of different vessels. Funny enough, you rarely get many chances to meet other skippers at the locks and have a chat – but everyone knows who everyone is and we all wave to each other. I’d been waving to another skipper for 10 years as we passed each other, yet never met until recently when be both stopped at the same lock. But it’s only for 5 minutes and then you’re through the lock and gone.
I take it you love your work Fez?
Absolutely. Like I said before, ‘boating is in my blood’. And now it’s great to be part of a really professional team on board. However, sometimes it can be frustrating to be driving the boat when all of a sudden you pick up these wonderful aromas from the galley. The food on The Melody is exceptional. What the chefs produce in the tiny galley is just brilliant. All the staff on board do a fantastic job.