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Ellie Wooldridge, a Thames Clipper captain
Photograph: Rob Greig

Things you only know if you’re a Thames Clipper captain

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…according to Ellie Wooldridge, 23.

Driving a boat is like driving a bus, but with more ships to dodge

‘The MBNA Thames Clippers are like red buses, but on the river. We carry a lot of commuters. A lot of people think that we just drive in a straight line, but it’s not that easy. We have a lot to think about, from equipment decks to traffic density. Cruise ships cause more chaos than most, because they’re not as manoeuvrable as us.’

Clippers can get speeding tickets

‘We have to stick to a timetable, but we’re careful about our speed. You can get pulled up by a harbourmaster, who can monitor your speed using the onboard system. It’s almost like getting a speeding ticket – you get called into a disciplinary meeting and they can put a black mark against your name.’

The Thames can be deadly…

‘When I first started I was amazed how strong the tides and undercurrents are. Because it is such a fast-flowing river, people don’t last long in it. It catches people out. A couple of years back, two young lads jumped in at London Bridge beyond the pier. We managed to get a life ring to them. But it happens more than you’d think – we do drills every month to make sure we can get people out.’

…but it’s also full of life: specifically, seals

‘There are eels, otters and 119 species of fish. You see seals once a month, sometimes even twice in a week. They are very playful and they sit on the shore and sunbathe. Last summer we got porpoises too. They’re becoming a lot more common now, as the river is a lot cleaner.’

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