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Pirate rafting in Taxenbach

Listed under For all the Family in Austria.

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Clad in a black wetsuit and flippers, and waddling like a penguin, I leant over the boat and scrubbed with my scourer. Not my normal cleaning attire, I’d like to point out, but when you’re being given instructions from a pirate boss as mean and misogynous as Ruder Blue, you don’t care how you look – you get on with the job in hand and for me, that job was cleaning our vessel so she was fit to sail.

Along with my son Jack, who’s nine, I’d signed up for pirate rafting at Taxenbach, in Salzburgerland, Austria, where, being a bit of an aquaphobe, I’d foolishly thought children’s rafting might be less scary than the grown-ups’ white water version. Rafting for wimps was how I’d pictured it – maybe a gentle punt down the river Salzach in my summer dress while the little ones called out “Ahoy there!” now and then. I might even get to read a chapter of my book, I mused.

But those ideas of a lazy river trip went out at the rafting centre where we were all equipped with wetsuits, flippers, life jacket and helmets and my dress was bagged up in the changing tents for if I ever returned. After a short walk down to the river, we met our pirates for the morning – the aforementioned Ruder Blue, whose signature greeting was: “Be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you!” and his co-pirate Gunther, who, we had it on good authority, didn’t say much, but he had a nasty bite.

Now I know pirates aren’t modern men, but I’d expected a Noughties pirate to have some sense of sexual equality and political correctness. Not Ruder Blue, no, siree. As one of two mummies on the trip, I was ordered to scrub away at the boat while the menfolk – two dads, and three boys – checked our vessel was fit for action. If I so much as looked up to see where Jack was, I was ordered to get cleaning. Unfortunately our boat was indeed fit for action. Spotless by now, the skull and crossbones sail was hoisted and she set sail.

For a Dutchman in Austria, Ruder Blue had the gift of the gab and he was a master of slapstick wit. When the boys cried out and pointed to rapids, Ruder Blue pretended to look for rabbits. When they called out “waves”, he denied there were whales on the river. And when the kids spotted an eddy, he revealed they’re really called Murphys. Our son Jack became Captain Jack, the arch-rival of Ruder Blue, who lamented: “You got Hollywood, I got Austria!” It was like being at the Christmas panto, without the comfy seat and ice cream. The children laughed hysterically, and we adults laughed nervously because we remembered his motto and we wanted to keep on the right side of him.

Of course we had to walk the plank and mums went first, much to the delight of our children, who seemed to have morphed into mini macabre Ruder Blues themselves. I’m sure their voices were an octave deeper as they chanted: “Jump, Mum, jump!” as fiercely as they could.

Once we were all thoroughly wet, we docked and the children used an old map to track down treasure in the forest – a wooden chest full of sweets - while Ruder Blue and Gunther lit a fire, on which we were to barbecue pirates’ fingers for lunch. I was selected to give up a finger – of course, Ruder Blue went for my ring finger, his excitement at seeing my sparkling engagement ring comparable to mine the first time I ever set eyes on it.

Back on the river, we found more treasure – a football for each of the boys – before being dropped off at our taxi and returned to the rafting centre, where we were greeted like intrepid explorers.

Back on terra firma, in my floral summer dress, I would deny I’d once been a pirates’ cleaner in a wetsuit. In fact, a few days on, I did wonder for a second if I’d been set up for a new Beadle’s About, or if maybe I’d been enjoying one too many glasses of schnapps on my stay in nearby Kaprun. Neither, it seemed, and I have the certificate to prove it.


  • Pirate rafting is available for children aged 5 – 11. For more information visit
  • We stayed in Kaprun with Crystal Holidays; telephone 0871 230 8180


Written by  Christine Fieldhouse.

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