Tim Koch has spent an afternoon on Hammersmith Bridge:
The River Thames has seen many great boat races over the last three hundred years but, since 1988, one event has had a particularly strong claim to that epithet. The 28th Great River Race (GRR) took place yesterday, Saturday, 3 September, on a 21-mile course from London Docklands to Richmond in Surrey. While it is certainly ‘great’ with more than 300 boats and 2,400 competitors from the UK, the USA, Canada, Croatia, Poland, Holland, Italy, Sweden, France, Germany and Ireland taking part, not all entrants think of it as ‘a race’.
The GRR was inspired by a 1987 charity row by Doggett’s Coat and Badge men who rowed a shallop belonging to the Watermen’s Company from Hampton Court to the Tower of London. Following this, it was decided to issue a challenge to find the UK Traditional Boat Champions. In the first year, there were 72 entries. From the start, a pursuit handicap was run. All boats were handicapped using naval architects’ calculations so that the slowest boat went away first and the fastest, last. This makes for good sport even for those less serious crews who just want the fun of taking part.
The rules of the event say that the boats must be rowed, sculled or paddled and most boat classes must carry a coxswain plus a passenger (who may take turns at the oar or paddle). The ‘passenger rule’ comes from the Watermen’s historic responsibility to carry passengers on the Thames and small children are often favoured for this role. Also, no sliding seats or riggers are allowed and each boat must fly a flag. A huge variety of boats take part and this is coupled with the inclusive atmosphere of an event which attracts men and women, the young and the old, the competitive and the leisurely, most eligible for more than one of the 35 trophies on offer. The result of this blend is, according to the GRR website, ‘an intriguing mix of colour, spectacle, intense competition and casual fun’.
Ultimately however, the Great River Race is an event that is best left to pictures, not words. These photographs were taken at Hammersmith, two-thirds into the race.