12 April 2017
Malcolm Knight, of Thames Alive, writes:
On Sunday 2 April, the sun rose over a mill pond on the River Thames at Putney. The VIII’s were still in their boat sheds, the launches were still on their moorings, the crowds had yet to arrive but, upstream, at University of London Boat Club (ULBC), what was stirring here? A Royal Shallop, a Sandalo, skerries, skiffs, Waterman’s cutters, 1829 gigs, a Yole, a Bedford whaler and two dghajsas appeared out of the morning mist and were being beached in preparation for what?
Down-river the Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana left her overnight moorings at Chelsea Harbour and moved up to Wandsworth Riverside Pier – a pageant in the making?
Indeed, that was the intention of the Boat Race Director: a pageant and traditional rowing races to entertain the spectators on the banks of the Thames, so that’s exactly what Thames Alive and the Thames Traditional Rowing Association (TTRA) organised. The escort flotilla with the cutters and gigs for the races rowed down to Putney on the end of the ebb tide, giving the crowds a taster of what was to come, they beached their boats in front of the growing crowds, who wondered what was going on.
At 2.45 Gloriana came under Putney Bridge and tossed oars in salute to the Dark and Light Blue crews and the rowing clubs of Putney as the flotilla of twenty boats took up station astern. The rowers of Gloriana, drawn from volunteer Gloriana Watermen and BNY Mellon & Newton employees (Blues and International Oarsmen), gave a fine display of blade work both rowing and tossing the 16ft sweeps in salute. The pageant crews of all ages and experience that had come from as far afield as Cornwall and Whitby with their boats from as far as Venice (Sandalo) and Malta (dghajsas – pronounced ‘Dysa’) were a wonderful spectacle, gently paddling, rowing and sculling up the river.
Some of them were more used to race pace, the Thames skiffs of the Skiff Racing Assoc. and the Watermen’s cutters of the TTRA, but they rowed regally with the Royal Shallop Jubilant (presented to HM the Queen on her Golden Jubilee), the skerries of Richmond Bridge Boat Club, the Yole of Kingston Grammar School Vets, the Bedford Whaler from Henley Whalers and cutters from The Ahoy Centre and The Scientific Instrument Makers.
All the way up the course, the Gloriana crew led the way, tossing oars and cheering, followed by the flotilla and with some encouragement, the crowds on the banks replied with gusto. Then came the two divisions of Watermen’s cutters, gigs and skerries racing in three classes: Ladies’, Mixed and Men’s for the Oxbridge Challenge Trophy with splendid medals for the winners. These races have, for the past seven years, been raced from Hammersmith Bridge to the finish line at Mortlake, but this year for the first time, they were rowing the full Boat Race course.
A slightly confused start saw all ten boats set off upriver on the now flooding tide. They were closely followed by the 1829 replica Oxbridge VIII’s crewed by oarsmen and -women from the Cornish Pilot Gig Assoc. Some amazing work meant the Scientific Instrument Maker’s scratch crew soon made up a deficit of a few lengths and went in to the lead over the more regular cutter crews.
Meanwhile, up stream, Gloriana and the flotilla approached Hammersmith… and passed under Barnes Railway Bridge, the finish line was in sight!
As Gloriana crossed the finish line, the finishing judge dropped his flag, a time of 1 hour and 7 minutes for the 4 miles and 374 yards was taken – one for the record books… the slowest time!
As the flotilla completed their final salute, the first of the racing cutters crossed the line followed by the Oxbridge VIII’s.
In the time honoured fashion, cheers of congratulation and consolation rang out over the river, well done to all the crews!
The boats left Gloriana to stand watch over the finish line as all the crews retired to ULBC for well-earned refreshments and to watch the ‘main’ event on the BBC.
A wonderful experience for all the crews most of whom could only have ever dreamed of rowing on this hallowed stretch of water on Boat Race Day. A fine example of what it takes to get involved – find a club, get in a boat of any description and go for a paddle – easy really! We hope the spectators enjoyed what we’d like to call ‘The Boat Races Festival of Rowing’.
See you next year?
To be confirmed… watch this space!