‘Not the Boat Race!’
12 April 2022
By Malcolm R. Knight
(who also provided the photographs)
On Sunday 3 April 2022, the Boat Race returned to its traditional home on the River Thames at Putney after a two-year sabbatical in Ely during the pandemic. The new organising team kindly agreed that The Thames Traditional Rowing Association (TTRA) and Thames Alive could once again participate in the day by creating the Festival of Rowing & Oxbridge Challenge.
Over the last 10 years the TTRA have been permitted to race their Watermen’s cutters over the sections of the Boat Race course being joined in 2017 by the Queen’s Rowbarge Gloriana and a supporting flotilla rowing the full course – all studiously ignored by the BBC even though we tried very hard to photo bomb their programmes!
On the 3 April, the wind had dropped, the river was calm, and the sun even managed to poke through the clouds as over 200 volunteers prepared their boats at University of London boathouse Chiswick.
At 11.30, the twenty-seven boats set off downstream joining Gloriana at Chiswick Pier. The boats ranged from 4-oared Cornish Pilot Gigs up to the 13-oared Trainera on loan from Navigatio Santander Rowing Club to Hayling Island Rowing Academy, all crewed by volunteers of all abilities ranging in age from 12 (passenger in a racing Waterman’s cutter) to over 80 (a veteran oarsman in another Livery Company cutter).
The Royal barge was being rowed by a scratch crew of alumni from Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Clubs and volunteer Gloriana Watermen. On arrival at Putney, she moored at Putney Pier to embark guests from the Gemini Boat Race.
After a salute, “Toss Oars!” to the Boat Race crews, the Royal barge and her flotilla of twelve boats set off upstream for the row over saluting the crowds imbibing at various hostelries along the riverbank.
We gave the Royal barge and her escort a 10-minute head start before starting the racing boats of Cornish Pilot Gigs then the Ladies, Mixed and Men’s Watermen’s cutters racing in the TTRA Watermen’s Oxbridge Challenge.
Four keenly fought races with 15 boats in all fighting it out over the full 4 miles 374yard course (6.8km). They over-took the flotilla and battled to the finish line at Chiswick Bridge with an overall fastest time of 29 mins 52 secs set by the cutter of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers with Gloriana and her flotilla gracefully crossing the line in a more sedate time of 1hr 15mins!
Once again, the BBC only managed to show a fleeting glimpse of Gloriana failing to grasp the fact that more than 200 people of all backgrounds and ages were providing a fine display of traditional rowing reliving the liquid history of the Thames.
The Boat Race crews then had the river to themselves racing their events – the Ladies with the shenanigans of “aggressive coxing” followed by an amazing demonstration of perfect rowing by the Oxford men – the best crew won…well, I am a Thames man after all!
The Festival of Rowing and Oxbridge Challenge are a fine example of the inclusive not exclusive nature of the modern sport of rowing on the Thames and around the UK, long may it continue to flourish and grow on a river, lake or coastal waters near you.