A Bright Idea: Reflections On The Royal River – Part 2

As dusk falls, the Reflections flotilla leaves from Albert Bridge, Chelsea, with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) Shannon class lifeboat, Duke of Edinburgh leading the way. Motorised craft went in front and rowing boats, led by the Queen’s Row Barge, Gloriana, followed behind.

12 October 2022

By Malcolm Knight

Yesterday, Tim Koch gave some background to the recent Reflections flotilla on the River Thames. Here, Malcolm Knight, one of the organisers, gives his behind-the-scenes perspective. Tomorrow, Daniel Walker will write about what it was like to take part. 

The fantastic pictures reproduced here were taken by Maritime Filming UK but the copyright belongs to Thames Alive and HTBS is very grateful for its permission to use them. The placing of each picture does not necessarily reflect the text above and below it, but the narrative gives some idea of the fascinating complexities of organising such an event while the images show a chronological account of a truly memorable evening.

Gloriana leads the man-powered boats through the Albert Bridge.

Early in 2021 the question was asked “Is the River Thames going to be involved in HM Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations?”, a call to the Pageant Master Adrian Evans received the reply “Not this time”. 

Later in November on the 25th Anniversary reception for The Thames Festival Trust in the Guildhall, HM Barge Master Chris Livett canvassed opinion from Adrian Evans director of the Trust, Jonathan Bartlett from Totally Thames and Roger Mutton of Thames Alive

A river of light in the dusk approaches Vauxhall Bridge.
The red illuminated chimneys of the former Battersea Power Station stand out in the background.

Chris suggested an illuminated procession on the River Thames of boats lit only in white lights to reflect on the water and thereby creating a magical effect. A fitting celebration for the Platinum Jubilee and the river communities recognition of the 70-year-long reign of HM Queen over the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. Subsequently Chris contacted the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and proposed it as a way to raise funds for the replacement lifeboat station at Waterloo Bridge. Finally, Thames Alive was honoured to be asked to organise the flotilla of both manpowered and motorised boats.

The London Eye, the “cantilevered observation wheel” on the South Bank of the Thames opposite Westminster was also illuminated for the occasion.  

And so began months of planning, working with the Port of London Authority and many of our old friends from previous events. The date chosen to suit the tide and dusk times was the evening of the 24th September. The invitations to participate went out and over 200 boats responded, 75% were to be motorised, a new concept for us as rowing boats are our forte. The centerpiece of the flotilla, the Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana, also agreed to attend.

Passing under London Bridge.

Since 2012, new regulations and procedures have made an organiser’s life more complicated. Launch sites, mooring sites, towing and dispersal plans for the row boats and moorings and lock availability plans were negotiated for the powered craft calling on numerous contacts along the Thames in central London. The decision was taken to approach the Environment Agency regarding their test closure dates for the Thames Barrier, could one be on the 24th of September?

The rowing boats follow in the wake of Gloriana under Blackfriars Railway Bridge.

The two sets of Guidance Notes, Generic Passage Plan and Risk Assessment with supporting documents were signed off by the PLA and all was in place with now 180+ boats, some having withdrawn due to mechanical and other issues and then the events of the 8th of September changed everything – sadly HM Queen Elizabeth II passed away.

Gloriana passes under the Millennium Footbridge in front of St Paul’s cathedral. Picture: Guy Bell/Shutterstock.

HM Barge Master immediately had other duties to perform during the State Funeral and ‘Gloriana’ was to salute HM Queen’s cortege at Runnymede on the day. More discussions with the Royal Household followed and it was agreed that the Reflections flotilla would go ahead as planned but with no direct Royal connection.

The flotilla reaches HMS Belfast, her decks lined with Sea Cadets saluting the passing craft.

The plans were duly edited and a few more craft withdrew for personal reasons, we now had 150 boats (fifty manpowered and the rest powered including our safety and support boats). A crew of winners of the Doggett Coat & Badge annual wager from the Company of Watermen & Lightermen were asked to row Gloriana and the strap line for the event was changed to: ‘A tribute by the river communities marking the passing of Her Majesty the Queen and the accession of King Charles III’.

From left to right, four icons of London: the Shard skyscraper of 2013; Tower Bridge of 1894; St Paul’s Cathedral of 1710; The Tower of London of 1078.

The 24th dawned, the Thames Barrier closed and ‘Lake London’ was created. River tows of boats from up and down stream arrived at Imperial Wharf, motor-boats locked out of marinas and made their way to Chelsea and 300+ rowers arrived to crew their boats, including the Trainera Pilgrim from Santander in Spain. The principal boats, including the new RNLI Shannon Class Duke of Edinburgh, arrived at Cadogan Pier, more motor-boats moored up in their muster areas and Flotilla Control opened for business aboard Lady Aileen courtesy of Port Health, City of London – the plan was working!

While all the craft could have passed under Tower Bridge with its roadway lowered, it was raised as a salute to the flotilla.

150 boats, with 1000+ people afloat in the dark with no rehearsal – what could possibly go wrong??!

“Take up muster positions and light your boats” was the call, the boats formed up above Albert Bridge and at 18.50 “Reflections Flotilla, proceed down-stream” – Londinium III from Port Health led the way followed by Duke of Edinburgh and MV Edwardian.

Gloriana with her spectacular lighting saluted the illuminated powered craft as they passed and then took up station mid flotilla to lead the fifty manpowered boats.

Two views of Gloriana leading the rowing boats through Tower Bridge.

Thousands came to watch the first flotilla of its kind for over 300 years on the Thames as we silently glided down-stream under the illuminated bridges passing Battersea Power Station with the chimneys changing colour. It was serene, mystical and magical to be a part of it.

HQS Wellington received a salute to the fellow City Liverymen aboard and then the incredible sight of HMS Belfast with 150 Sea Cadets lining the decks came into sight. Gloriana and the man-powered boats tossed oars to return the salute as they passed.

The final strokes.

Finally, Tower Bridge changed their lighting to purple and opened in salute to the flotilla passing beneath. Beyond Tower Bridge the manpowered craft were called to ‘Easy oars’ and ‘Royal salute – toss oars!’ Then a final moment of silent reflection was followed by rousing cheers of ‘Long live the King’ echoing across the Thames with the horns, bells and whistles of the flotilla signalling the opening of the new era. 

Gloriana tosses oars in salute.
The end of a magical evening.

It was an honour for the small team of Thames Alive to work with HM Barge Master, The Thames Festival Trust and many others to create this little piece of ‘liquid history’ on Old Father Thames in memory of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II and to celebrate the ascension of King Charles III to the throne of the United Kingdom – ‘Long Live the King!’

Part 3 will be posted tomorrow.

One comment

  1. Thanks, Tim, you’ve written a magical story about the tributes to our late Queen & New King, God bless them.

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