Report from the water, by Alex:
5 boats started a C course with a light breeze from the west. Lev, solo in the Enterprise for the second time, led from the start, but John caught him soon after Brentford Marina. Alex and Lev then proceeded up to Isleworth together. Both misjudged the mark somewhat, allowing Ian to catch up and start the (long) journey back. Tim followed round the mark soon after. John moved to the Surrey bank around Syon House, which proved slower and Ian and Alex overtook, inching along the Middlesex bank, but mostly perfectly balanced against the incoming tide and a little warm in the sun. Eventually they returned to Brentford, where the winds improved and the tide slackened. Sticking to the Surrey bank now, the front three made a close finish, Alex and Ian over the line less than a second apart. Conditions had improved upstream and Lev and Tim had both crossed the line just 6 minutes later. Many thanks to David and David in the safety boat, and OOD Tim with assistance from Andy.
Report from the finish line by Andy:
On a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll into Kew Gardens for lunch and to see the spectacularly reconstructed Temperate House [fully £41m-worth] Andy came across Tim, anxiously scanning the upstream horizon searching for sight of the returning boats. Already an hour and a half had elapsed – and Tim was on tenterhooks as he was due to be in High Wycombe for the spring corn grinding ceremony in the Penn Watermill that afternoon. And as time and tide wait for no man – and the last of the miller’s last year’s corn harvest rations were going to be distributed to the starving peasantry, hungry for their annual loaf of bread on a first-come-first-served basis, something had to be done.
A ransom was required and Tim emptied his pockets, but found only a whistle.
Ah well; that and a promise to save a slice of genuine artisan-produced, water-mill stone-ground, home-baked granary loaf – or stand-in as OOD on a later date, and he was free to go.
Three-quarters of an hour passed by, with only the occasional rowing eight going up river when suddenly round the bend appeared a great flotilla.
“Gloriana” was coming down the river! Heralded by a PLA motorboat. And a crowd of boats behind her! What was this about? And where were our boats?
As she drew level it was clear there were properly-dressed dignitaries on board. Gentlemen in frock coats and tricorn hats, and ladies in floral frocks and with amply-wide hats; all being heaved along by 16 red-coated, red-faced oarsmen. “Where have you come from?” met with no reply. “Where are you going?”, similarly silent. The two stern-faced coxswains were much more concerned to lower the Union Jack and City of London flag and drop the two masts before reaching Kew Bridge.
But the followers were more communicative. They had come from Hampton Court and were heading for Tower Bridge. And what a lot of them! (Tallow Chandlers, Master Glaziers, Ahoy, God the Only Founder, Catamoran, Barbers’ Cutter, Richmond BC, Thames River Soc., etc. etc.) The gentlemen of the City and Guilds Livery boats were especially pleased to wave back; their gold chains of office glinting in the sunshine; feather hats pluming in the breeze; what rich pageantry was on the river for the towpath peasants to behold! Yet all was apparently a rehearsal in honour of yet greater ceremonial pageantry to come; the royal wedding in Windsor in a week’s time. As Morecombe and Wise (or was it Cleese, Barker and Corbett – ed.) so wittily said:
“I look down on him; and he looks up to me; and I look up to him [and her]; and they [both] look down on us”.
This exchange of pleasantries had a sudden an unexpected effect. Sequentially, pre-occupied and distracted by the rude questions from the commoner on the riverbank, and keen to reply politely; boat after boat collided with the red can rowing boy – despite each of the downstream boats ahead of them calling back to warn them! Had they similarly collided with, and sunk, the SGSC fleet somewhere upstream?
It took another half-hour for SGSC to turn up. With a light westerly wind and a slow-turning tide they had obviously had a gruelling time of it in the upper reaches; and obviously not with the help of a glint of gold or with any splendid tunics being worn. However, young David Kolobov, accompanying David Jones in the Safety Boat, had in his pocket his special find on the foreshore that morning: a metal button badge with an inscription on it that appeared to read: ‘London and South Western Railway Company’ and on the reverse ‘Newcastle..?’ A find that the metal detectorists, also on the foreshore, had missed! We wait to hear what it reveals of its history when cleaned up and researched into. Now then, if SGSC sailors were properly dressed – and duly buttoned-up with official ceremonial tunics, and ostrich-plumed tricorn hats, they might have made a better show of it on the river; and made a better time. All boats crossed the line within four minutes of each other; some 2 hours and 40 minutes after the start.
Andy Ross, Acting OOD
Sunday 13 May 2018