Race Results – 30 July 2017

Andy Ross [OOD & Safety Boat] Race Report: 30.07.2017. The Great Stink

Does a bear shit in the woods? [Rhetorically: Yes]. And pollute its habitat? [Biologically: No]. Does Thames Water illegally excrete billions of litres of sewage into the river Thames whenever it rains? [Deliberately: Yes].  And does it pollute the entire river ecosystem? [Unequivocally and disgustingly: Yes].

But with no such spillage in sight, nor suspiciously smelled in the nose, and on a sunny and becalmed Strand foreshore Tim (1) Young and Lev [both in Gulls] and Tim (2) Wellburn with Alex Romanenko [Ent] and Terry Atkins [in his de-spidered Solo, once he had found its mast] consulted with Andy Ross [as both OOD and Safety Boat] on whether it would even be possible to get to Hammersmith. A double D race was scheduled: [2 races: one there, one back] – with a restart line wherever the OOD decided to land the Dory. And he had with him flasks of tea and stocks of biscuits for a refreshing picnic party on the beach.

A casual drift under the railway bridge down to Number Nought was perfectly timed during the 4 & 2 minute start time to facilitate the fleet floating onward. The gentlest of SE wind coming up river then picked up and it was suddenly very lively. Tim (2) charged across the river into the path of a rowing boat and drastic evasive action meant sudden baling out. Terry surprised himself leaning out over the gunwale staring down at a vertical drop. The wind in the willows turned the long green leaves lengthwise into silver streaks, line-dancing like cheerleaders with pompoms and ribbons. The gusts banged everyone about all the way to Chiswick Bridge. And then abruptly stopped.

Lev and Tim (1) drifted round the Barnes bend and were well beyond the railway bridge before Tim (2) and Terry got to the White Hart. Terry chose the inside arch and emerged to race across the river with broad reaches and increasingly wild tacks, each more perilous than the previous one, until with insufficient water to turn on the shallow shore he tipped over. Spluttering to the surface he was confronted with two condoms hanging off his centerboard – surely not part of the safety equipment? And he was minus both his wellington boots. C-Sharp was beached and tilted to empty its contents: and several more condoms, ghostly as dead jelly fish floated out. What is the collective noun for them?  A gang-bang?

By this time there was no sign of the other three boats. But Terry had had enough and wanted to be towed back. However, the Safety Boat has a duty of care to the fleet. Thankfully the dilemma was resolved as the sun came out and the wind dropped; warming things up. Terry agreed to come on board and we began slowly towing C-Sharp – not knowing how best to prevent the boat yawing from side to side and broaching broadside on (OOD).

We soon spotted a single mast on the foreshore just beyond the RNLI pier: Tim!

We got there to discover the dreadful mess the river was in. A thick, brown-green, slimy, turdy sludge covered the foreshore – and with a foul smell in the air. Tim had capsized right beside one of the four Acton sewer storm outfalls along this stretch; which had been belching out its contents. His capsizing had been totally unobserved [or willfully ignored] by the fully geared-up crews on the two RNLI boats that were right there. As if the putrid state of the river itself wasn’t an immediately obvious health and safety peril to anyone falling in it!

Tim said Steve Newell had just been by and said that the sewage came from Mogden. But it hadn’t. It’s worse than that. And closer to home.

Thames Water says that the overflow problem is due to an overloaded Victorian sewer system designed for 2 million people, now coping with 8m – and forecasting 14m. Their proposed solution is the Thames Tideway Tunnel [TTT], which they describe as a beneficial environmental engineering project to clean up the river.  In fact, it is a gigantic financial engineering project to clean up Thames Water’s balance sheet.

Following privatization, Thames Water [TW] now has an extraordinarily complex and opaque corporate structure with at least ten tiered companies owned and controlled by investors in tax havens ranging from the Cayman Islands to Luxembourg. The company has paid over £1.1billion in dividends to its shareholders but has paid no corporation tax to the UK for the past 5 years. It has raised debts of over £5 billion through tax havens which are used to fund its operations; including the up-grading of Mogden; as required by Ofwat.

Despite these self-beneficial tax arrangements, TW is loading the entire £4.2 billion cost of construction of TTT [at 2011 prices; wait for the update] onto water consumers across the whole of the Thames valley, despite it being only an Inner London project. Additionally, TW has persuaded the government to agree to underpin the entire cost of TTT with public money! The cost recovery is guaranteed through all water bills which are due to rise by at least £25 per capita. And that does not yet including the financing costs which, alone, on a 100-year horizon, will be at least an extra £20 billion, depending on interest rates.

The whole project is totally unnecessary. Technologies for collecting, storing and managing waste water outflows have improved dramatically in recent years. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems [SUDS] are now a requirement of all architectural design practices and in all urban planning. The use of permeable materials, rainwater harvesting, distributed storage, ecological grey water recycling and real-time computer monitoring are components of an Integrated Water Resource Management Approach – in compliance with the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, and the EU Water Framework Directive.

These technologies obviously have a cost – which TW is totally unwilling to invest in itself – claiming they are entirely a property developer’s responsibility. Its investors rely on the guaranteed income of a regulated utility, and drastic cost reductions. What TW has done instead is to criminally manipulate the monitoring and reporting of its sewage treatment works to lower its operating costs. Just as car companies rigged their exhaust test data, so TW rigged the ‘self-regulatory’ data it provided to the Environment Agency and Ofwat.

What TW did was ‘flow-clipping’. This technique by-passes inputs to the sewage effluent tanks [which have permanent EA data pollution monitors on their pipes] to send raw sewage into offline storage tanks, without any monitors on them – which it then discharged into rivers. But TW was found out.

As a result, the judge at Aylesbury Crown Court on 22 March 2017 fined TW £20m in fines and costs for the illegal discharge of over 4.2 billion litres of sewage into the river. The judge also applied a ‘proportionate multiplier’ which factored in TW’s turnover and ability to pay – with a warning that this deliberate abuse of data reporting would, if repeated, attract a very much escalated fine.

In addition, EU infraction fines for non-compliance with the EU UWWTD are currently estimated at £2.8 billion, accruing daily. A reasoned opinion from the European Commission has been sent to HM Government concerning its failure to properly transpose the EU Water Framework Directive into UK law because only 17% of UK water companies [all similarly privatized] had achieved the required monitoring status by 2015, [relying on the industry to ‘self-regulate’] when all should have done so. No wonder the government is so extremely keen to rid itself of EU ‘red tape’ – and the supervision of the European Court of Justice!

The preferred outcome for TW and TTT and their shareholders is that their dreadfully expensive and totally redundant super sewer under the river Thames, entirely paid for by the public for generations to come, continues to be tolerated as needed, based on the trust and goodwill that consumers have in TW as an environmentally branded company. All costs entirely off the books of TW; and with a guaranteed income to its shareholders! How fiendishly clever is that!

Unfortunately, the Financial Times and the ratings agencies [Moody’s, Fitch, S&P] disagree. Investigations into TW’s finances by the FT are continuing. And the attempt by TTT to launch its £4.2bn fund-raising in the City as a “Green Bond” has failed. What TW presented was blatant green-wash. At best, it will be treated as a standard civil engineering project; it’s basically and obviously only a 25km-long concrete tube. And serious questions are being asked about its technical credentials given the other solutions readily available at far less cost. TW nevertheless says it’s: ‘all going according to plan’ and test drills have been sunk. But no real work has yet been commissioned.

The unfortunate result of all this deliberate gaming of the financial and political system by TW / TTT is what SGSC was standing in and swimming in on Sunday.

Leaving Tim (1) in charge of both his own boat and C-Sharp, Terry and Andy went off in search of Tim (2) and Lev. In the distance, a blue Enterprise was seen capsizing at Corinthian’s. When the safety boat got there it was apparent it had turned over on the foreshore in the wind. Not only was it grossly besmirched with foul stains – but its helm and crew had no appetite to continue, and want a tow home.  Lev, meanwhile, was cheerfully tacking back and forth, didn’t want a tow, and was waiting for the re-start! Accordingly, the OOD blew him a start whistle.

Back with Tim, with Lev sailing on, the three boats were tied onto the new, soft and super-flexible – and thankfully long – Arthur Beale towline. But before setting off; tea was drunk and biscuits distributed to comfort the wet and weary sailors.

Lev was practically back in home waters on the mid B course by the time the safety boat drew level. Only to find out that in getting there he had capsized twice! Adding to the one that had apparently happened on the way down! To his great dismay he had lost a favourite jacket, and a signed paddle – but not his red plastic bucket baler! Lev and the safety boat with its three towed craft all crossed the finish line under railway bridge simultaneously.

The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames.

The scientist Michael Faraday described the situation in a letter to The Times in July 1855: shocked at the state of the Thames, he had dropped pieces of white paper into the river to: “test the degree of opacity”. His conclusion was that: “Near the bridges the feculence rolled up in clouds so dense that they were visible at the surface, even in water of this kind. … The smell was very bad, and common to the whole of the water; it was the same as that which now comes up from the gully-holes in the streets; the whole river was for the time a real sewer.”


Race Results – 23 July, 2017

Andy Ross [OOD] Race Report: 15.00 Sunday 23 July 2017: War Stories


When King Henry VII decided that the air quality of London was so foul [as today] and that royal country residences outside the capital were preferable, the need for upgrading palaces locally was met in Kew, West Sheen [Richmond], and at Hampton Court and Windsor – so establishing a conceit of royalty visiting the countryside as a classical “Arcadia” – the wilderness home of Pan the god of the forest and nature – in a landscape of grand riverside houses and gardens that both dignified and added a political and social importance to the river and its banks and gave the whole of the rural Thames valley a greater significance than just the mundane trading usage of the Thames.


The aristocracy quickly followed suite and Chiswick House and Grounds was created beside the river featuring a lake and a clean water cascade derived from Spring Grove, [so Greek!] with wilderness areas and woodland glades and with agricultural fields for food and ornamental gardens for recreation and kitchen gardens for cuisine, perfecting the idealized “sub-urbes” suburban style of the English Garden landscape, designed to interconnect the city with the countryside – and setting a pattern for a domestic suburban house and garden that was then copied throughout Chiswick, and worldwide.


Without a river frontage of its own, Gunnersbury House and Park exploited a penthouse approach based on the hill line above Chiswick, thereby both seeing – and being seen – with wide horizon views out to Windsor and across to the Surrey Hills – ironically now increasingly obscured with the giant tower blocks of the Golden Mile, and their penthouses. Now, only Richmond Hill and Park with its sightlines to Windsor one way and to the City of London the other still exists as having legally-protected long views of London and Thames valley. As the suburbs spread and the open agricultural land was in-filled with houses, and less and less of the river and its landscape could be seen, or even accessed, so the demand evolved for clubs for rowing and boating and sailing, essentially for recreation and pleasure; the sports of the King brought to the people.


To try to conserve the original idea of the landscape scale and sense of place of west London, and the social significance of the river, the Thames Landscape Strategy [TLS] was developed by two landscape architects in 1994 with a 100-year plan to define and emphasise the value to society of the entire Thames river system. To photograph some current day aspects of a peaceful river scene for the TLS a former war-photographer, Paul Stewart and his wife Vivien, asked SGSC if they could watch a typical sailing race and record it for history and so, with David Jones as their driver, Tim offered them places on the Safety Boat.


A warm and gusty Westerly wind was quite inviting. James in his Enterprise [with Lev’s son David onboard] was joined by Lev and Tim [both in Gulls]. A long triangular ‘A’ course was set by Andy Ross [OOD] using the red rowing buoy and a brisk start ensured a first round lap of 10 minutes by James and 13 and 14 by Lev and Tim. Our photographic guests were relaxing in comfort, clicking away at their leisure.


It was then that the first in-coming wind bomb exploded. Having spotted the famous war photographer, and seizing the opportunity to strike with shock and awe, and fame in history, the wind went on the war path. SGSC was in its sights.


Sudden gusts turned a gentle leisurely pleasure into white-knuckled panic. A dancing set of quicksteps upstream on the windward tack – then crossing after the trots to the rowing buoy [becalmed for moments in the Surrey bank doldrums while slithering dangerously quickly on the tide up to the buoy] was followed by a rapid acceleration on a long reach to the upstream buoy; rounding it in a flash and rollicking and rolling downwind to the line. The second lap time of 7 minutes then shortened to 6 on the third. The intelligence from the eye-spies on the weather was that enemy big battalions were now maneuvering – and seriously threatening that it wasn’t going to end well.


As machine-gun bullets of wind began strafing long lines across the river, ripping off the tops of the incoming flood water, Lev was the first to fall victim of a sniper; capsizing at the downstream buoy on his third lap. Amazingly, he recovered, uninjured, climbed back in, baled out – and resumed racing!  By then everyone was desperately spilling relentlessly rolling barrages of incoming mortar shell bursts of wind out of their sails to try and stay relatively upright. It was asymmetric guerilla warfare. Dramatic rocking around the river indicated a scattering and fleeing fleet. Suddenly enforced deviations off-track paradoxically meant that as the wind speed increased, so also did the lap times.


Though as secure and confident as a cavalry warhorse, charging at the enemy in full pomp and splendor, plumes waving aloft and galloping along the parapets, his finely-polished hull glinting in the spray, it was a long distance Big Bertha of a wind bomb that finally did for Tim in Axolotl, catching him at the top mark just as he was about to gybe. The wind had seen his intention far ahead and the big gun had roared – aimed directly for him. Irresistibly, and caught on a time-lapse, slow motion camera, he toppled over. It was a Frank Cappa photography moment.


As James rounded the same upstream buoy he performed not a balletic pirouette of a gybe but more of a double granny knot of turns of twisting sheets and flailing sails entailing desperate leaning-out – while young David was nonchalantly totally unperturbed in the belly of the boat, waving happily back at spectators; who were aghast at the peril he was apparently in.


As James crossed the line on his sixth lap he begged for the race to be finished early; without even a last lap flag. Acting like the Red Cross coming to the rescure, flying a white flag, the OOD did so. And rather than send Lev round another lap, as he was just 40 seconds behind James, but still two laps behind him, the OOD finished him too for Pity’s sake and to end hostilities.

Meanwhile, by then swept far upstream on the strong flood tide, Tim had managed to right his boat – but only to find himself confronted by the lowest arch of Kew Bridge. He had no option but to capsize again to avoid crashing his mast into it. By then the safety boat was beside him – but found it utterly impossible to stem the tide. Axolotl went under the bridge, dragging its mast on the riverbed – until ramming into and jamming the upturned hull underneath the steel pontoon. Tim, unable to hold onto the slippery hull was swept under the pontoon, fortunately uninjured, and eventually managed to scramble out and get ashore some five houseboats further down.


Having returned the guest photographers to the Club and with Andy and Lev now onboard the safety boat with David, they hurried back to rescue Tim. With the still-rising tide Axolotl was jammed hard under the pontoon, risking cracking its hull; until eventually the tide began to slacken and inch-by-inch the mast eased up – and the boat was maneuvered to the bankside beside the bridge walkway.


Baling commenced and Tim soon confidently announced: “Right, we’re OK now!” And he took a step forward.  But he had no idea the vertical edge of the concrete bank was so close. Being quite unable [contrary to pre-conceptions] that he could walk on water, with a mighty explosion he plunged in like a depth charge – totally drenching Andy standing on the bow of the safety boat.


Spluttering to the surface and bobbing amidst a multitude of plastic bottles that were assembling in a small convoy, waiting to join the 10,000 tonnes of plastic the river Thames sends every year on a journey to eternity in the Pacific Ocean, and rather than go with them, he hauled himself ashore again. His previously immaculate salmon-pink trousers were now crimson-red and baggy-wrinkled with embarrassment, which drew applause and much laughter from spectators on the bridge above who took photo-journalistic pictures – possibly wondering if they had spotted a famous local celebrity in trouble with a wardrobe malfunction, and whether they had got the i-phone aspect-ratio right to sell a war-photo scoop.


Axolotl, having been de-masted and turned round alongside the safety boat, was towed under Kew Bridge and rather than collect Tim from the Indian Queen [Pocahontas] Slipway he re-embarked from Pier House Garden close by the Steam Packet [Café Rouge] Steps. On-board, the losses were assessed. The SGSC boathook pole had been snapped in two in attempting to stave off the collision with the pontoon.. “But at least I’ve still got my own favourite little boathook”, said Tim – as he dropped it into the river, – and just managed to catch it. But he’d lost a paddle, a bucket, a burgee, a rope – and, most upsetting, his SGSC sweater – and a certain amount of dignity.