Could it be the Queen herself about to parachute-in to join the SGSC fleet assembling for the 4-day Platinum Jubilee Race Regatta?
The SGSC flag spun around its pole in dizzying anticipation – but the helicopter moved over and slowly descended on the allotments on the opposite Kew bank; an air ambulance had been called for some reason.
Although Ait Knots rocked, while not being given exactly the right Royal Regatta send-off, we cheerfully made up for it with really great bunting! Unflustered by this kerfuffle, the SGSC fleet mustered; James with Ruth, Chris with Felicia, Ben, Tim, and Sam with a crew, and David Jones, Andy Ross and Tim in the Safety Boat; all lined-up for a tow down to London Corinthians in beautifully sunny weather.
The Y-shaped arrangement of the towline, with two arms extending from the rear cleats with boats staggered alternatively proved hard to control. Swinging across the river as each of the lines took up the strain was only suppressed by keeping to a very low speed; a problem answered on Day 2.
The fleet arrived at LCSC well ahead of time and moored on the rowing pontoon. And found no-one else there at very low tide.
Eventually, LCSC opened up and said they thought 4 or 5 of their boats would be sailing. But that quickly increased to about 10 -15. Then a message came from Ranelagh, and also from Southbank, to say that they were each bringing 10 – 15 boats, which began to panic the catering staff. And it eventually turned out that close on to 40 boats were assembling! It was going to be a massive Regatta! A vast fleet was soon moored all along the riverbank.
The LCSC OOD announced there were going to be three races, around two buoys. The first would be of three laps, then two, then one. It was slightly breezy warm day, but now with a very strong incoming tide. At the starting signal, very few boats were at the line; most were drifting back with the tide – and it seemed several could be washed away completely.
Sure enough, the SGSC SB went to rescue the LCSC Commodore, Beverley, from Chiswick Ait – and also towed back up Tim who, unobserved by the OOD amidst the struggling throng, recovered his position in the race. But the great majority failed to complete even one lap. After an hour the OOD ended it. The second race fared no better, only a few got round, – and it was to the great relief of a by-then completely exhausted fleet that the remaining number of the original 40 boats finally managed to complete the third and final race, but only because the tide had slackened enough. Throughout, Sam’s boat was heard: its magnificent bunting fluttering, with Chris also thundering along.
The SGSC boats were hauled up into the LCSC yard and our SB was moored onto the pontoon, ready for the trip down to Ranelagh next day.
The LCSC catering crew in the meantime had managed find extra food for the unexpected number of sailors – and the beers from the bar went down very well. The bicycles that had been piled up on the Safety Boat took their owner’s home.
James with Ruth, who managed to finish all three races in the in the time available, came in third place overall.
As we gathered on the Hammersmith foreshore the Red Arrows flew by on their ‘Round the Country’ tour, accompanied by a fly-past of dozens of veteran aircraft that dispersed over Hammersmith in every direction.
The cure for the swinging-about of towed boats on a single line was solved by using separate towing lines from the port and starboard rear cleats, with the heaviest boats first, lighter ones after. This indeed proved to be far more satisfactory during the journey to Ranelagh, as we sped downriver.
After dropping off some LCSC passengers and re-rigging, about 30 boats were assembled there. On another warm and sunny day, but still with a very light wind, the Ranelagh OOD announced there were to be two races: one down to Battersea Bridge. And another back, after the tide had turned.
Given the long slow bend round the Fulham reach, the fleet quite soon spread out and were far apart – with James, it seemed, in the lead.
After about an hour the OOD boat hurried away – and laid a buoy just before the bridge, though beforehand they had asked us to inform the fleet that the finishing line was between their Safety Boat and the buoy.
Unfortunately, this was misinterpreted by some in the fleet to mean it was between us and the OOD. And so, as we had moored between the OOD, and a very shallow shore, several boats headed to finish between our two boats – and they could not understand why we were waving them away!
The two OOD’s in the Ranelagh boat were then both simultaneously raising and lowering flags, sounding hooters, writing down times, – and taking photos of multiple boats crossing the finishing line on both sides at the same time. They needed a photo finish to separate everyone out!
The return race from Battersea Bridge began precisely at 12.30pm – and, sonorously echoing across the whole of London, came the sound of the 16½ ton Great Paul bell of St Paul’s cathedral to mark the start of the Thanksgiving Service for Queen Elizabeth II.
Simultaneously, the eight bells of St Mary’s church, right beside Battersea Bridge, burst into ringing chimes that were, in effect, the most extraordinary starting gun sound ever heard. Tintinnabulation of church bells on a sailing Sunday morning, blowing in the breeze across the river, marked both a magnificent sight and sound – and an unforgettable moment in history.
And so then, our own ceremonial Platinum Sailing Procession began in great style.
After finishing at Ranelagh, all the SGSC boats carried on up to Southbank and were hauled out to await the start there of the race on Day 3 – and the SGSC Safety Boat returned to Ranelagh to moor out on a mid-river pontoon. Nearly everyone then walked back to Ranelagh for a pre-plated buffet supper. But where was the Platinum Pudding? Not there. Where was it?
James and Lev finished third overall based on the two races, having come first on the beat downstream and Tim distinguished himself with a fourth place on the run back upstream.
Overnight, the weather forecast deteriorated dramatically: gales and rain were expected. An early morning consultation with everyone then led to a decision to abandon completely SGSC’s participation in the Southbank race – and to head back upriver straightaway, while the tide was in our favour.
Accordingly, Andy Ross took the train to Putney to collect the Safety Boat – and found the Ranelagh clubhouse locked and, at very low tide, nobody at all on the river. Not a single rower, and more significantly, not a single onboard boat could be seen anywhere to help get him out to the mid-river pontoon.
A call to Chris – and his gentle persuasion on Southbank, enabled the commandeering of a Safety Boat to come and rescue ours, and so our fleet [in fine and sunny weather again] forsook the charms of Southbank [and the promise of its BBQ] – and we all prepared to head for home: Sam and Ben sailing, James, Chris and Tim in tow.
The sailors were forewarned not, under any circumstances, to attempt to limbo under Hammersmith Bridge – even if tempted. And indeed, they stopped on the foreshore beforehand and de-masted to enable a walk-under, tilting their masts – and then, joined now by James, sailing on up.
The weary Safety Boat after days of motoring, protested at the gross indignity of being hauled by a winch up the ramp by its trolley with a split-flat tyre – but, as with all the other boats, and their sailors, everyone was glad to get home.
Except, not yet.
The precaution of sailing back ahead of a great storm of rain proved totally illusory. Sunday dawned as warm and as sunny as the preceding three days.
So, the only remaining event on the Platinum Jubilee Race Regatta weekend was the Strand on the Green Association street party.
Andy Ross 12.06.2022