Monday, September 19, 2011

The Great River Race in London - Epic Madness ... !

Chaos is always so much more fun when it's organised - the Great River Race ("less po-faced than Exbridge and much more colourful" according to Time Out) took place on Saturday, from London Docklands to Ham, Surrey. Chaotic, very slightly mad, and very English, despite the number of foreign crews competing. It's the Thames' equivalent to the London Marathon.

With 2,400 competitors in 300 boats racing for 35 trophies, it has become the biggest and most prestigious event of its kind in Europe - it's a Pageant and Mini-Carnival as much as a race.

In London we really used to overlook the possibilities of the Thames. We're waking up to it now, and this event celebrates the fact that the river is becoming busier each year with leisure traffic of all kinds.

Various craft take part in this now-becoming-classic event, including Gigs, Skiffs, Celtic Longboats, Cutters, Currachs, Dragon Boats, Whaleboats and from various countries (but a huge number of brilliant Dutch rowers) with an assortment of novelty craft. All the boats are handicapped by class to provide an overall competition as well as 35 different competitions by class.

Finish Festival at Ham
As handicapping is on a slowest-away first basis, this makes for a lively race - on Saturday, almost the last two boats to start (both Chinese Dragon Boats) finished 1st and 2nd, overtaking almost all the other craft on the way...

The Tartouffe Band
Festivities at the Finish - with the boats progress tracked via GPS and shown on a Big Screen - were only barely dampened by the slight misty rain, but spirits were superbly raised by a hilarious and very tuneful Dutch Comedy Brass band.

The Row2Recovery Ream
Two of the highlights for me were meeting up with two crews who are rowing the Atlantic for charity starting in December 2011 and finishing in January 2012 in Barbados ...

Firstly, Row2Recovery, which features 6 military personnel who have lost limbs during active service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The RowForFreedom Team
The other crew facing the same epic challenge is RowForFreedom, a female crew raising both funds and awareness of Child Trafficking, Prostitution and Slavery.

[Postnote: Both crews completed their challenges in epic style]

The hard part?

Supervising the recovering of several hundred boats (who seemed to arrive almost at the same time) from the water at Ham, dangerously gnarly & muddy slipways, missing or wet and exhausted crews, tide coming in then flying out, the light fading fast - and lots and lots of shouting from me. Yes, I lost my voice. Again. I was exhausted, wet, cold, and annoyed.

But then I though of what Row2Recovery and RowForFreedom will face in the Atlantic and I shut up. Besides, we were fortunate enough to finish under floodlights at about 10.00pm ... just in time to hit the bar for beer, oysters, and mad Dutch partiers.