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Festival of Rowing, Oxbridge Challenge, Chiswick to Putney return

It was a beautiful morning, cool and dry as we headed to the University of London Boat Club at Chiswick to meet up with the crew and our cutter, Water Forget-me-not, and to join other cutters and gigs, and Livery Companies.  We renewed friendship with Barber Surgeons team and other rowing clubs from Richmond to Bedford.  Over tea and breakfast baps we caught up with the efficient organisers and the race master.  The instructions from the race organisers were very clear, including how to deal with “swimmers” and to avoid the mud banks near Fulham Football Club.  Only a heavy downpour could stop us.  The organisers were in constant contact with the Thames Barrier and Port of London Authority monitoring the river to ensure it was safe.

It was then announced that due to the high level of “land water” (double the normal) and speed of the river they could not safely bring the cutters, gigs and other boats from Richmond where they had been moored overnight.  The only boat which was ready to go was a gig from Lewes which had been towed by car, with an early start.  We had all the crews and no boats; without a boat we could not row!  It was a salutary reminder that the river flow was determined by the weather two days before and the river flow was more erratic due to quicker run off from the land and climate change.  The boats could not be moved until the Oxford and Cambridge race was over, and the river reopened. We had no choice but to have another breakfast and reflect.

After breakfast when the bar opened we decide that the best solution was to consider that we had won and find a riverside pub to celebrate.  As we walked along the Thames pathway it was amazing to see how high the last tide had been and the level it was likely to be again later in the day.  Flooding is a regular feature of life here, not just a statistic.  There was no shortage of views on the river, its quality and the risks.  We then enjoyed discussing what might have been and how we will win next time.  However, the next outing for our cutter is the Tudor Pull, not a race, so we have to go slowly to avoid overtaking the Londinium carrying the section of water pipe or stela from Hampton Court to the Tower of London on 19 May.

It was beautiful resting after all our efforts on the side of the Thames and enjoying the view and relaxing.  At our riverside vantage spot we watched as the flow of the river abated and the Thames river water met the tidal water travelling upstream, holding the sewage scum and detritus before propelling it further.  I watched the moorhens hunting for tasty morsels amongst the increased diversity of the river including the condoms and wet wipes as the water slowly drifted upstream and the teams of rowers glided by (watch the video).


We had fascinating discussions about the work of the Port of London Authority and the Port Health Authority whose remit extends well beyond the City.  We learnt about the coffins that were buried on the islands in the Thames with the bodies of those who died on the Prison Hulks (read “Great Expectations” for more details).  Due to changing conditions in the river the bodies are slowly being dislodged and moving up and down river.

We did not have to be on the river to experience to value and beauty of our blue spaces and the challenges they are facing.  I am grateful to our super crew for making what could have been a very frustrating day most enjoyable.

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