As members of the Friends group gathered on the dock in glorious sunshine, we were prepared for a delightful weekend on the river. But I don’t think any of us could have guessed just how great a time we were going to have. The sail down to Chiswick Pier in the late afternoon was cooling after the shore side heat as we sipped drinks and nibbled canapés on deck. Down below the crew worked feverishly stowing stores, preparing dinner and laying out our cabins.
Later as we sat down for dinner we were joined by our first guest, Wayne from the RNLI, who gave a great after dinner speech. We were also joined by one of the two lifeboats and crew based at Chiswick. Most of us knew the guys were busy but I don’t think we appreciated just what proportion of UK RNLI activity the Thames lifeboat stations represent.
Skipping over the thunder and lightning which stopped some people getting a good night’s sleep, come Saturday morning the river was covered in atmospheric mist as we set sail downstream. Breakfast was served but there were just too many things to see to stay down below for long. In addition to skipper Geoff, we were joined by Mate Peter Finch. Peter is a long-time Volunteer Mate and Friend and is also Chairman of the River Thames Society.
If Peter was a tour guide he could charge a fortune – he is an expert on every bridge, building and boat on the river. All too soon we were tying up at the Hermitage Moorings just downstream of Tower Bridge for the next event in our schedule and one of the best views on the river to watch the Thames Historic Barge rowing race. Those thinking along the lines of the Oxford and Cambridge race couldn’t be more wrong. The guys don’t row so much as force the barges through the water with oars that might have come from a Roman galley. All of this effort while we tucked in to lunch.
Late afternoon we had time to wander around historic Wapping – or snooze on deck – before the evening’s meal and dinner guests. We were joined by Jack Faram, one of the founders of the Barge race and by background a lighterman, and by Charlie McLaren, head of the Hermitage Mooring team. Two very different perspectives on the river and its use were presented, both highly informed and entertaining but definitely showing the varied use of the river. After another great meal and much wine, we settled down to a quiet and restful night as the river itself settled down for the night.
Sunday morning dawned overcast with intermittent rain as we began our sail downriver and once again Peter was the perfect guide. The bacon sandwiches took the edge off the morning chill. The last time the Venturer was in this part of the world was to attend the London Boat show 10 years ago. We sailed on past the entrance to the dock so perhaps went further down river this time – at least one person was claiming it as a record. Fortunately as we turned around to catch the tide back upstream the weather improved and provided us with a fabulous sail.
We were early for Richmond lock so anchored off Syon Reach for a very pleasant cup of tea before returning home to Kingston a very happy band of sailors. Louise had billed this as an anniversary cruise, 10 years since we last sailed past Tower Bridge. After such a great sail I very much doubt it will be another 10 years before we do this again.
With thanks to the amazing crew who put in such hard work. It may have been a fundraising cruise for the charity (with about £2,000 raised), but it was definitely a fun cruise for the Friends.
Paul Boyd, Friends Trustee