How The Great River Race Became London's 'River Marathon'

The event, which passes through Chiswick, has evolved over twenty-one years


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This magnificent racewas first run in 1988 with 61 entrants rowing more than 20 boat types representing six countries, including an Hawaiian outrigger, war canoe, Viking longboat, Norwegian scow, Canadian C-8 canoe, Chinese dragonboat and numerous Cornish pilot and other gigs, skiffs cutters, ASC, naval whalers and the like to take on the Watermen’s shallop.

Since then the race has gone from strength to strength and has now become ‘London’s River Marathon’. Its inspiration came from the great interest generated by a 1987 charity event in which the famous Doggett’s Coat & Badge winners from The Company of Watermen & Lightermen rowed its shallop (passenger barge) from Hampton Court to The Tower of

The idea that emerged was a UK Traditional Boat Championship creating an all-comers challenge to beat the Doggett’s men racing on a handicap basis. Entries were restricted to
traditional style, coxed craft powered by a minimum of four oars or paddles.

In keeping with the Company’s historic responsibility to apprentice and licence Watermen to carry passengers on the tidal Thames each boat had to carry a passenger. The winners would hold for one year the Challenge Trophy of the Company of Watermen & Lightermen featuring a mounted original Watermen’s badge.

Now it is a spectacular boat race up the River Thames which attracts over 330 crews from all over the globe.

The Great River Race appeals to all levels of competitor from the dedicated athletes to those who enjoy fun, fancy dress and charity stunts. The gruelling 21 mile course runs from London Docklands to Ham and the boats are all traditional style with a minimum of 4 oars or paddles and carry a cox and passenger.

Areen Design, based at Eyot Gardens, has been taking part in The Great River Race every year since 2012. The official team name is the Oar Stars and each year they have a mixed complement of veterans and novices to make up 8 rowers and a Cox. As a part of the race, they also take part in the Riparian Challenge, where a passenger joins on board.

This year’s passenger will be Deputy Mayor Cllr. James Chard of Twickenham and Richmond.

Starting in May, the Oar Stars ardently train every Thursday evening in Richmond to prepare for The Great River Race in September. Not only is this a great team, and morale, building exercise, but according to the Oar Stars, the race is one of the best ways to see the sights of London, taking in uninterrupted vistas of the city from the River Thames with no traffic to speak of! It is also a thoroughly rewarding event for the participants, truly a river marathon, crossing the finish line is an impressive feat and one which sparks more interest every year from staff.

They also raise money for their patron charity: CRASH, which assists homelessness and hospice charities with construction related projects.

This year the race is on Saturday 14 September and starts at Docklands at 11.20am on a “slowest first, fastest last” handicap basis.

Approximately 2 hours into the race the first boats should pass Chiswick Pier which is a wonderful vantage point for spectators. The Pier House will be open for refreshments, savoury and sweet crepes, ice creams, wine and beer from 12 noon.

It’s a great fun event for all the family to watch and cheer the competitors on to the finishing posts at Ham.

This page is sponsored by Express Property Services who support community initiatives in Chiswick


August 21, 2019

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