Saturday, 13 August 2022

Bluebird to star at new-look boat festival

ORGANISERS of a vintage boat rally which is held in Henley every summer are predicting a

ORGANISERS of a vintage boat rally which is held in Henley every summer are predicting a record attendance this year.

About 200 boats will be at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival, which will take place on and off the river at Fawley Meadows from Friday to Sunday, July 17 to 19.

The event, now in its 36th year, used to be called the Traditional Boat Rally but has been rebranded and enlarged to include many new attractions.

A new committee has taken over after most of the previous organisers retired and the new president is Lady McAlpine, who has staged a number of large public events at her home at Fawley Hill.

The rally was last held in 2013 as last year’s event was called off due to flooding in the meadows.

As in previous years, most of the vessels on display will be made of traditional wood or steel but there will be some more modern ones of special interest. Boat owners are being encouraged to offer free river trips and will be put in touch with visitors who want one.

This year’s attractions will also include civilian and military vessels, including DUKW amphibious landing craft from the Second World War and cars that can travel on the water. These will be launched either from the Henley Town Council slipway in Thames Side or a temporary one at Fawley Meadows.

The Queen’s ceremonial barge Gloriana will parade past the festival site on the Saturday and Sunday as will several City of London livery barges.

The main attraction will be the Blue Bird K3, which was designed by Sir Malcolm Campbell and set a water speed record of almost 131mph in 1938. The hydroplane powerboat, which has a 27-litre engine, will give demonstrations.

Also present will be the 1883 passenger steamer Alaska and Consuta, the first steam umpire’s launch, built in 1898. Both will offer river trips. A record 25 Little Ships that took part in the Dunkirk evacuation will participate in a flotilla to mark the 75th anniversary.

Among them will be a 1938 yacht owned by Sir Malcolm and also called Blue Bird.

Another will be L’Orage, a 1938 motor yacht previously owned by television presenter Raymond Baxter, who lived in Henley. It is now owned by Goring resident John Calvert, who has restored it. The ships will be led by the Royal Navy’s 1937 flagship MTB 102, which will carry veteran soldiers and sailors.

There will also be aerial displays, including fly-pasts by a Royal Navy Swordfish biplane and Sea King rescue helicopter. It is hoped that a Vulcan bomber may also visit.

More than 100 vintage and classic cars and motorcycles will be on display. At 10pm on the Saturday, an illuminated boat convoy will set off from the meadows and parade along Henley’s waterfront before turning around at Rod Eyot Island.

Several Henley businesses are involved this year, including Hobbs of Henley, which will operate a water taxi service to the site. This will depart from the River and Rowing Museum and call at Red Lion Lawn and Phyllis Court Club en route and at Leander Club and the Henley Royal Regatta headquarters on the way back.

The museum will be running children’s entertainment themed around The Wind in the Willows.

Luscombes at the Golden Ball in Lower Assendon will be running a “pop-up” pub and takeaway service as well as a 100-cover restaurant. Henley micro-brewery Lovibonds will be selling beer and there will be a refreshments tent with a NAAFI theme.

The festival will take place on the same weekend that judges from the Entente Florale competition visit Henley.

Dan Hayter, a member of the new committee, said: “It’s not just a change of name, the entire weekend has been improved to make it more attractive to the community. We rebranded it from a ‘rally’ to a ‘festival’ because it sounds much more inclusive and not just something for die-hard boating enthusiasts.

“The previous committee did a fantastic job but had been doing it for many years and had run out of energy. The event was losing what made it special and the numbers on the gate were starting to wane.

“It used to be pretty desolate on land but now we’re going to have more than 50 stalls ranging from clubs and societies to retailers and restaurants.

“We have limited space for boats but I am expecting it to be packed to the gunwales. We want to have as many as we can.

“At its best the old rally used to attract 6,000 or 7,000 people. We expect to eclipse that â?? and if the weather’s good we will absolutely blow it away.”

An adult weekend ticket costs £22, although group and online booking discounts are available. Visitors may camp overnight or stay in caravans for an additional charge.

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