Sunday, 14 August 2022

All eyes on river as festival gets royal touch

A RECORD 10,000 people descended on Henley for the return of the Thames Traditional Boat Festival.

A RECORD 10,000 people descended on Henley for the return of the Thames Traditional Boat Festival.

About 200 boats were on display at the 36th event, which has been renamed, after last year’s event was cancelled due to flooding.

But one of the star attractions at the boat festival, Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird K3, was sidelined by an engine fire.

The hydroplane boat, which set the world water speed record of 138mph in 1938, had been scheduled to speed down a 2.1km stretch of the river having obtained a special exemption from the Environment Agency.

Owner Karl Halbard was out on the river on Saturday preparing for his 5pm slot but as he put it into gear to start the engine, it cut out.

An automatic fire dousing system had activated because of a small fire in an inlet tube which damaged the engine beyond repair for it to be able to run during the festival.

He told the Henley Standard that he had been preparing the Blue Bird for weeks and that she had last run during a show in the summer of 2013.

Mr Halbard, who lives in Filching in East Sussex, said: “It was all going according to plan as we went down to the start. We ran the engine and it got very hot.

“We then had to stop the engine to put the boat into gear. When we started it there was a small flash fire, which was from combustion in the inlet tube. Then the automatic extinguishing system kicked in.

“Obviously, we display the boat at festivals all the time but we rarely run it. We had a good look and there was no real damage but to be on the safe side we decided not to try running it again.

“Without the automatic system in the engine you would be running a real risk using the boat. Even with the system trying to run again would be a risk.”

The boat has been in the family since 1988 and has been restored to keep it as authentic as possible. It first ran in 2011, which was the first time since 1938.

Mr Halbard said: “It’s a highly strung piece of machinery. It’s just like any machine — it can break. The automatic extinguishing system is a modern bit of equipment which we put in to keep us and the boat safe. We do not want to destroy it.”

This year the event changed its name, having previously been known as the Thames Traditional Boat Rally.

Slippers, cruisers and canal boats all lined the river bank along with spectators as another of the main attractions, Gloriana, the Queen’s row barge, made its way down the river.

It was powered by Leander Club members, both young and old, on the Saturday and Phyllis Court Club members on the Sunday.

The royal barge visited Henley last year as part of the 175th anniversary of Henley Royal Regatta.

Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier was a passenger aboard Gloriana along with her sister the Mayoress Susan George.

The Mayor said: “It was an incredible experience. It was so wonderful and it was a real privilege for us. I did offer to help them row across if they wanted a hand and we were in very safe hands with the people from Leander rowing us up the river.”

Charles Lowe was part of the Leander team that rowed the boat. He said: “We rowed the reverse down the regatta course and back up, it was great. The boat was much heavier then we thought.

“When I was young we used to use oars like that and you forget how heavy they are. It was enormous fun, it’s a lovely barge, a great festival and everyone was enjoying themselves. It was wonderful.”

The event also included air displays, vintage cars, amphibious vehicles and a boat jumble which sold nautical equipment.

When one of the amphibious vehicles was leaving the river via the slipway its propeller became caught on the artificial grass matting.

It was hauled on to the riverbank by a rescue team who helped the owner cut the boat loose.

A fleet of 18 Dunkirk Little Ships performed a sail—by on both days. All were part of the 52 strong group of boats who crossed the Channel in 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo — which saved more than 300,000 lives during the Second World War by rescuing soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches.

MTB 102, a motor torpedo, and Bluebird of Chelsea, a motor yacht, were among the group of ships led by Papillon — the ship that belongs to the group’s commodore Ian Gilbert.

Mr Gilbert, the commodore of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, said: “This is a great festival, that is full of enthusiasts. Everyone enjoys heritage and wooden boats — if they didn’t I don’t think they would be here. People have come up to us and asked questions and want to know about them — that’s great.

“My boat Papillon was built in 1930 and was built as an open sailing boat. We have owned her for 18 years and she goes on all the trips — commemorative and otherwise. Now she’s a good sea—going boat with a motor.”

Mr Gilbert, who lives in Shepperton in Surrey, has put his boat up for sale as he has upgraded to a larger Dunkirk Little Ship — a 40ft motor yacht called Lucy Lou.

Other attractions included an illuminated parade of boats on Saturday evening and skiff racing on both days.

Following last year’s cancellation due to flooding, the event has been organised by a new committee under new president Lady McAlpine, of Fawley Hill. She attended both days of the event with her husband Sir William McAlpine.

He said: “It was a great success and all the comments so far have said it was wonderful. People told us the event was becoming a bit dull but it was really livened up this year.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy it and all the entertainment. The boats were sparkling and the royal barge was great. I have not been on it before but I felt sorry for the people rowing it who had to power it up and down the regatta course.”

Street performers from the youth company of the Acorn Musical Theatre group roamed the site all weekend as different river creatures such as rats, frogs, ducks and dragonflies.

Gail Rosier, from Middle Assendon and the artistic director of the youth company, said: “We were very pleased to be asked to be involved. The children are here as the river creatures and it gives them a good chance to practise in front of an audience.”

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