Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Thousands celebrate boating heritage

Thousands celebrate boating heritage

ABOUT 15,000 people attended the 41st edition of the Thames Traditional Boat Festival.

Boating and vintage car enthusiasts descended on Fawley Meadow, off Marlow Road, from Friday until Sunday last week.

One of the most iconic boats at the festival was Gloriana, which had returned for a fifth year, and the royal barge performed a number of rowpasts across the three days.

Visitors walked out on to the pontoons to get pictures of it, as members of the rowing crew performed salutes.

Alaska — a steam launch built in 1883 — was another highlight. It is the oldest working passenger steamer on the River Thames.

There were about 150 boats on display, including a number of Dunkirk “Little Ships” which took part in the evacuation of 1940. They paraded up and down the river on Saturday and Sunday.

John Calvert, 76, who attended the festival with his wife Sally, took part in the display with L’Orage, which saved the lives of 34 soldiers during the evacuations.

He said: “We had such a fantastic time. I was almost a founding member back in the seventies. I remember it as a very small event where people would picnic along the bank.

“But there were only 20 or 30 boats taking part and it has expanded so much since then. It [L’Orage] is a very significant boat locally, because it was owned by the late Raymond Baxter.

“He kept the boat up by Marsh Lock where he lived in a cottage. He died in 2006 and I purchased the boat from his family. We had three chaps working on it day and night for nine months to restore it and update the interior.

“Taking part in the display was fantastic and we had lots of people asking us questions about the boats.I even had a veteran on board and we took him for a cruise.”

The fleet also featured Medway Queen, responsible for saving the lives of 7,000 men and Janthea, which weathered an attack from machine guns in 1940.

There was also due to be a visit from a First World War radio-controlled CMB9, believed to be the only remaining model of its kind.

However, the owner was bringing the boat down to the festival on Friday and fell off in the rain, breaking six of his ribs in the process so was unable to make it.

The vessel was designed as a motor torpedo boat, which was unmanned and was used to sink a destroyer of the German fleet in 1917.

There was also a selection of amphibious crafts, including the Schwimmwagens, which were built by Volkswagen for the German forces during the Second World War.

Other popular river-based attractions included an Emergency Response Team’s rescue display.

Among this year’s participants was town councillor Will Hamilton, who lives on Greys Road, Henley. He entered his slipper launch Topsilk for the first time this year to celebrate his 50th birthday.

He said: “The Trad has been going for 41 years and it was the first time I have put my boat in. It is a wonderful event for the town. It has a really vibrant feel.

“I have had this boat for 30 years and every year I have made little improvements. This year I added three coats of varnish and so it was good enough to enter and because this is my 50th birthday I wanted it to look special.

“The festival is a fantastic part of the summer schedule in Henley. Friday was a bit of a damp squib, but the weather brightened up on Saturday. It is a brilliant event that brings people into the town and they enjoy a festival of boating in an informal environment.”

David Lister is the owner of Lady Genevive, a Beaver Stern Launch built in the Twenties. The boat carried both Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth to Henley Royal Regatta in 1947 and it was purchased by Mr Lister in 2009.

Mr Lister, 59, who lives in Dorney, said: “This year’s Trad has been great. I was a little bit worried on the Friday with the bad weather. If it had carried on raining it would have been awful.

“I have been attending the festival since the early Nineties and when it first started it was very boat orientated. It went through a stage where it was financially tight.

“I think it has been reborn and it has been fantastic to bring the public in and offer more to the visitors.” Mr Lister remembers seeing Lady Genevive in Wargrave and he jumped at the chance to purchase her when he discovered the then owner was moving house.

He is glad he invested in the boat, which he now estimates at a value of £119,000, having sold in the Seventies for £17,000.

He added: “If you go into a boatyard and get a plastic one you would have no maintenance but in five years time it would be worth half what you paid for it. With a boat like this — even though you have maintenance costs — the character and history of the boat makes it worthwhile.”

Ross Ahlgren, who lives in Wargrave, owns Chin Chin, and believes in preserving historial boats.

He said: “This boat was put on the water in October 1936 and I have been coming to this event for the last five years and everyone is so friendly and knowledgeable.

“I can remember the first year I came. A gentleman came up to me and stared at the boat. I asked if he wanted to go for a ride and he said he had a picture to show me. He pulled out the picture and it was a photo of his dad when he was in his 80s with this very boat.

“We had just moved to the area and my wife sent me down to a marina and told me to get a row boat and I came back with this. I couldn’t help myself. I fell in love with it.”

On Saturday and Sunday, three replica aircraft from the First World War performed a flypast. The Bremont Great War Display Team showed their Sopworth Camel, Avro and Fokker triplanes.

Another popular event was a fun dog show judged by Lady McAlpine, of the Fawley Hill estate, who took charge of the festival when it looked set to fold in 2014 and relaunched it under a new name the following summer.

There were also dozens of classic cars and motorcycles as well as trade stands and market stalls.

Charities also held stalls, including Macmillan Cancer Support, which was raising funds with a bucket collection and raffle.

Valerie Butler, one of the volunteers, was celebrating her 81st birthday on the Sunday and she dressed in a floral hat to mark the occasion.

Next to the Macmillan tent was the home of the volunteers who run the Trad.

The festival’s commentary team was led by Jan Stanton, a boat owner and former Henley resident, who organised a floral flotilla on the Thames in 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.

She and her husband Michael now live in Somerset, but return to Henley every year for the festival.

It is Mrs Stanton’s job to guide and inform the crowds about the history and ownership of what is on the water.

When she is not talking about the boats, Mrs Stanton is overseeing traffic on the water to ensure everything is running smoothly, taking in found items and even helping lost children to be returned to their parents.

Mrs Stanton said: “Watching the boats go by with families and young children; that is the sort of thing we love. I just think it is lovely having families involved with boating. It is such a wonderful thing for them to play with and it is great to get them out on the water.

“One of the things we want to do is promote the enjoyment the owners get out of these boats, because they are a finite resource.

“People keep finding them in terrible states and they restore them at a vast expense, but they are absolutely stunning. They look after them all year round and it is such a pleasure to see them at this event.

“My husband really is fantastic in helping me to be organised. He is so supportive and he really is the unsung hero of the event.”

She was particularly pleased on the final day to have a number of spectators come up to the commentary tent to thank her for making the event so enjoyable, while others were grateful to learn so much about the history of the boats.

Catering was provided by the Crooked Billet at Stoke Row, which had a pop-up restaurant on the site and hosted live performances from Henley band Highly Strung and on Sunday spectators enjoyed a Boogie Woogie Party with acclaimed jazz pianist Ben Waters.

Peter Harris, the festival’s secretary, and his wife Sue brought with them their boat Peripen as they did when they first visited the festival as enthusiasts. They were delighted to see so many people coming through the gates.

He said: “I have really enjoyed seeing these huge crowds of people with big smiles on their faces. I think the attendance has grown a lot over the years and certainly in our first year.

“The land offering is much better and that is largely due to Lady McAlpine. She is the most amazing event organiser. She has so many extraordinary ideas and artistic flair, which has raised the profile of the event.”

Mrs Harris said: “We were a little bit worried with the rain on Friday. But now, on Sunday, it is buzzing and I can’t wipe the grin off my face. We have had lots more people helping out this year.

“It is great to see regulars coming back and I do think the demographic has got younger. There are lots more kids and plenty for them to do when they get here. It is like a huge club that welcomes any new members.

“We have a whole community of friends. Everything that happens brings a smile to my face. We came when we first brought our boat. It is a lot of work by not very many people, but we enjoy it so much. We seem to have grown this year.”

Lady McAlpine says that after a disappointing start, the number of visitors rose sharply with the upturn in weather.

She said: “Friday was horrific because of the bad weather and you could tell people were unhappy. Saturday made up for it though, because we had at least 50 per cent more people here than we have had before, judging by the number of cars.

“The atmosphere was wonderful and we had very good publicity this year. I have been saying this is the best kept secret in Henley — apart from the River & Rowing Museum — and I think finally we might have cracked it.

“It gets easier the more frequently you do it. This is the first year where I have felt it is as I would like it to be.

“I feel very strongly that this event should not be expensive and exclusive and that it should be affordable for families.

“If we don’t bring up a generation of young people who appreciate the beauty of things like this, we will lose it. Children must be brought up to think this is something they appreciate.”

She added: “My husband [Sir William McAlpine] was passionate about engineering, about keeping alive the skills for heritage engineering. We can’t afford to lose them. We have to encourage young people.”

Adam Toop, chief judge and co-chair, oversaw the prize-giving ceremony at the Crooked Billet stand on Sunday afternoon where 17 trophies were handed out for a range of achievements such as restoration, presentation and the best illuminated display.

John Burgess, who owns Magyar, collected the Osland Trophy, Thames Heritage Cup and Bill Garden Trophy as his boat was the most popular.

John O’Shaughnessy claimed the Stuart Turner Trophy for engine installation and for its smooth running, having purchased and renovated a boat in between his GCSEs and A-levels, and also the Sir William prize for the “overall story” behind the entry. Mr Toop said: “Every time we have this event, there is something that happens which warms the cockles of my heart.

“There was a call into admin from a fellow [John O’Shaughnessy] who had been doing his A-Levels and his boat was ready, but he forgot to enter judging.

“ I went to have a chat with him and he bought his boat just after he did his GCSE’s and he has worked on it between then and his A-levels. He had just finished his exams and got the boat here.”

Mr Toop said that this year’s offering was the best yet.

He said: “This year has had extraordinary coverage, probably the best I have ever seen. Lady McAlpine has been amazing at maintaining the relationships with our sponsors. Despite a terrifyingly damp Friday — it was a shocker — it has been a great weekend.”

Heritage is something Lady McAlpine wants every spectator to appreciate and she believes it is important to make the Trad as inclusive as possible to allow younger visitors to fall in love with boating.

At the awards ceremony, the organisers paid tribute to Lyndon Yorke, who was responsible for organising the display of classic cars, air display and amphibious vehicles.

Lady McAlpine then thanked the volunteers and judges for helping to stage the event.

She said: “Nothing like this just works. There is always someone working their socks off underneath the surface and it is a great team.”

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