Wednesday, 27 May 2020
THE organisers of the Thames Traditional Boat Festival hope it can go ahead as planned despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The annual exhibition of vintage boats and cars is scheduled to take place at Fawley Meadows from July 17 to 19.
Despite a swathe of other events, including Henley Royal Regatta and the Henley Festival, being cancelled or postponed, the “Trad” is still scheduled to take place, depending on the Government lifting its lockdown and social distancing measures.
Lady McAlpine, who is co-chairman of the event, said: “There are, of course, those who think we are mad to hope but hope we must.
“Unlike the regatta, we need only five days to set up the Trad — five days of incredibly hard work from all involved.
“If the Government allows it we will hold the 42nd Thames Traditional Boat Festival this year, which is why we are keeping fingers crossed.
“When lockdown came, we had our valuable sponsorship from the Shanly Foundation, most of our boat entries in and most of our trade bookings, so all we have said to everyone is ‘hold on and pray’.
“If we still have to cancel, we hope we can just roll all the bookings over to next year.”
About 15,000 people attended last year’s festival, lining the banks of the Thames to watch around 150 boats on display, including some of the most iconic steamers.
The row barge Gloriana, which was privately commissioned to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, performed several row pasts over the three days.
Three replica aircraft from the First World War performed a flypast and the Bremont Great War Display Team showed their Sopwith Camel, Avro and Fokker triplanes.
This year, the Dunkirk Little Ships, which are also a regular at the boat festival, will be marking the 80th anniversary of the evacuation.
Around 850 boats sailed from England to northern France as part of Operation Dynamo and helped to rescue more than 336,000 British, French and other Allied soldiers who were trapped on the beaches in May and June 1940 during the Second World War.
Lady McAlpine added: “This is the largest gathering of traditional river craft in the world, from coracles to Edwardian steam launches, to Sixties film stars’ toys.
“Around 30 Dunkirk Little Ships tend to treat the Trad as their annual get-together and as they are probably going to be thwarted of their big trip to France in May to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk, for their sake alone we are hoping that the Trad will be on.
“We also attract dozens of amphibious vehicles which have a tendency to steal the show.
“There are usually one or two special interest boats, such as the amazingly restored First World War radio-controlled torpedo boat. This was literally controlled from the air by radio.
“This year we hope that visitors will be able to watch this boat travel up the Thames as a controlling bi-plane flies overhead.”
Lady McAlpine said Gloriana would not be returning this year due to the rising cost of hiring the 90ft barge.
She said: “[It] seemed to have become our ‘flagship’ and for the past three years she has been sponsored by the Rug Company who made the carpets for her.
“Sadly, the cost of hiring her is now so prohibitive that we all decided we simply could not afford her.
“Every year we have beautiful and genuinely old Alaska, a real Victorian steamer, which we very wrongly tend to take for granted because she is local and owned by Peter Green who is such an old friend of the Trad.
“This year, Alaska will be awarded her correct place at centre stage and, of course, will be taking out boatloads of passengers several times a day.
“On land there will roving musicians, face painters, Punch and Judy, fairground rides and our now infamously hilarious charity-run dog shows.
“We feel we put on the best family-centred festival in the area and get a bit fed up when people say ‘we haven’t heard of it’.
“We are all crossing all digits and praying that by early July the Government will be allowing something like the Trad to take place. If not, we will see everyone next year at the same time and place.
“Meanwhile, of course, we hope that all our lovely supporters are taking care of themselves and others.”
19 April 2020
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