The Great River Race

Don’t let the name fool you, the Great River Race has nothing to do with two university canoe teams pitting their oars in battle along the Thames. The Great River Race is all together a lot more fun. The first race was organised in 1988 and despite the newness of the event, organisers were staggered by the number of teams entering into the spirit of the race. That first year there were 72 entrants in twenty different types of vessel representing a total of six different countries. Among the vessels taking part was a Hawaiian War Canoe and a Viking Longboat, plus many other skiffs, cutters and gigs of all shapes and sizes including a Chinese Dragon Boat. Manning the oars were eager sea scouts to veterans of many a race all looking to be a part of this new and exciting event in London’s cultural calendar.

Photo by Andy Roberts
Photo by Andy Roberts

From Strength to Strength

Now the event has practically quadrupled in size from those early beginnings. The vessels that join the race are always something to see, especially the ones like the 54ft replica of a bronze age Greek Galley. There are now many boats that are built just for the race.

As the event has grown so has its audience. Now the Great Boat Race can count a number of celebrities to its fan base including Sir Steven Redgrave, Jane Horrocks and Sting. It may be a humble event on one of London’s main waterways but its reputation has grown internationally and now teams are entering from all over the globe. This year sees teams from the USA, Sweden, Croatia, Canada and Germany plus many more. In 2009 the course of the race was changed to run upriver from Millwall through to Ham which has proved popular not only with the competitors but the thousands of spectators that come to cheer them across the finishing line.

This Year’s Race

Spectators now can expect to watch more than three hundred boats of varying shapes and sizes carrying around two and a half thousand individual competitors, each trying to get their hands on one of the thirty five trophies that are up for grabs. The race offers spectators a unique spectacle that they will not be able to find anywhere else. This year the event takes place on Saturday September 7th, with the starting cannon set to fire at 12.10pm exactly. At the firing of the cannon competitors will race along a gruelling twenty one mile route which will take them from London’s Docklands to beautiful Richmond.

In order with the rules of the race, each vessel has to carry a single passenger along the route. To avoid a mad scramble at the start boats are awarded handicaps based upon how well they are believed to perform, with the starting line being arranged in a slowest away first procedure, with the faster vessels leaving last. This ensures that each vessel has an equal chance of taking a trophy when they finally cross the finishing line.

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