The dongola mystery explained!

One of the sporting and social highlights of summer on our reaches of the Thames will shortly be upon us – Sunbury Amateur Regatta.

ONE of the sporting and social highlights of summer on our reaches of the Thames will shortly be upon us – Sunbury Amateur Regatta.

The event, which takes place on Saturday, August 16, will pull in crowds from all over the area keen to enjoy the unique atmosphere of this watery get-together. It’s a much misused phrase, but in the case of Sunbury regatta, there really is something for all the family.

The regatta has been held in Sunbury since 1876 and this year’s event – the 131st – will attract a substantial number of entries in a wide range of categories.

Crews will be coming from as far afield as Cambridge and Wargrave to take part in 50-60 skiffing races, 20 local events and around 20 punting races.

Racing will get under way at 9am on the river just off Rivermead Island which, if previous years are any guide, will be crammed full of entertainment and stalls. The competition will go on all day with prizes being presented, courtesy of VirginActive Leisure Club in Sunbury, at around 5.30pm.

John Lee, who is in charge of marketing the annual event, is praying for good weather after a couple of dismal washouts in recent memory.

He said: “The regatta is really the centre piece of the summer for the village and allows all of the community to both enjoy as well as participate in the events on the water and around the island.

“As well as the local events, the regatta is one of the best-known skiff contests on the Thames and attracts entries from skiff clubs all over the area. The Edith Topsfield junior regatta held on the day after the main event is quite unique in that it is only for juniors and has provided the chance for many young oarsmen and women to take their first steps in their rowing careers. Some have gone on the row at the highest levels,” John added.

One of the special highlights of the Sunbury regatta is dongola racing.

These wide, flat-bottomed punts have crews of six – of whom at least two must be ladies. They race over a course of 250 metres but the dongolas are notoriously difficult to steer – which generally results in some fairly chaotic but highly entertaining racing. The dongolas get their name because in 1885 Lord Wolsey used a number of similar flat-bottomed punts to transport soldiers and stores up the River Nile to relieve the embattled General Gordon in the Sudan. The boats were paddled – not poled – because they had to negotiate a sizeable cataract in the Dongola province en route. Wolsey is reported to have offered a prize of £100 to the first regiment to complete what the Times newspaper described as ‘the longest race in history.’

The regatta’s always keen to attract new entrants for this fun event and if you’d like to put up a team contact John Graham on 07973 814552.

Other events taking place during the day will include a ‘tug of war,’ a ‘row for your local’ competition and an indoor rowing championship.

After the prize-giving, an open air concert will begin in the central area on the island featuring local bands and singers.

This concert will take guests up to an illuminated sail past by the Middle Thames Yacht Club, followed by a mammoth fireworks display – and I do mean mammoth. The bars and restaurant areas will remain open until dusk offering a variety of foods all prepared by local restaurants and bakers.

Away from river, the lawn provides a wide range of activities. From bar tents to Punch and Judy shows, there is something for every member of the family. Many community groups and charities have stalls on the lawn and Sunbury Regatta is also a fundraising opportunity for many. Not only that, but a significant proportion of the profits from the lawn are split between worthy causes.

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