WHILE I’ve been busy exploring the wartime exploits of people in our area, I’ve omitted to mention a couple of important up-to-date events involving locals – including a stunning performance in this year’s Great River Race which was won by a crew from Weybridge Sailing Club.
For the uninitiated, the Great River Race is a rowing marathon, which invites crews to paddle a huge variety of boats over a distance of 21 miles from the Thames Barrier all the way to Ham House.
The contest, which was first staged in 1988, has grown steadily ever since and this year attracted an entry of nearly 300 boats with crews from all over the world – it really is one of the most prestigious rowing events around.
After several disappointments and near misses, the lads and lasses from Weybridge SC won the overall prize this year in their traditional cosine wherry, Maggie. And to add a little more icing to an already delicious cake, a second Weybridge crew, rowing another skiff called Aggie, were placed third.
Maggie’s crew consisted of rowers John Parker from Lower Sunbury and David Jillings from Kingston along with water bailers Susie Ottley from Weybridge and her niece, Izzi Ottley. Aggie was crewed by Roy Hathaway from Shepperton, Patrick Thomas from Woking, Fe Wood from East Molesey and 10-year-old Zoe Stevens from Addlestone.
The victory was an overdue reward for Weybridge SC’s battle against adversity because Maggie was badly damaged in an arson attack on the club’s Thameside storage Nissen hut at the end of August 2006.
Club commodore Ian Mawson explained: “The fire was started deliberately to try to disguise the theft of a number of outboard motors but it destroyed many boats (some of which were antique) and damaged the rest.
“The hull of Maggie was badly damaged and the paintwork blistered from the smoke and heat. The Great River Race that year was only nine days away and our entry looked doomed to be withdrawn from the race.
However, four people led by club member Jeromy Sumner made the boat watertight and serviceable, albeit still displaying visible damage from the fire, and she came a very creditable ninth.”
Every year since, Weybridge has entered at least one crew in the race but they suffered another setback in 2009.
Maggie was leading as the race approached Kew Bridge. Unfortunately the half tide barrier at Richmond Lock had not been raised so the race marshals stopped Maggie for fear that she would reach the barrier before it was raised. That allowed the rest of the field to catch up and Maggie lost out on a good placing.
So this year there was an extra incentive for Maggie’s crew to set the record straight and she crossed the finishing line some 10 minutes ahead of the next boats, including Aggie, who came third 27 seconds behind the second boat.
Ian Mawson commented: “There were quite a few club members following the race on the water and a lot more waiting at the finish line – I think the crew’s were quite surprised to see so many supporters urging them on.”
Congratulations to both Weybridge crews – it’s great to see that persistence (and a considerable amount of skill) can still be rewarded.
MY old mate Doug (the ancient angler) Millson took issue with my last column in which I described the Thames in the 1950s as a ‘biologically dead river.’
He reckons there were far more fish in it then than there are now. Well Doug, I’m simply going on the official records – but I’d be really interested to hear from others about the relative merits of the Thames then and now. Does anyone else believe that the much vaunted ‘clean up’ of the waters flowing through Surrey and Middlesex has actually resulted in fewer fish to catch? Email me at mortsmith [at] trinitysouth.co.uk and let me know what you think.