26th September 17
Early on a crisp September morning, three boats worth of KAS staff and students assembled on the Thames foreshore ready to compete in The Great River Race.
The Great River Race, which took place Saturday 8 September, is an annual river marathon. It covers 21.6 miles from Millwall to Ham, and attracts competitors from all over the world. KAS’s three sailboats, Aethelgiva, Aethelfleda and Aethelswiva were among the 330 entries this year.
The race, which began in 1988, is for traditional fixed rowers only—no sliding seats are permitted. Vessels range from dragon boats to 19th century whalers to trans-Atlantic rowing ships. This year’s highlights included an enormous high-sided Dutch boat, a regal canopied barge, a racing scull on pontoons and a stand-up row boat. A dapper chap in a pedalo joined in at one point, but was quickly ushered off the course by race officials.
KAS has a strong tradition on the water, and the KAS Boating Club has long been flying its flag along the race course. This year’s boats were “The Old Masters” skippered by Will and including Head of KAS Robert, plus Penny, Chris R, Sophie, Dan L and Sheila; “Sam’s Bees” skippered by Sam, YR12 with Steve O and Susan assisting; and “Alfred’s Wasps” skippered by Isla, YR10 with Ed Dolling assisting.
For some of us, it was our first time rowing. A quick practice before the starting musket was fired helped get those of us lost at sea ready to row. The staff boat may have been rowing in circles at first, but the student boats were in great form as we pulled up to the start line.
And we were off! The start was frenetic, with magnificent boats of all description flanking us on every side. Choppy water took us by surprise as we approached our first bend in the river, but we were soon speeding along fast enough that the staff boat overtook both student boats. Before long we were gliding under Tower Bridge, the first of 28 bridges along the course. Stories from previous years about the humiliation of being towed in for falling short of the finish line before the tide turned kept us our oars in steady motion. By the time the staff boat reached Albert Bridge, we were rowing in time and pulling confidently through the water. As we passed the Fulham Football Club, the crowd roared—it may have been a goal, but we like to think it was a cheer for the KAS boats!
Being on the Thames and seeing London from the perspective of the boats was a great privilege. With three historians in the boat, our conversation turned to the landmarks of democracy and political heritage that we passed—Traitor’s Gate, The Palace of Westminster, London City Hall, The Putney Debates, Henry VIII’s haunts at Richmond—had we kept rowing we would have reached Runnymede where King John sealed the Magna Carta in 1215.
For spectators high above the river, the race was a stunning sight to be behold. KAS parents and staff came out to support us—Pauline, French and Lili, Library caught a glimpse of the boats near Putney. Edo, our chief race organiser, stopped to watch us pass from several bridges as he drove the van from the start line to the finish. On Battersea Bridge, Edo met a wise older woman who proclaimed, “this river should have all these boats rowing on it every day!”
After persevering through mid-course rain showers and a thunder storms, we reached the bucolic scenery of Richmond. Sophie, LS kept the Old Masters rowing with sea shanties and the sound track from Mary Poppins. We powered over the finish line in good form, finishing in 4 hours 10 minutes. After nearly 22 miles, the staff crew had come together as a team and learned to row the boat. The student boats were not far behind, rowing in strong and fast. We all made it to the finish line in good time-none of us were last and not a single KAS boat was towed!
The fastest boat in the race, the Felton Flyer, a St Ayles Skiff entered by the Blades Rowing Men’s Flyers finisher in 2.32.52. You can see all the race results including the KAS sister boats #26,#27 and #28 on the official race page.
All three boats were delighted that Robert, Head of KAS, joined our crew for the first time this year. Robert commented, “Taking part in the Great River Race with 300 other boats was a unique experience. There was something very special rowing through the centre of London past the Tower of London, the Southbank and the Houses of Parliament cheered on by crowds from the bridges and the riverbanks. Just as memorable was the great sense of camaraderie and teamwork from KAS staff and students, and the sense of achievement in gliding across the finishing point of the 22 mile course.”
Completing the race was only part of the day’s challenges. The hard work continued as staff and students loaded the boats onto the trailers, a task that involved mud, muscles, a puddle of epic proportion and more team work.
KAS students were in great spirits as they piled into the mini bus to drive over the bridges they had rowed under earlier that day. Shared pride in their accomplishment on the river was notable.
Well done to everyone who rowed in the Great River Race and especially to our Captain Edo who did the hard work to ensure the day was a Great River Success, not to mention a lot of fun!
Sheila, Higher Education and Archives