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The Great London River Race 2015: Europe's most colourful and spectacular river race!

On September 12th over 36 Gig Clubs headed to London to compete in the annual Great London River Race. They joined over 300 boats from acrossthe UK and around the world to compete in the annual London River Marathon.

This is a spectacular boat race up the River Thames for over 21 miles attracting over 2500 competitors who range from dedicated regular racers to fun rowers and paddlers. Crews include barely-teenage Scouts to national champions. Groups as diverse as rowing clubs, councils, schools, livery companies, pubs, youth clubs, police, fire brigades and the Armed Forces all take part. A great variety of boats race up the Thames from Millwall Slipway to Ham House and include Cornish Pilot gigs, skiffs, cutters, currachs, jolly boats, naval whalers, Chinese dragon boats, Hawaiian war canoes, Viking longships, shallops, skerries, wherries and many more.

Gigs entered from clubs that include Helford, Bude, Boscastle & Crackington, Port Isaac, Rame, Tamar and Tavy, Clovelly, Dart Holland, Portland, Salcombe, Barnstaple, Weymouth, and Hayling Island. Service crews from HMS Raleigh (Torpoint), Britannia Royal Naval College and RM Tamar.

It is a great event - many clubs arrive on Friday to camp and join in the festivities at Thames Young Mariners in Riverside Drive, Ham, brilliantly organised by Vic Griffiths and the 14th Richmond Sea Scouts. On the Friday night a BBQ and band entertain the crews and their families. In the morning a fleet of double decker buses transport the crews across London to the start at Millwall Slipway. Last year three gigs entered from the small club of Port Isaac with their crews were dressed as Cornish Choughs. This year Unity, Roscarrock and Corsair will again be racing down the Thames in this hotly contested race.

Many crews will be striving to win the premier prize, the Challenge Trophy of The Company of Watermen & Lightermen of the River Thames, awarded to the first boat over the line, to figure in one of the 33 other classes or simply to finish and collect a much-prized participation certificate. The Race is run on a ‘slowest away first, fastest last’ pursuit handicap basis, meaning the last boat away will have to make up over an hour to win. Most will be raising money for charity, including the Race’s official 2015 charity, Seafarers UK, and many are sure to add to the spectacle of the Race by competing in fancy dress. The Race started from Millwall Slipway E14, at 10.45 am and the leading boat crossed the Finish line, below Ham House, Richmond, TW10, at around 13.40.

Stuart Wolff, Race Director and Founder of the Great River Race comments: "From humble beginnings in on September 3,1988 when our first Race attracted 72 crews from six nations, the public's imagination and interest has helped it become the international event it is today. From our first Race, 1988, when Roseland Gig Club posted the fastest time, until last year’s record 47 CPG entries, Gig Clubs have provided a colourful and highly-competitive core to the afternoon’s racing while joining in the social side with typical enthusiasm. We hope and expect this year to be no different.”

I ws coxing  Port Isaac men's crew , this year will be my eighth Great London River Race - it’s a tremendous event. It is great fun to compete with so many other crews on the challenging waters of the Thames which is still open for river traffic. This was my first attempt at coxing a challenging race. We did really well thanks to hard work by my crew and finished 4th in the Cornish Pilot Gig section and 21st overall. Am only glad I didn't hit anyone or anything and end up in a Specsavers ad. I can vouch from personal experience coxes are kept on their toes to choose the best line and the correct bridge arch. All the crews carry a passenger who has a very real role to play in encouraging the crews, keeping a lookout and joining in the rowing if they can. It’s a great spectacle and people crowd the bridges to cheer the crews on. After the race there is the prize giving and a great party that carries on until the early hours of the morning. You find the energy from somewhere. For any gig club that hasn’t participated it is well worth it. Just plan ahead and book early.”

Article first produced for Gigrower Magazine. Photography by Rob Powell.