DRC at the Diamond Jubilee Pageant
On 3rd June 2012, two coxed Explore quads from Deben Rowing Club had the pleasure of taking part in the Thames Pageant to mark the Diamond Jubilee of
Queen Elizabeth II.
The preparations for the Pageant took some weeks - firstly putting in the application, then selecting the crews and thinking about the positions we should all row in, working through lots of paperwork, not to mention what kit we should wear and how we should decorate our boats for the big event. Mark and Terry soon stepped to the fore with the suggestion that masts could be attached to each boat. From these we could then proudly fly our Pageant Pennant, as well as our fantastic DRC bunting (thank you Mrs Cooper!).
Most of us travelled down on Saturday, and our boats were dropped off at Thames RC in Putney, our boating point. Some camped in Chiswick overnight, while others stayed with friends or in hotels. As the rain poured down in the evening, we all hoped the weather would improve the following day.
Alas, Sunday morning also dawned grey and chilly, but down on the river bank in Putney there was still a great sense of excitement in the air. All of the participating boats had to be checked by the scrutineers, and then we had to put our masts, bunting and pennants up, as well as stowing away extra layers and emergency rations to last us through five or more hours on the water. Next to us, a women's crew from Henley were even putting together some flower arrangements to go on the bows of their boat - I hope the Queen appreciated them!
The river frontage was packed with spectators, rowers, dragon boats, press and even Boris Johnson was there being interviewed. Finally after hours of waiting, we were able to launch Deben Explorer and Pageant Explorer and head off with all of the other man-powered boats to our mustering point near Wandsworth bridge.
We had to wait for about an hour as the other boats in our 'squadron' also congregated, and as we waited for The Queen and other royals to board Spirit of Chartwell. This was our chance to chat to the other rowers, take some photos, have a snack and give a wave to those on the banks. At 2.15pm, with a whistle and a large puff of steam, the Princess Elizabeth engine started the proceedings and a great cheer rose up. We manned our oars and started to row up to just beyond Albert Bridge where The Queen was waiting, with the floating belfry and the royal barge, Glorianna, leading the way. There was an atmosphere of eager anticipation as we all rowed and paddled along trying to keep to the speed limit of 4 knots staying with the other Explore boats. It was amazing to be among such a variety of different vessels and there was a real buzz amongst us, with the steady beats of the drums on the dragon boats coming up behind us only adding to the excitement.
Soon we drew up level with Spirit of Chartwell on the opposite side of the river. Unfortunately there was too much of a gap between us and the front for us to hear the call of "toss your oars", but we certainly heard the cheers that followed. I contented myself with giving the Queen a big smile, even though she was too far away to have been able to see it!
Until this point, all of the boats had tried to stick to the original formation, but as we started to pull away again and went through points where the river narrowed or under the smaller bridges, things became increasingly chaotic. A good humour was maintained by all, however, and Terry and Catherine did a wonderful job of guiding us along despite the fact that they could often barely be heard above the noise of the crowds on the banks and the horns and drums calling to each other from the boats on the river.
There was a real sense among all of the boats that we were part of something special, and passing by many of the famous sites of London did nothing to dispel that feeling. It's not everyday that you get to row almost underneath the London Eye, through Westminster, along the Southbank, past Tate Modern and St Paul's Cathedral, through the central arch of Tower Bridge and practically under the bows of HMS Belfast - I enjoyed every minute of it. There were always so many things to look at both on and off the river, as well as the vast crowds of people watching and holding parties on their balconies, that there was never a moment to feel tired or think about aching muscles.
The official finish of the Pageant was at Tower Bridge, but we still had another couple of miles to row until we got to London Yard where we could disembark. As we rowed past the beautiful ships in the 'Avenue of Sails', the weather took a turn for the worse and the rain started to pour down. Either Mark had his eye on his dry clothes and a cup of tea, or he was determined to beat the other DRC crew back, but suddenly I felt the pace being lifted above the genteel 4 knots that we had been doing previously. As the river widened and the rain poured, so the waves suddenly seemed choppier and there was little comfort to be gleaned from the sight of the top of Canary Wharf disappearing into the cloud.
Still, row on we must, and row on we did, drawing solace from the fact that we were getting closer to Glorianna and the floating belfry. There will still sights to be seen - the Cutty Sark and Maritime Museum in Greenwich - and perhaps most movingly, there were still people cheering us on, even though there was not much to see. If those on the banks huddled under their umbrellas felt there was still something to cheer about, then we must all have done our bit to make a truly special occasion come to life.
Thank you to everyone who made it happen.