Richmond Businesswoman Dominique Day, RiverTribe’s About Town correspondent, and her crew play their part in the Great River Race. Here she describes the big day.
The theme is Mary Quant from the 60s and we’ll be wearing miniskirts and black and white hats,’ Nicola the Cox declared.
I’d just been accepted as a rower in this year’s Great River Race and I was hoping that my lack of experience would go unnoticed. I’d been offered a place on the team at the last minute and I knew I was chancing it. I’d been called ‘splashy’ at a recent rowing event and I felt like an imposter in a crew of seven expert rowers.
“Awesome,” I said to Nicola. Actually, Oarsome – the Oarsome Ladies crew – now complete, gathered at the White Cross to discuss strategy.
I gulped my pint as I contemplated the task in hand – a journey of some twenty miles from the wilds of Millwall Riverside through the haphazard meanders of the Thames to the haven of Ham House in Richmond.
I worried that I might topple backward in an undignified manner into the lap of the woman behind me – ‘catch a crab’- in marine parlance. But Julie, a seasoned sailor, advised me to ‘stick to the bow’ and keep my eyes fixed on the ‘stroke’ – the person nearest to the stern and usually the best rower in the crew and stay calm.
On the morning of the race if I feared to look bizarre in my Mod maquillage I needn’t have worried.
Fighting on the beaches to get to their boats was a motley crowd straight from a fantasy Armada. A procession of Norsemen scatters onlookers, King Arthur and his knights just behind them. Pirates with parrots on their shoulders trail behind half the Roman senate.
Then we were onboard, treading water, waiting for the start. Three hundred boats loitered in a fairly narrow river-space so ribald rivalry and banter was the order of the day. ‘I wanna hold your hand!’ sang the all-male boat next to us. Their name was lost to me in the noise of the scrum but it might have been ‘The Tormentors’ or the ‘In Seine Vets’.
And we were off, oars in sync, along the route of Shad Thames. The Oarsome Ladies propelled the craft between the glistening skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in perfect unison.
And before we could draw breath, there was Tower Bridge. As we shot underneath with the spectators gathered along the balustrade egging us on, ‘Go, Black-and-Whites, go!’
Faster than a Ferrari speeding along the Embankment, we passed the Houses of Parliament and the hidden mansions of Cheyne Walk. As I glanced up to take a sip of water I spotted the headquarters of MI5 in Battersea. On and on we went as the warehouses of Fulham slide endlessly past.
Suddenly, I heard the roar of the crowd. We had reached Hammersmith Bridge. This was rowing country and the riverbank gardens were thronged with people yelling encouragement – giving us a much needed second wind.
As the buildings receded and trees take over I knew we were almost home. We had been on the water for more than two hours now and were beyond exhausted. I’ve never been so happy to see the Richmond railway bridge. Then a split second later we saw the White Cross and the crowd went mad for us – a Richmond team. We felt like the Champions of the World returning home in triumph from the voyage of the century.