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The Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant - The Diary of a Safety Boat

By Barry Holme

A view from a Safety RIB - MOR DEN 2.

What a fantastic, Incredible Pageant for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee held on the river Thames on Sunday 3rd June 2012. An event never to be repeated in my lifetime.

The largest event of the Diamond Jubilee weekend, with over 1,000 vessels taking part Included in this were Man-powered Boats, The Royal Squadron, Dunkirk Little Ships, Historic Boats, Steam Boats, Leisure Motor Boats, Narrow Boats, Passenger Boats & Barges, split into 10 Sections and accompanied by Barges and Vessels with The Royal Jubilee Bells, Bands Choruses etc. An Avenue of Sail below Tower Bridge included Tall Ships, Fishing & Cargo Boats, Yachts and Tug & Working Boats. All the services were represented and of course over 50 Safety Boats.

The selection of Safety RIBS for the Jubilee started in 2011 with the organisers of safety for the man-powered flotilla (Northern Exposure Rescue) requesting details of RIBS and crews. These were then forwarded to the relevant authorities (Metropolitan Police et al) for vetting. MOR DEN 2 was one of those Safety RIBS selected to be at the Jubilee.

Traditional Waterman's CutterA week before the event a Briefing Meeting was arranged at the Datchet Sailing Club. To be attended by all those participating in the Safety of the Man-Powered Fleet – NER, PLA Harbour Master(s) and all Safety Fleet skippers. Facilities here are very good with a large meeting room able to accommodate all personnel. The Safety fleet was split into 9 Sections with a Safety Officer for each Section with particular responsibility for different types of rowing or paddling craft. MOR DEN 2 was allocated to the leading squadron of Traditional Waterman's Cutters & to be positioned at the starboard rear quarter.


Where to launch was a consideration - especially for a 3 Tonne RIB. The majority of RIBS were to launch on the slipway and hard at Putney. We however opted to launch on the slipway at Kingston on Thames. Although narrow it allows a controlled launch & recovery into the non-tidal Thames. There is adequate parking close by either on the street or riverside – this was facilitated by the appalling weather as there were not many people just out for the day beside the river!

Now where to leave MOR DEN 2 overnight in relative safety? The Environment Agency were most accommodating and agreed that we could moor within the confines of the lock at Teddington (limit of the tidal Thames) – as was mentioned this should make it more difficult for the local toe-rags!! A launch Certificate and Licence was obtained at the lock and this included mooring, for one night (in the end this was for two nights). We ourselves had booked into the new Travel Lodge at Teddington, some 25 minutes’ walk from the river – I don't think we shall be going back there! Expensive, very basic and attitude.

Teddington Lock from the Kingston SideWe launched successfully, parked the car (wheel locks etc.) and slowly made our way to Teddington Lock.

As with most things boating – and although all had been arranged, nobody had thought to tell the lock keeper! However he was most helpful and pointed out we would be best to moor on the topside of the lock (left of picture next to lock) in relative safety and we could lock through the following morning. This lock is run by the Environment Agency and is 24/7. The lock keeper assured me that the lock would be full (of water rather than boats) at 0700hrs the next morning especially for us – and it was.

We repaired to a local hostelry to keep fluid and food levels at a consistent level.

The Travel Lodge is a short 25 minute walk through Teddington High Street where several of the RIB teams were staying the night. Two teams even managed to park their RIBS on the second floor of the multi storey hotel car park – had to go up the exit ramp! That evening we dined together at a restaurant just around the corner.

Tomorrow was going to be a long day – it was considerably longer than we anticipated!


Richard and Penny0600hrs: – raining – this was to be the weather for the day!

We left the hotel just before 0630hrs and walked to the lock. We, being three generations of Holme's, myself (skipper), Penny (crew), Richard (diver & crew), Taiesha ( photographer).

0700hrs - the lock was full and open for us to proceed. We locked through in the gloom of dawn and steady drizzle. An 8 knot passage (Speed Limit), should allow us to reach Putney by 0900hrs. Below the lock we met up with some of the RAFSA crews and RIBS who had stayed overnight at the Young Mariners Centre at Ham. We helped by ferrying a crew across the river to the other side where there RIB was moored. Then on to Richmond and the Richmond Half Lock. All very quiet on this rainy Sunday morning. Taiesha and BarryBelow Teddington Lock the Port of London Authority (PLA) is in charge of the river, and a PLA launch can usually be found moored at the Richmond Lock. The river below was very low (Spring Tide) and so we had to lock through. At high water there is free-flow and locking is not required.

Knowledge of the river, chart plotters and echo sounders were all to play an important part of our navigation down river. It was extremely shallow! The channel is marked by port and starboard buoys – some were lying on their sides! Even though we were well within the channel we still brushed the bottom near the entrance to the Grand Union Canal at Brentford. There is a shifting sand bar here and water depth decreases rapidly to under 1 metre for some  2 to 3 metres at low water.

Below Kew Bridge we were accosted by a PLA launch that enquired if we were a safety RIB for the Pageant – did we have our flags etc.? We pointed out that these were to be given to us at our briefing, when we arrived at Wandsworth Riverside Quarter Pier. He warned us to be careful as the river was low and they had already towed several vessels after they had gone aground. Now he tells us!

Patriotic Safety RIB at Putney Slipway0900Hrs - arrived at Putney to witness the rest of the safety fleet launching. It looked very interesting launching the larger RIBS, with several 4x4 experiencing wheels slipping and sliding at the bottom of the slip.

Progressing further we soon arrived at our briefing stop Wandsworth Quarter Pier and moored alongside another red 8 metre Ocean “Barbarian”, almost a matching pair except for MOR DEN 2's “greenhouse” - much admired and envied by other crews, as it continued to rain!

The cafe/coffee house did good trade with warming drinks etc, and was a suitable, final “potty” stop. Most of us sat outside under their sun umbrellas – keep the rain off as well!!

We signed in and collected our Jubilee Flag, NER Safety Flag, Pageant Tabards, Call Signs etc. at the final briefing. We had been informed that “boarding passes”, which had been posted to us, must be shown with photo ID to allow us to be part of the pageant – um! Pageant staff to issue us with security wristbands – they never appeared!

Nearly 1030hrs  - we cast off to return up river to near Kew Bridge and Dove Pier to ensure there was safety cover to all vessels and personnel who were arriving and mooring before the pageant. The Historic vessels and hard boats had been moored on “trots” overnight. Their crews were being ferried to them by large RIBS that normally do RIB excursion rides.

Soon after arriving, the narrow boats came up river and moored on their allocated positions.

Narrow BoatsAs 1200 noon arrived all man-powered vessels started to move down stream, to take up position at the head of the pageant below Wandsworth Bridge. Mooring/Holding ropes had been laid on both sides of the Thames for this purpose.

Everything was orderly and there was a growing sense of anticipation from the assembly of rowers, paddlers et al.

The whole ensemble was brought to life by the steam engine, Princess Elizabeth, standing on Chelsea Railway Bridge. A loud blast of its whistle started the proceedings and then amidst a considerable amount of steam and whistle blowing she reversed promptly off the bridge.

Crafts of All Shapes and SizesRowing commenced:-

The order of the man-powered flotilla became a little blurred – not only the rain on my glasses! Waterman's cutters mixing it with lifeboats and gigs, however all maintained a respectful distance from each other and followed the new Royal Barge “Gloriana” and the PLA launches. Speed had been set at 4 knots but rarely exceeded 3.5 kts. Mainly I believe as an easterly wind was making progress more difficult for the rowers on “Gloriana” - no large diesel engine to help them!

Most of the National Newspapers have views of the flotilla progressing along the river under captions such as “The Armada”.

The Man-powered fleet passed the Queen and Royal family at Cadogan Pier where they had boarded the “Spirit of Chartwell”

All oarsmen and women saluted the Queen with oars held vertically and 3 cheers.

The Safety RIBS were prepared for an odd bump or two, with so many vessels in such a confined space – but this was not to be – all behaved. As expressed by some Safety Officers - “this is a non-contact event”. Congratulations to all crews for ensuring such an orderly pageant – perhaps a lesson for organisers at other events. Any stragglers who could not keep up were quickly and efficiently taken in tow.

Shortly after Blackfriars Bridge we were detailed to the rear of the man-powered section to help tow any further stragglers. It was not long before our first customer, a skiff with father & son and two young friends were taken in tow. Next were the girls in the Atlantic Rowing Boat – this is becoming something of a habit, as we towed them at The Great River Race last year!!!! Apparently rowing the Thames is harder than the Atlantic – their words not mine!

Under Tower Bridge (salute to Great Grandfather) and through the Avenue of Sail and the end of the Pageant as such.

We crossed to the South Bank of the river to release our charges to enable them to enter South Dock their dispersal point. The skiff we were towing was to return with us to Putney but the girls were to row into the dock. By this time the crew of the skiff were beginning to look very cold and wet. The two young lads we put ashore to meet up with their parents and the young son was pleased to go in our cabin for the return journey. The rain was teeming down and anybody exposed to the elements was becoming increasingly chilled.

The Long Tow back to PutneyWe were then asked if we would tow 2 Sea Scout “Gigs” back to Putney? We strung the Sea Scout Boats astern and the skiff on our starboard quarter. Richard volunteered to be coxswain in the rear boat to facilitate our journey up river – I am not sure if he has forgiven me yet!? He did say that the large passenger vessels were “quite close” at times!

The rowing crews waiting to disembark at South Dock and Millwall were left in the rain (the girls had still not locked in 1 hour after arriving) and cold for some considerable time and hypothermia had begun to set in. An unfortunate end to the pageant.

We towed our own “fleet” back through the centre of London at 6 knots – any faster and the skiff started to take on water. Above Westminster Bridge several large hard boats - “historic” - passed us at speed causing an already choppy water to become more so. The Speed limit here is only advisory – but a little courtesy would have been helpful!

Soon after Chelsea Bridge we observed a fleet 40 to 50 Safety RIBS preceded by a PLA launch rapidly catching us, this was an impressive site.

Approaching Wandsworth Bridge the “piece of string” on the skiff, that doubled up as a painter could take the strain no longer and parted. Many thanks to RIB “Vortex” who was immediately astern and took the skiff in tow for the final mile to Putney.

I had forgotten how far it is from South Dock to Putney, seemed to take forever at 6 knots.

Cold and Wet Sailors!We arrived at 2000hrs and swiftly offloaded our passengers into the RIB of Chris Lowe and Chris Dunn – they did not spend all the day cosseted in a PLA launch! The Sea Scouts boats were also released to their moorings.

We now followed the PLA launch and RAFSA RIBS back up river, where at Richmond Lock we managed to catch up with them and we all locked through together. It was now becoming dark and by the time we reached Teddington Lock it was very dark.

We locked through with two /three other RIBS who were going on to Thames Ditton. We called it a day and left MOR DEN 2 in the capable hands of the E.A. at the lock. Time now 2230hrs and still it rained!

Back to the Travel Lodge the evening meal was beer or wine and crisps!

Monday we recovered MOR DEN 2 on to its trailer and returned home, arriving just in time for the village street party.

We enjoyed the occasion, once in a lifetime, but it was a long wet day. The Royal family who stood and watched the whole event, showed us all how it should be done.

Spectators were everywhere, on the banks on the balconies etc. for the whole length of the river – amazing.

Chris Lowe from NER organised a flotilla of 50+ Safety Boats to ensure that the Man-powered section was looked after at all times. This is quite an undertaking on its own – the organisation was exemplary. All shapes and sizes of RIBS were involved – 4.2 metres to 10 metres and engine sizes from 40 to 300Hp – in fact a RIB for every occasion.

All pictures taken by Taiesha Holme.

Barry Holme

June 2012

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