Twenty-seven boats took part in the first ever Thames Trafalgar Race

The biggest fleet of yachts to take part in a race on the Thames took to the river last weekend for the inaugural Thames Trafalgar Race.

Jointly organised by the Little Ship Club and Erith Yacht Club, the fleet of 27 boats was split into a fast fleet and slow fleet to allow safe passage through the busy waters of central London.

Little Ship Club president Sir Robin Knox-Johnston took part aboard the Illingworth Maica Sloop ‘Chamois’, the biggest yacht in the fleet at 37ft and skippered by Iain Pickard.

Sir Robin said: ‘It was a great weekend on the water, with friends old and new. Just exactly what our sport is all about.

‘The Thames should be used more and we proved it can be done, safely and enjoyably.’

The smallest entry was Hunter Medina ‘Scamp’, from Greenwich YC at 19ft skippered by Steve Wilson.

Smooth sailing despite risks

The two-day stage race started for the Class A fleet just off Shadwell Basin at 1400 on Saturday. With slack water and light airs it was a slow start with three of the fleet still not having cleared the line after 14 minutes.

The Port of London Authority, and in particular deputy Harbourmaster Steve Rushbrook, were critical in ensuring the race took place.

River traffic was warned by London VTS on Ch 14, but race skippers needed their wits about them as two tugs with heavy tows negotiated their way through the fleet.

The Clipper ferries plying their trade were another hazard but race organisers paid tribute to the tugs and KPMG Thames Clipper skippers for their helpfulness on the day in slowing down and allowing the fleet safe passage through the busiest stretch of the race.

The towers of Canary Wharf on the north side of the river with the spikes of the O2 on the south cradled the fleet as they headed past Morden Wharf and round the O2 corner to the Thames Barrier.

With a race neutral zone through the Thames Barrier, the fleet was obliged to put engines on, drop any coloured sails and let white sails fly at the first marshall boat and past the second.

Once downstream of the barrier the river widened and the breeze picked up as the fleet headed down to Erith past the entrance to London’s Docks on the north side, Thamesmead and Belvedere on the south.

The ‘slow’ fleet had mostly finished by the time the fast fleet came across the finish line at Erith YC around 1800 on Saturday.

Celebratory supper

With a superb supper provided by the volunteer ‘Galley Slaves’ at Erith YC – remembering Trafalgar and Britain’s greatest naval victory – race day 2 dawned breezy and showery.

At 0830 a sharp downpour swept over London, prompting one of the smaller boats to retire from the race but that was all the rain for the day in London till after the race finished and the fleet started as one at 1000 from Erith to sail back to a finish off Greenwich.

Gusty conditions required some good boat and sail management but it was a fast passage with wind from the south east to south and the fleet were all safely finished by 1237 to head back to ports on the East Coast, or taking advantage of the berthing deal struck with St Katharine Docks to stay in London till next weekend for the race prize-giving.

The prize-giving takes place at the Little Ship Club on Friday 25 October at 8pm, results to be published shortly.

Pictures: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston at the race finish aboard Chamois and views of the fleet as they progressed through London. Credit: Rachel Hedley/Little Ship Club