Boat Festival Back to Full Throttle in the Sunshine

The Thames Traditional Boat Festival was back to full throttle last weekend with the river full of boats, classic cars and bikes on land along with vintage aeroplanes in the skies.

With the temperatures soaring, big crowds still came out to see this quintessentially English festival on the banks of the River Thames at Fawley Meadows.  Throughout the weekend there were displays of all types, from slipper launches and skiffs to steamboats and Dunkirk Little Ships to the well-loved amphibious vehicles.  All the boat owners showed off their passion for conserving their beautiful boats on display with many entering their craft for judging to try and get their hands on the coveted trophies presented on Sunday afternoon.  Each evening there was live music in the pop up Crooked Billet pub and on Saturday night there was an illuminated parade of boats.

Back to its best was also the military display of vehicles and equipment.  The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight air displays wowed the crowds, particularly the last one on Sunday when a Lancaster bomber flew low over the town and river a number of times.

Prince Michael of Kent visited the Festival on Saturday with Festival co-Chairs, Lady Judy McAlpine and Adam Toop giving him a tour of the displays.  He was very interested in the judging process that was in full flow at the time of his visit and, as Honorary Admiral of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, he was keen to spend time with them on the upper meadow.

Co-Chair, Adam Toop at the awards ceremony said, “It’s been an amazing weekend and an absolute delight to see so many familiar, smiling faces.  Whether you’re an exhibitor or visitor, whether you’ve bought a boat or bike, none of this would have been possible without you.  It’s a truly special gathering of some amazing people that come together, once a year, to produce this unique event that is undoubtedly my favourite weekend of the year.

The sponsors allow us to commit to costs and to build the facilities which otherwise we would not be able to do as confidently before a single ticket is sold.  Michael Shanly has been with us through thick and thin and continues to provide the most amazing support, Grundon are an incredible source of support too.  Thank you also to Hobbs of Henley for running the ferry service again this year“.

“Our costs have gone up too, but it was a conscious decision by the Committee to leave every single price unchanged from last year.  We can’t promise it for next year.  But the ethos behind this event remains one of inclusiveness – about making it affordable as ever it has been – the most accessible event on this reach of the Thames.”  He thanked the Committee members, the judges, volunteers for working all hours in the heat, Solent Cycle Club and the water safety boats.

Afterwards he added, “The Committee are absolutely delighted to have received so many kind messages of thanks following the 43rd Thames Traditional Boat Festival.   On the water, we enjoyed several interesting new entries – boats that had not attended before.  The large number of amphibious craft were also as popular as ever.  Skyward, a Hurricane drew cheers as it performed a flypast on Saturday, upstaged only by the sheer scale and noise of a very rare operational Lancaster Bomber that treated everyone to a number of low flypasts on Sunday.  Special thanks also to Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta for the use of Fawley Meadows.

TV Presenter, Edd China presented the awards and was the winner of The Sir William McAlpine Trophy for engineering presented, by Lady Judy McAlpine. She said, “Edd is teaching youngsters what beautiful engineering is all about and I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”

There was also a new award in 2022 in memory of Bill Rose, the highly respected vintage boat collector and restorer, the judging criteria for which is ‘elegance underway’.  Bill’s widow, Penny with the help of boatbuilder Colin Henwood designed and made a beautiful wooden trophy complete with a wooden box.  The winner of this important award went to Scalopendra owned by Graham Mackereth.

The Best Boat in Show and 3 other awards were won by De Zwaan (the Swan) (photo below), a Thames skiff built by Hart and Co. of Surbiton around 1860.  In later life she was taken to the Netherlands, eventually falling into a very poor state before being meticulously restored by her current owner, Marcel Linssen.  Adam added, “It takes something very special for a professional boatbuilder to win four categories.  It is truly exceptional for an amateur to achieve this.  Upon collecting his final trophy at the prize giving ceremony, I suggested to the audience that Marcel should consider retiring from dentistry. They laughed. He nodded.”

It was the second time Marcel from near Gouda in Holland had won the overall trophy.  He last won the trophy in 1997 with his single skiff.  He said afterwards, “It took 10 years of restoration as it was complete wreck.  Somebody else should win it now.  Although it is reward for all the work you do. I’m very honoured to receive it.  It is all about maintaining boats and using them and taking them to events like this.  If the boats are not used, they are just like keeping them in a museum.”

At the Awards ceremony Lady Judy McAlpine told the audience that she had asked Adam if he would like to become co-Chair a few years ago and he said he didn’t have time.  She commented, “I have to say for someone who didn’t want to do the job don’t you think he’s doing remarkably well?”  Afterwards she added, “I thought it was the best yet. Owing to a few good sponsors, a huge amount of work from a few volunteers and contractors, it looked good, the weather was wonderful, and we made a lot of people very happy.  The highlight was definitely the Lancaster (despite it being nominally a “boat” show).”

“The worst result of the warm weather for us was that the bouncy castles were deemed to be too hot for kids to slide on.”

“Watch this space for an even better TRAD next year! Thanks to all who came and all who helped or contributed.”