Love of Trad Boat Festival Shines Through the British Weather

While the temperamental weather and strong winds put some plans at the Trad Boat Fest askew, the three days remained a celebration of upholding history through renovation and innovation of boats. Traditional boats, military vehicles, and even Dunkirk Little Ships filled the place with history able to be discovered by all if you asked the right questions to the right people.

The festival was described by many as the quintessence of British culture, from the historical elements, to the classic rain, to the ability to unwind with a cup of tea or enjoy some pub food. The award ceremony on the final day was a true commemoration of the hard work put in by boat renovators, with a fantastic atmosphere filling the marquee.

Despite the weather, visitors still came in droves as there is such a great fondness of this event both locally and from afar.  Unfortunately the air displays couldn’t go ahead and the wind also affected some of the boat parades on Saturday but there was plenty to see and enjoy including two large traction engines for the first time. The dog shows proved popular as always with winners given rosettes for most handsome male, prettiest chick, most regal and best trick.

Unpowered Historic Boats

The Thames Traditional Boat Society again brought their beautiful rowing boats including a beautiful 1882 gig which was donated to them this year.  It was made for the Rector of Streatley and it was found in one of their sheds.  It even has two perfect holes to fit wine bottles!  Another interesting unpowered boat exhibiting for the first time was an 1881 sailing canoe ‘Coeur De Lion’ which was originally owned by Baden Powell, the founder of Scouts. Many of these were owned in Germany originally where the Germans would take them on the train to sail them on the Rhine.  The canoe has only just finished being restored, arriving at 9pm on Thursday evening ready for the Trad.  Peter Simons, Treasurer at the Society said, “Membership of the society is just £20 per year and allows members to use the boats for a small hire fee.  If anyone is interested in traditional boats, this is the entry to come in at because you are part of scenery, you’re out there in the nature, getting good exercise, and it’s just wonderful.   The Society have been involved in the Trad probably from the start, it’s a wonderful jolly event. Like all these things though its weather dependent.”

Dunkirk Little Ship – Brown Owl

Another boat which caught our Editor’s eye this year, was a Dunkirk Little Ship (DLS), called Brown Owl as she herself is a Brown Owl at 1st Henley Brownies.  Owners Kevin and Jill Finn welcomed Michaela on board to have a look around and to find out more about her.  They had brought Brown Owl, sailing her all the way from Ramsgate to the Trad for the first time after buying her 12 months ago.  They have previously owned 3 other Dunkirk Little Ships, including Lazy Days who they regularly brought to the Trad.  Kevin said, “I saw her in a marina in Reading with two moorhens nesting on her in a shocking state and she was taking in water.  I sent a picture to Jill who asked have you bought her!  We’ve known her and always desired her and suddenly she came on the market.  We love owning a DLS as it keeps the history going and the education surrounding them as well as supporting the veterans.”

Over 12 months with the help of Dennett Boat Builders, Kevin and Jill have restored the outside steering position which disappeared during the war, replaced both the masts and removed all the gas appliances to make the boat safe.

Brown Owl is a 42ft. ketch-rigged, twin screw motor yacht built by James Silver at Rosneath, on the Clyde to the order of Captain RJ Sillars in 1928. She was named Brown Owl on launching and was first of the class named after her and built by the Silver Yard between 1928 and the War. This was a popular design costing £1,650 new, which was not cheap in 1928. She is the Brown Owl that, in November 1929, the famous Captain O.M. Watts navigated all the way from Rosneath through the Forth and Clyde Canal and down the East Coast to Chelsea, on the Thames.  Inside the boat, the layout is the same as the original with all the beautifully crafted furniture and cabinets. We loved the original flag display cabinet with all the original flags which Kevin and Jill joked that also used it items they kept mislaying including a pencil with P flag and nail file with the N flag!

Kevin said “It’s an amazing event, if you look at everyone here, all of boats from the tiniest to the largest it’s all about the passion.  As you walk up and down you see all the boat owners you can tell they have put their heart and soul into it.  That’s the joy of this.  We haven’t been for a few years and it’s brilliant to come back despite the weather.  Jill added, “They say it is a gathering of like minded people and sharing of stories. Doesn’t matter whether your boat is big or small, even if it is looking a bit tatty it doesn’t matter because it is loved and it is keeping the history going.”

Thanks and the Winners are…

As the sun was going down, visitors gathered in the Crooked Billet pub to hear who had won the prestigious trophies and to hear from Co Chairs Adam Toop and Lady Judy McAlpine.

Before presenting the trophies in 20 categories, Adam said, “As this is a quintessentially British event, I’m going to start by talking about the weather.  Last year I had beads of sweat dropping on to my shirt before I’d even said a word.  This year, we’ve all been over watered and over blown!  There is common theme – all of you have walked around with huge smiles on your faces and been incredibly positive and very British about the conditions.  And unlike other festivals, we didn’t cancel just because it was windy.  Thank you to Michael Shanley.  Without his trust this event wouldn’t be here today. We owe him and his foundation a huge debt of gratitude.”  He went on to thank volunteers, the committee, Grundon, Hamptons and Hobbs of Henley for the ferry service.  Adding, “We are absolutely committed to keeping the Thames Traditional Boat Festival as inclusive as possible when compared to anything else on this reach of this river. However, as site setup costs continue to spiral, we have handed out sponsorship leaflets.  If you could consider helping us, we would be delighted to discuss the many branding opportunities across the site.  Your support would be invaluable in helping to secure the future of this amazing event.”  We have a lovely newspaper this year thanks to Michaela at the Herald and Andy Cooper from European Consumer Claims who was the principal advertiser.  We think it made a big difference this year.”

Committee member, Cliff Colbourne who was responsible for the Water Space Management retired from the committee this year. Adam presented him with two cases of wine as a thank you.  Adam then gave thanks to Lady Judy saying, “Last year I announced a fundraiser to buy a cryogenic freezer so that we could preserve Lady Judy between Trads.  By way of an update, we sent her off for some pre-tests and they came back confirming that she isn’t actually a human after all, which didn’t come as a great surprise as she has an inhumane about of energy for someone aged 150.  That aside, we love her just the same and this event would simply not exist without her.”

Before the trophies were presented for best slipper, unpowered craft, best illumination, steam craft, best restoration, Lady Judy said, “These judges put a hell a lot of their own time in to making sure it all works and really working out who deserves a prize.”

Michael O’Brien and his boat Lockheed won the Best in Show.  Afterwards he said, “Thank you to some utterly amazing people who have helped me get here today.  It has been a huge team effort so there should be bunch of people up here who have been supportive, helpful.”  A full list of winners can be downloaded here.  Congratulations to all.

To conclude Judy added, “Thank you for putting such huge effort to make your boats so beautiful and without you there would be no show.  Thank you to Bill and Penny Rose who without them this show wouldn’t have survived as long as it has.”



Credit: Intro by Patti Gwiazda


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