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Rowing the Great River Race 2013

The annual 21 mile Great River Race from Docklands to Ham House, Richmond has become known as London’s River Marathon. Here’s our story of novice rowers taking on the challenge!

We’ve watched the Great River Race from the safety and comfort of the shore on Richmond Riverside and Ham House in the past.

It’s an amazing spectacle of around 300 traditional boats from around the world taking on the challenge. Some are competing to win the coveted Challenge Trophy of The Company of Watermen & Lightermen. Others take part for the fun, competing for the best fancy dress prize. And everyone is fundraising for various charities.

Having joined a local traditional rowing boat club earlier this year we thought, why not give it a go? We were lucky enough to get a boat for the race at the last minute (they’re not easy to come by) but hadn’t quite realised that it wouldn’t be one of those beautiful, solid looking cutters you see people take out on the river from Richmond Bridge Boathouses.

No, our designated boat was a traditional Irish Curragh. It’s got a basic wooden frame, over which canvas is stretched to form a (more or less) watertight vessel. The oars look more like chopsticks than oars with blades!

But we took it on anyway and managed to row from the White Cross to the Anglers and back in training. The 21 miles from central London to Richmond was going to be altogether a different challenge.

We actually grew quite attached to the boat, and since it was Irish and our team name was Magical Merlin Heroes, we went with the whole magical green theme, complete with hats and the required flag.

The day itself was an incredible buzz of excitement and trepidation. The river landscape at Docklands is so very different to the gentle Richmond scene, everything is on a far bigger scale.

Rowing through Central London was an incredible experience, past iconic landmarks like Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. The cheering crowds, friendly banter with other crews and most all the constant tide helped keep up the momentum.

Richmond Bridge was a welcome sight, knowing the finish line – and a well deserved pint – was waiting just around the bend by Ham House. And before we knew it, it was all over – in 3 hours and 40 minutes to be precise.

The after-party, with a live band in the marquee, food stalls and kids entertainment was just the ticket for our crew of tired but happy – and proud – rowers.

And we’ve got the certificates to prove it – we’re officially members of The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of The River Thames no less!!

Plus our team managed to raise over £400 for our charity Merlin UK, not bad for last minute entrants.

I’d definitely encourage anyone to take on the challenge – you don’t need to be an experienced rower to do it. It’s the only chance you’ll get to row through London and be part of a really special day.

Since starting in 1988, The Great River Race has become the biggest and most prestigious event of its kind in Europe.