Sep 23

Campbell 1 Downriver – Justin’s report

Sunday 22nd September 2019

A rainy day found the club in a dither: do we stay indoors and watch the end of England-Tonga on the nice comfy sofas, or get out there and face nature’s onslaught? Sailors at that point constituted Sally and a reluctant Mike. “Let’s call it in 15 mins,” said Jane SH. “If we get three willing sailors, we’ll give it a go.” Just as some of us were snuggling down into the sofas, enter Henry and an irresistible positive mindset! Further attempted dithering ensued but those of us listening carefully to the club’s Lords Pannick and Keen could see the balance was shifting inexorably towards a watery end. The President of the Court called it: “We’re going!” said Jane.

After the gun, the three sailors were neck and neck with zero wind but, happily, abated rain. By the time the safety boat (4 in a boat: Jane, Kev, me and daughter, Freddy) had got itself organised with much judicious paddling (turns out you need the engine on to drop it down!) and the kill cord finally shoved in, Jane zoomed down to the Star & Garter to find Henry had managed to sneak ahead of Sally with Mike trailing. It felt a little like we were in the doldrums, especially with the oppressive heat behind the clouds. We knew how England must have been feeling as they took on Tonga in the typhoon-induced humidity of Japan. But nil desperandum – a clever line by Sally brought her “roaring” past Henry as they came under the Putney car bridge, with Mike still playing the long game, clearly not wanting to exert himself too early in the race. He was seen cunningly taking on fluids between Putney car and rail bridges while the others thought only of albatrosses and shrinking boards in the stifling heat. Here though the widening river did provide a little space for King Aeolus to call forth his most gentle zephyrs and all boats began to move, without question, faster than the current.

Between Hurlingham and Wandsworth, Henry decided to try standing up to use his body as a second sail. This sort of skulduggery seemed to escape the wrath of the race officer but thankfully it seemed to make no difference as Sally sauntered on, Mike still saving himself. Hearts were warmed all round when we saw that the group on the foreshore in front of Hurlingham Club were not in fact cockle but litter picking. We felt sure it was the club committee members getting themselves dirty in the name of environmental protection… Some deft tacking at the house boats made us think Henry had nosed ahead but no. Seemingly it was a mere tromp l’oeil.

The early dithering and poor weather had meant we left later than intended so Jane had decided we would stop just past Wandsworth Bridge. There, in the glamour of the Cemex cement works, Jane and Freddy disembarked while Kev and I chucked out a buoy midstream. Just in time it turned out, as through came Sally with a roar of joy and much air punching, with Henry, as he had been all day, nibbling at her heels (most unseemly…). Mike seemed intent on keeping his powder dry to the last, like the proverbial Aesopian tortoise, but sadly for him today the hares were wide awake all the way. Sally asked for and received first prize and a gold star for getting top marks!

After a short break on the shore for martinis and daiquiris, Sally decided it was time to practise capsizing (possibly too many martinis). Thankfully just as we were all getting too hot in the sweltering heat, it started to rain. At this point Sally started to dream of buying a fold-away Red paddle board at £1200. To save Sally from herself, Jane called time for the race home (the tide having definitely now turned). Having decided to keep everyone on their toes with a fake horn blast, they were off. Sally and Henry were again very close together and Mike some way back. But there was definitely some wind now. After Kev engaged in some power boat training (with very little running aground) under Jane’s expert tutelage, we came back to check on Mike. Gusts were starting to give him some welly but in a lull he found time to tell us his tiller had come off under Wandsworth Bridge. He manfully hadn’t called for help though knowing it would have been sayonara to his chances in the race.

By the time we got to Putney train bridge, Sally had such a lead that she was almost at the car bridge. It seemed Athena Nike was smiling on her indeed but luck plays its part in any victory and by the time she had reached the other side of Putney Bridge, further gusts had caused Henry to almost catch her up. But Sally fought doggedly all the way upstream and found favour with fortune at last, taking the bell seconds before Henry.

Well done Sally, Henry and Mike for getting out there when lesser humans would have given it a miss. Thanks to Jane for pushing us all in the right direction. A good time was had by all!

Justin Pavry