Traditional Boat Rally 2013
15th July 2013
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The 35th THAMES TRADITIONAL BOAT RALLY will take place at Fawley Meadows, Henley, in mid-July this year as usual, and will be bigger and better than ever, after the unfortunate cancellation of last year's rally due to extreme weather.

Last year was the centenary of the launch of "Merck", the first ever slipper-stern launch, and we will be making a feature of 100 years of slipper-stern launches this year: hopefully getting boats from each decade. Freebody's Boatyard will be bringing a copy of "Merck", the original slipper-stern launch Classic Restoration Services are showing "Fixitor", beautifully restored by them. She is a turn of the century 'reliability launch', probably the earliest racing speedboat in existence (subject of an article in the June edition of Classic Boat magazine.)

We are also welcoming the Invicta Car Club who will be showing off many of their magnificent Invicta cars. Also the Healey Club are expecting to show both cars (Austin Healeys) and boats on land for the first time The Eccentric Club are to sponsor a trophy for the most eccentric traditional boat. The Club goes back over 200 years, with royal patronage: currently The Duke of Edinburgh.

Peter Greenfield of Watercraft magazine will be displaying the winners of the Watercraft Makita cordless canoe challenge from The Beale Park Boat Show. (Strictly not traditional, but a fascinating display!)

This year wil be the 30th anniversary of both the Thames Vintage Boat Club and the Electric Boat Association. Both will be very much present at the Rally! As usual there will be a mini fairground with rides for the kids, many arts and crafts stalls, a large boat jumble and lots of food stalls. And of course the usual incomparable display of traditional craft of all shapes and sizes, the primary feature of the Rally!

What is the Thames Traditional Boat Rally ?

The Thames Traditional Boat Rally is, simply put, a huge 2-day display of the very finest-looking traditional boats one can see. It was the dream, back in 1977, of a few keen boaters. Most of these were members of the River Thames Society, others were members of the Inland Waterways Association or Thames boat clubs. Their idea was to encourage owners of traditional craft to cherish and restore them to all their former glory, as well as to continue to use them upon the river. The Rally was to be both a meeting and a showcase for owners and craft, at one of the most beautiful spots on the River Thames, with various trophies and prizes awarded. Happily, it is still going, and becomes more spectacular every year.

The first formal Rally was held in July of 1978 at Fawley Meadows, Henley-on-Thames, and to re-capture that magical day visit our new "History of the Rally" exhibition in the Administration Tent. Since then the original aims of the Rally have been met in full and the number of traditional craft seen in daily use, on the Thames and elsewhere, grows year by year.

Restorations range from minor repair and cosmetic work to ruined hulks which have been completely restored to their former glory (as with "Alaska" below). Some are the products of highly skilled craftsmen in the Thames boatyards, and some are the results of many, many months of loving work by enthusiastic amateurs. Many fine examples of both will be on view at the Rally, and will take part in the many sail-pasts, when their origins and histories will be described by the commentators.

Alaska "Alaska" The beautiful steam powered passenger launch "Alaska", built in 1883 by Horsham & Co. of Bourne End, Buckinghamshire and shown here, is a good example. She was rebuilt over a period of several years from little more than a portion of the original keel by Peter Freebody's boatyard at Hurley and restored to all her former glory. You will have the opportunity to take a trip on this historic steamboat during the Rally weekend, as she will be providing trips for visitors.

What To See At The Rally 

The Rally is a huge display of traditionally built craft, of any age, both powered and unpowered. The very finest examples of British boatbuilding skills will be on display, together with some similar examples from Europe and the USA. A total of around 200 qualifying craft, ranging from slipper stern launches, gentlemen's day launches, steam launches, river steamers, sailing craft, vintage speedboats, skiffs, rowing boats, punts, unpowered and electric canoes, right through to vintage sea-going cruisers and many of the famous Dunkirk Little Ships attend each year.

The craft on display are driven by diesel, petrol, steam, electricity and of course human-power! Acres of wood, varnish, chrome and brass! Some of the craft attending come from ports and rivers elsewhere in the UK, and also from other European countries and the USA - the Rally is not limited to only Thames craft.

Also on display are a selection of vintage and/or classic cars (varies each year), an amazing collection of vintage bikes, including "penny-farthings", ridden by their owners, a large display of trade and craft tents, and much more (see below). And some years we add an aerial display, depending on the weather.

The Rally weekend is one that should not be missed by anyone who has an interest in the traditions of bygone years, or who is a lover of boats and boating of any sort. There a very full programme of events both on the water and on the riverbank. This starts with a very popular new event - a special "Welcome To The Rally" dinner on the Friday night, with live music and a featured speaker. Details are in the Booking Form in the documents pack. T

he Rally proper opens at 9 am on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday it runs late into the night with the Illuminated Parade followed by the dance (see below). On Sunday it ends after the Trophy Presentations, usually by 6 pm.

Throughout the weekend there will be continuous parades of all the many different classes of boats, including the " Association of Dunkirk Little Ships " (See photo left of "Tom Tit", an ADLS member) and the many beautiful craft of the Thames Vintage Boat Club .

When not out on the water, all the craft will be moored to the bank, and provide a spectacular sight as you stroll along the river bank. At the discretion of the owners, you may be invited aboard to look over the craft, or even taken for a cruise .

On Saturday the Rally opens with the sail-pasts, and the Boat Jumble opens around 10 am. There is a busy programme continuing until midnight, for those who wish to stay for the Illuminated Parade and for the dance in the Beer Tent (to a live band).

On Sunday the opening time is again 9 am, but the Rally closing ceremony takes place at around 6 pm following the presentation of all the Trophies. We provide an excellent printed souvenir programme, packed with information, which can be obtained at the gate or at the Registration Tent (near the commentators tent).

The Illuminated Parade

The ever-popular floating Illuminated Parade will take place on Saturday night as soon as it is dark, and will feature all those traditional vessels of any size and shape that wish to illuminate themselves by any (safe!) means and participate in the sail-past. In bygone years we have been treated to the most amazing spectacles embodying remarkable feats of adding lighting and special effects to boats, and we expect this year to be even better still.

Prizes will be awarded for the best entry in the two classes of (1) powered vessels and (2) unpowered vessels. Many people enter just for the sheer fun of putting up a few lights or lanterns, and just joining in with the spirit of the occasion, and we do encourage all traditional boat owners at the Rally to take this view. The more the merrier.

 Bank-side Attractions & Displays

Peter Freebody's Display Stretching along the whole length of the Rally site will be a spectacular display of craft tents, trade stands supplying materials and chandlery, antique chandlery, rare books, clothes, hats and shoes (nautical and otherwise), plus boat builders stands, where one can meet and talk to the experts and examine their work.

There will be "working displays", showing traditional boat-building skills in action, plus educational displays, and much more. The Thames Vintage Boat Club will be much in evidence as will the River Thames Society , the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships , the Thames Traditional Boat Society , the Steam Boat Association , the Electric Boat Association and other organisations, each with its own stand or display, and of course members' boats. You will have a chance to find out about them and join if you want to.

There will also be special entertainment for the children in the form of a traditional Punch and Judy show, bouncy castle, ice creams and candyfloss, and much more.

And there is more - keep reading!

Craft and Produce Craft Stand

This year we will have a large marquee for Craft and Produce with many exhibitors. This will include handmade jewellery, traditional food hampers, herbs, limited edition photography, vintage china, speciality cakes and chocolates, picnic hampers, custom stationary and gift wrapping, custom-made glass items, hand-painted ceramics, home-made preserves, embroidered items with a Thames theme, chilli oil, hand-made beaded jewellery, and more! Much of this is local produce. Come and browse, and try some of the free samples.

Vintage TricycleVintage Cars and Bicycles

Every year there is a large display of Vintage and Classic Cars provided by the Bean Car Club and others, laid out along the middle field in great splendour.. Also we are proud to host the Solent Veteran Cycle Club each year, with a fine collection of Vintage Bicycles, with everything from tricycles (see photo left) to penny-farthings. At intervals, the club members will ride them in convoy (and traditional costume) up and down the bankside.

 Music and Traditional Costume

The Costume Competition For music lovers a first-rate Traditional Jazz band will playing on the River bank. To add to the atmosphere you are invited to come wearing Edwardian or Victorian costume - if you have a boat in the Rally, then you might like to co-ordinate with the age of you boat and come as a crew.

Prizes are awarded (on Sunday afternoon) for the best costumes (see photo on right). And as dusk falls on Saturday, after the Illuminated Parade (see above), there will be a Saturday Night Dance in the Beer Tent, with a live band, until midnight. There is of course a fully stocked bar, open the usual hours, with seating both inside and out.

Ice Cream GirlsFood, Drink, and Making Merry !

For those who are happy to wander around at leisure there will be a good range of Catering stands, including Ice Cream, Burger Bar, Hot Dogs, Thai Cuisine and of course the large and indispensable Beer Tent, open all day, plus Saturday night when a live rock band will be playing until midnight. (I recommend the jug of Pimms).

 The Boat Jumble

The Boat Jumble On both Saturday and Sunday there will be a large Boat Jumble in the Lower Meadow, where many bargains can be found, for owners of both traditional and modern craft plus anyone else. Everything from dinghies and outboard engines, through navigational equipment and deck fittings, to rope, paint and tools can be found.

In keeping with the "traditional" theme, there will also be a number of stands with antique and traditional wares, chandlery, engine manuals, books, etc. (See photos in the Photo Galleries). Some of the items on sale are quite rare and exquisite, and some are of considerable age.

Childrens Entertainment

The Balloon Lady There will be a brilliant Entertainer who will put on 3 static shows each day and then wander the riverbank making balloons models and doing other tricks. And of course there is the ice cream van! Also children are welcome to dress up in Edwardian or Victorian costume to add to the spirit of the Rally, and also to go for a cruise (accompanied by an adult) on the steamer "Alaska".

About the Author

Gill and Phil C

Member since: 9th July 2012

Hi, We are Phil and Gill Chappell. We own the Best of Henley-on-Thames. We live in Henley so would love to hear your views and opinions about all things Henley.

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