Our ‘Lass’ on the Thames…
Read Alison Hitching’s London Story below!
The ‘Lass’ In London
Easy Jet from Inverness to Luton was the mode of transport for the lucky ‘Coigach Lass’ crew last weekend to take part in the Thames ‘Great River Race. Milwall slipway at Docklands provided the launch pad for the start and 21 miles and 10 bridges later, Ham provided the welcome finish line. With 310 entries and over 2,400 competitors it is the biggest and most prestigious event of its kind in Europe.
The airborne crew (Ish and Alan Pendred, Sarah Last and myself, Alison Hitchings) were chaperoned on the flight by cheerleaders Sam Walton and Julia Campbell. Adopted ‘Lass’ rower and all round good guy, Tony Rawlings, had kindly towed the boat down the long road to London and he and his wife Pip had offered to pick up the crew at Luton. Traffic caused a delay in the pick up which allowed the finely tuned athletes just enough time to take on some fluids at the salubrious Luton Airport bar.
Such is the age we live in, Sam was able to take a picture of this and email it to terrify race manager Mark Irvine who had arrived early to do a recce. He was immediately on the phone in alarm that we might peak too early. Not so.
To emerge fully rehydrated from the terminal at Luton and see the ‘Lass’ on her trailer in the short stay car park with a backdrop of airplanes and control towers was a picture to bring a tear to a glass eye. Next stop was the Isle of Dogs and the Milwall slipway. Tony took the driver’s seat and Sam the navigator’s while the rest of the crew sat in the back practicing their cockney rhyming slang. Would you Adam and Eve it that an hour or so later, and with only one U turn, the ‘Lass’ had arrived at her destination and was carefully placed on the slipway ready for the race the next day.
The crew’s resting place for the night was an hour across London at the Thames Young Mariners Club in Ham which was also the finish point of the race. Tony negotiated the rush hour traffic with relative ease (even though he could now no longer see the boat-less trailer in his mirror) and if he was irritated by the cockney slang and gasps from us Hicks from the Sticks at the London landmarks, he didn’t show it. The crew were reunited with race manager Mark at Ham and were delighted that he had kindly erected all the tents for the team, registered the Lass and gathered all the meal tokens.
Hog roast, several pints of London Pride ale and a bop in the marquee set the crew up nicely for the next day’s rowing marathon.
After a breakfast of complex carbohydrates it was onto the bus and off to the Milwall slipway. It was an incredible sight to see all the classes of boat arriving and such is the tight organisation of the River Race Committee all 310 boats launched with relative ease through the smelly sludge and onto the Thames. The commentator at the slipway (who we felt could have done with a few lessons from David Green) asked if anyone present would consider being the required passenger on a Dutch boat. Forward stepped Sam resplendent in the kilt to whoops of delight from the Dutch ladies and we were suddenly a cheerleader down.
The race operates on a handicap system and the ‘Lass’ was given a start position of 106 which the crew felt was very lucky given that this is the number of Steve Husband’s croft in Achiltibuie. The first and second tranche of boats went off to the sound of canon fire and with jangling nerves it was the turn of the ‘Lass’ crew to jockey for position at the start line At 14:09 she was off! Tony did a magnificent job of coxing the ‘Lass’ through the 150 boats that were charging up the Thames and in no time she was powering along in relatively clear water after passing most of the early starters. Running the race upstream meant that the crew had the benefit of the prevailing flood tide – but the Thames was jabbly and the lashing rain soon soaked us through. Tower Bridge was negotiated and the cheers of ‘Lass’ supporters at Westminster Bridge got the glycogen converted back to glucose. As the crew passed the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben struck 3pm. A quick check at the soggy race instructions indicated that the Coigach Crew were seven miles into the race with 14 still to go -but the mood on the boat was determined.
Onwards the ‘Coigach Lass’ charged under Lambeth, Battersea, Wandsworth, Putney, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew and Richmond bridges. At varying points along the course cheers of encouragement could be heard from ‘Lass’ supporters who were tracking her progress closely. Occasionally, between sips of tea and mouthfuls of cake, Julia and Pip could also be heard shouting encouragement from their Thames ferry. With only two miles to go the faster dragon boats started to catch the ‘Lass’ up but such was the determination of the crew (and their fear of disappointing Mark, given he had the beer tokens) that the Lass powered past the finish line in a time of 2 hours and 55 minutes and finished a spectacular 44th.
Special thanks must go to our old china plates Tony, Pip and Mark for their attention to detail in organising the boat, accommodation and transport.
On the flight home the crew decided that the weekend was up there in a lifetime top 10. The ‘Lass’ is safely tucked up in Rutland and she returns to the ‘Buie in a fortnight- if she doesn’t meet a dodgy geezer in the meantime.
Alison Hitchings – ‘Coigach Lass’ crew, Achiltibuie.