Coachlines - April 2018

22.04.18 Colin Parlett

A day to remember

HM The Queen's vessel for the Jubilee pageant

HM The Queen’s vessel for the Jubilee pageant

Di and I are keen narrowboaters so we were absolutely thrilled to be selected by ballot to be one of the 40 narrow boats chosen to join the 1,000 boats celebrating HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in the River Thames Pageant in June 2012, writes Colin Parlett. Initially we had been part of a practice run in 2011 testing the feasibility of mooring to buoys on the Thames near Chiswick and checking the timings at each bridge.

Once we had been chosen the planning began in earnest with boat painting and servicing, planning our decorations, selecting our crew all relatively easy; unlike the passage planning and working out how much warp we would need on our anchor, enough to reach the deepest part of the Thames. After much thought we decided to decorate Dragonfly with very large playing cards depicting the Queen of Hearts and the Queen of Diamonds.

There was much work put in behind the scenes culminating in three practice runs in May 2012. Our squadron gathered from far and wide, new friendships were formed and much fun was had among the hard work. It really is quite difficult to travel eight abreast and in formation!

The weather on the day presented a number of challenges

The weather on the day presented a number of challenges

On the Friday before the event we travelled in convoy joining the Thames at Limehouse and travelling the short distance to West India Dock where we moored in the shadow of the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Here we had our first inspection – documents, passage plan, engine, horn, you name it they checked it! The next day was preparation and open boat day. We welcomed many friends aboard, including Junior Warden Sarah Adams-Diffey and Liveryman John Glasswell along with his delightful artist wife Patricia, for a glass of bubbly and to view all the moored boats.

Pageant day arrived with an early start, locking out at 7am to travel down to our moorings near Chiswick. This trip gave us the opportunity to view so many of the different craft participating from tiny coracles, skiffs, Waterman’s Cutters, gigs, cruisers, steam boats, Dunkirk Little Ships – the list goes on… Finally, moored on the buoys six abreast, our last inspection took place to check we didn’t have any stowaways aboard, that the engine started and our Captain was not under the influence of anything! We were then given our pageant flag to fly, now a treasured possession.

40 narrow boats joined the 1,000 vessels celebrating HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

At our allotted take off time, horns blasted and we were off on the most memorable 75 minutes of our boating life. Immediately there were people lining the riverbank and bridges, and with flags flying, horns blowing, cheering and shouting, the reception was unbelievable. Sadly the rain started shortly after we set off, light to start with but quickly moving to a downpour coupled with plummeting temperatures. None of this dampened the enthusiasm of the boaters or our audience. Our straight lines became somewhat wavy but nevertheless we were having the trip of a lifetime. We were so proud to sail past Her Majesty and Prince Phillip who was still at his station as we passed. Following our leader we dodged our passage plan and passed under the main arch of Tower Bridge.

We continued downstream and joined what became known as the Thames Barrier merry go round. All boats were kept moving in a huge circle by the Port of London Authority, some were waiting for the barrier to be opened, while others like ourselves waiting for our turn to lock in to West India Dock. Everyone was cold and damp taking turns at the tiller while the galley slave kept us fed and watered. Sadly the weather took its toll on many of the crews in open boats and many blue lights could be seen at the riverside. Eventually moored up at 23.00, too tired to join the parties, we battened down the hatches and raised our glasses to Her Majesty and a fantastic day.