All About The Great River Race: The Background


From its debut in 1988, The Great River Race now has firmly established itself in the sporting calendar to such an extent that experienced crews describe it as a classic event - the one they all want to win.

And with its intriguing mix of colour, spectacle, intense competition and casual fun, it combines all the ingredients that made London's 'other' marathon such a success; but with the addition of dozens of great photo opportunities as the race progresses from the striking Docklands skyline at the start, through central London until it reaches its semi-rural Surrey conclusion.

The Great River Race attracts both the true racer and the leisure rower and, in developing into 'London's River Marathon', is doing for rowing what the 'Road Marathon' did for running. Not surprising when the course is a gruelling 21 miles from London Docklands to Richmond.
Mike Turk lays down a challenge.
Mike Turk lays down the gauntlet and challenges all comers to the first Great River Race
It was inspired by the immense interest generated by a 1987 charity event in which the famous Doggett's Coat & Badge winners from The Company of Watermen & Lightermen rowed its shallop, or passenger barge, from Hampton Court to The Tower of London.

The idea that emerged was to find the UK Traditional Boat Champions by issuing an all-comers challenge to beat the Doggett's men - racing on a handicap basis. Entries were restricted to traditional-style, coxed craft powered by a minimum of four oars or paddles. And, in keeping with the Company's historic responsibility to apprentice and licence Watermen to carry passengers on the tidal Thames, each boat had to carry a passenger.
The coat of arms of the The Company of Watermen & Lightermen
The coat of arms of The Company of Watermen & Lightermen
To give all crews an equal chance, entrants were handicapped according to the calculated potential performance of their boats. This was done on a scientific basis, using naval architects' calculations and a sophisticated computer programme. And, to add spice to the contest, it was to be run on a 'slowest away first, fastest last' pursuit basis, with every boat individually timed over the course. Despite a start line handicap period of well over an hour, some close racing was expected - and achieved.

The winners on handicap would hold, for one year, the handsome Challenge Trophy of The Company of Watermen & Lightermen - featuring a mounted original Watermen's badge - issued to William Savage of Gravesend in 1803.
Mike Turk presents the first trophy to Will Kitchener of Scarborough Amateur RC.
Mike Turk presents the first trophy to Will Kitchener of Scarborough Amateur RC