Words and pix by Rachel Hedley / Little Ship Club

A big fleet of yachts took to the river for the inaugural Thames Trafalgar Race.

Jointly organised by the Little Ship Club and Erith Yacht Club, the fleet of 29 boats was split into a fast fleet and slow fleet to allow safe passage through the busy waters of central London.

Little Ship Club president Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was sailing aboard the Illingworth Maica Sloop 'Chamois', the biggest yacht in the fleet at 37 feet and skippered by Iain Pickard.

Sir Robin said, "It was a great weekend on the water, with friends old and new. Just exactly what our sport is all about. The Thames should be used more and we proved it can be done, safely and enjoyably."

The smallest entry was Hunter Medina 'Scamp', from Greenwich YC at 19 feet skippered by Steve Wilson.

The two day stage race started for the Class A fleet just off Shadwell Basin on October 18th. With slack water and light airs it was a slow start with three of the fleet still not having cleared the line after 14 minutes.

The PLA, and in particular Deputy Harbourmaster Steve Rushbrook, had been critical in ensuring the race took place. River traffic was warned by London VTS on Ch 14, but race skippers needed their wits about them as two tugs with heavy tows negotiated their way through the fleet.

The Clipper ferries were another hazard but race organisers paid tribute to the tugs and KPMG Thames Clipper skippers for their helpfulness on the day in slowing down and allowing the fleet safe passage through the busiest stretch of the race.

Race officer Robert Hall said: "We're extremely grateful to the PLA, London VTS, the Thames Barrier control staff and the regular skippers of tugs and Clippers for their assistance in helping this first race go so smoothly."

With a race neutral zone through the Thames Barrier, the fleet was obliged to put engines on, drop any coloured sails and let white sails fly at the first marshall boat and past the second. Once downstream of the Barrier the river widens and the breeze picked up as the fleet headed down to Erith past the entrance to London's Docks on the north side, Thamesmead and Belvedere on the south.

The 'slow' fleet had mostly finished by the time the fast fleet came across the finish line at Erith YC around 1800 on Saturday.

Race day 2 dawned breezy and showery.

At 0830 a sharp downpour swept over London, prompting one of the smaller boats to retire from the race but that was all the rain for the day in London till after the race finished and the fleet started as one at 10.00 from Erith to sail back to a finish off Greenwich.

Story dated October 24th 2013