Gordon Sims

 Gordon and Pauline took their old wooden cruiser "Chimere" up the non-tidal Thames in 2016, stopping off at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival on the way. This is what they found........

Thames boating in style!

There is something about wooden boats that stirs even the most glass reinforced heart. The shine of varnish, the elegant lines, or the sheer variety of traditionally built boats has a lure like no other. You may shy away from owning one (I don't blame you, the upkeep can be horrendous) but looking and admiring is the next best thing.

And where better to view traditionally built craft than the Thames Traditional Boat Festival held each year at Henley-on-Thames? Admittedly, these are mainly river boats - the sailing barges and smacks can't get this far up the Thames - but the spectacle is still there.

First held in 1978 as a rally for owners of wooden boats, time and increased popularity has brought changes. No longer is it an event where the public came to see boaters at play. It is now a day out for the public in its own right, with more than 10,000 people visiting over a long weekend in July.

Getting the balance between bank-side entertainment and the boating has been a major challenge for the volunteer organisers, one they have succeeded in achieving admirably. Onshore there are boat builder's stands, demonstrations, exhibitions, boat jumble, craft tents, food, a pub and live music 'till late on the Saturday night.

A Dunkirk Little Ship on parade

But it is really still about boats, attracting over 200 each year. Among the lovingly restored and maintained historic boats this year were the Dunkirk Little Ships, a first world war motor torpedo boat (they fired their single torpedo over the stern), and MTB 102 its WWII equivalent.

Add to these the steam boats, Edwardian launches, slipper-stern day boats, skiffs and cabin cruisers. All are traditionally built (no GRP or plywood allowed!) and many are truly veteran, some well over 100 years old.

Gloriana - the Queen's barge built for the Diamond Jubilee

The river is a scene of continuous activity: There are sail pasts with a commentary on each boat. There are featured boats like Bluebird K3 (attended last year but sadly missed out this year) and Gloriana the replica Thames Row Barge that has become a regular visitor. The magnificent steam launch Alaska usually runs a free scheduled passenger service. Many cruiser owners open their boats to visitors and take them on board for the sail pasts when they can.

But for stirring emotion you cannot beat the daily parade of Dunkirk little ships, often with veterans on board.

World War 1 Motor Torpedo Boat

One particularly poignant moment at this year's festival was to mark the deaths in the terrorist attack in France a few days earlier. A cruiser over from St Malo for the festival paraded with the two motor torpedo boats to the last post sounded by a bugler ashore. Not a dry eye among the spectators lining the bank.

Traditional craft take a lot of maintenance and there is a thriving traditional boat industry along the river to support the owners. Some of us do our own maintenance but those with the funds keep the yards busy. Want to restore an old boat? Re-varnish to a mirror finish? Refit the interior? The yards will welcome you. The money involved can get silly; one boat this year was restored at a cost of over a million pounds. Needless to say it won the trophy for best boat at the Festival!

"Chimere" - if you see us at the Festival, come aboard for a drink!

The 2017 Festival will on 14 to 16 July at Fawley Meadow, Henley, just off the Henley to Marlow road. Plenty of free car parking but an entrance fee of around £12 per person. Full information and a gallery of pictures from previous festivals on the official web site www.tradboatfestival.com

If you do visit the Festival, keep an eye open for "Chimere" and come aboard for a drink. We will be flying the GXSA pennant.


Traditional, restored or replica?

Or how to start an argument!

Traditional boats are generally agreed to be those constructed of traditional materials in a traditional way. Mainly that means wood, but can include riveted steel boats. Some are quite old - going back to the late 1800s - while others are quite new and are a testament to survival of skills and the continued interest in beautiful boats. Many of the older boats are from the latter years of traditional boatbuilding until costs and GRP forced its near demise.

Steam launch Alaska - a beautiful restoration

The real dissention starts over the question of restoration and when the result becomes a replica. Does keeping one plank from the original boat in an otherwise new build mean the boat is "restored" and can claim its age from the first build? Or is it a replica? Owners of restored boats can get quite touchy when asked how much of the original craft remains.

What the boatyards say is that if the rebuild takes place in the same volume as the original - ie the structure is replaced bit by bit - it is a restoration even if nothing of the original remains. If it is built alongside the original, it's a replica.

I'm not sure I agree, but it is good for a heated discussion, if nothing else!