Physicist swaps optics for oars during the jubilee river pageant
7 June 2012
While many of us experienced Sunday’s river pageant bunched up along the crowded Thames, staring at the head of the spectator in front, Professor Chris Phillips from the Department of Physics enjoyed the very best of views, from the boat he was rowing near the front of the aquatic procession.
Chris and the rest of the crew, the Vineyard Voyagers, made up of dads from his children’s school, were powering a modern facsimile of a nineteenth-century Thames waterman’s cutter – the ‘white van’ of the Victorian Thames, according to Chris. Their prime position saw them helping to set the pace for the whole flotilla in the front row of cutters, behind the pageant’s flagship the Gloriana, and ahead of over 1,000 boats.
Chris says the crew increased their training before the jubilee weekend: “We already take part in races but this time we had the challenge of both keeping our speed up and rowing in formation so we tweaked our training schedule. We went from spending some time on the river and most of our time in the pub, to doing the opposite. Knowing you’ll be watched by a million people and have several hundred boats bearing down on you will have that effect!”
In total, including the trip to get into position for the start of the Flotilla, the crew covered over 22 miles in the cutter over six hours. The highlight, however, came upon reaching central London.
Chris said: “Hearing all of the cheers from the banks of the Thames was fantastic. When we’re racing we always get a lift from the crowd and this was a similar experience, except massively magnified, and of course we had front row seats for the whole thing.”
The flotilla, in celebration of the Queen’s 60 years on the throne, is thought to have been one of the largest ever assembled on the river, and consisted of rowed boats, working boats, pleasure vessels, boats from the armed and emergency services, and historic vessels including some of the boats that took part in the D-Day landings.
Chris and the rest of his crew had been invited to take part thanks to their association with the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen. The Company was established in 1555 to police transport on the Thames, and now also supports activities for river rowing enthusiasts, including the river races that Chris takes part in.
— John-Paul Jones, Communications and Development