Recent years have shown a steady decline of club and inter-club boat handling events on the Thames, yet seniors of the motor boating set enthusiastically recall competitions over the years, a source for enriching their knowledge in readiness for unpredictable situations.
Having a club objective 'the encouragement and development of motor boating' and not wanting to let a potential lifesaving event die out, past commodores Andrew Bernstein, Jeremy Schomberg and Mandy Want got together with their fellow club members at the Thames Motor Yacht Club (TMYC) to revive boat handling competitions, to pass knowledge to the members, in particular novices.
Last held at the club in 2015, competitions needed changing to allow participants to feel confident in the way exercises are constructed for today’s boating. Areas included the use of bow thrusters versus springing out, single or twin engines, the vast difference in size and style of boats, the positioning and quantity of cleats and removing pre-set formats. It's all down to each participant to demonstrate what they can do to achieve a required outcome, in their individual way.
Sunday morning talks and tuition by experienced past competitors drew in many members. Not only about what judges may look for, but importantly what skippers and crews may do to stay safe whilst boating. On board demonstrations were held in spring, blessed with warmer weather to encourage members to join in.
This year’s events for TMYC included the ‘Senior Watermanship’ for a skipper and two crew, the ‘Veterans’ for skipper only and the ‘Jubilee’ for skippers only but with 20+ years of boating experience. With participants registered, it was then a case of finding the right team to judge. Knowing that participants also have a tendency to judge the judges, those approached from within the TMYC and other Thames clubs all fit the criteria of being greatly respected for having their own competitive edge at boat handling. To complete the team, Helen Hoffman of the RYA was contacted and with her help, four further judges came to represent the RYA.
Challenges during the event involved elements of towing, anchoring, and a variety of restricted moorings including between two piles; a mean feat for any skipper without crew. The challenge that pulled at the heart strings was the retrieval of three fenders. Sounds simple but carried out as if a man overboard from a craft ahead, it put the desired spin on the task.
Seasoned competitor Ian Weston began boating in the 60's. Having won many trophies over the years, he remains a force to be reckoned with. Ian continues to promote boat handling through club talks, practical demonstrations and as a good sport he even took fellow participants out on his 42’ 'Flying Colours' a 'Success 115 Ultra', for practice sessions prior to the event.
Skippers and vessels varied in age. Jeremy Schomberg took part in his 1960's ex Thames police river launch ‘Maigret', with crew carefully negotiating their way around her fragile decks and railings, as old as she is, Maigret is still very much loved.
The event was fully supported by TMYC club members, judges, and spectators. Judges noted that all challenges were managed by all participants at a high level, which was particularly encouraging for the first time entrants.
Proof in the pudding? TMYC now have participants interested in next year’s event but for this year, there's still the Association of Thames Yacht Clubs’ Annual (ATYC) Rally with a boat handling event planned. Will it run? Only if entrants from Thames based clubs register too. TMYC hope entrants to represent their club will include Ian Weston, the winner of the recent 'Veterans' and 'Jubilee' events and Mike Chase, winner of the 'Senior Watermanship’.
The RYA had a great hand in the event with Helen Hoffman extending her offer of help to other clubs who may also be keen to revive boat handling competitions. Thanks go to RYA area reps John Shepherd and Manfred Starkl.
As with 'Toy Story’ it’s a happy ending for all the trophies; they will come out of storage and go to new homes once again, polished and presented to their next custodians at the annual TMYC End of Season Ball this coming November.