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Donkin's World: That River Pageant

Richard Donkin chugs down the River Thames on a very, very special day.

It’s been impossible to take stock yet after taking part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pageant on the Thames on Sunday. I spent the whole of Tuesday loading images in to a dedicated gallery. When Andrew Pindar invited me to join the coble Gratitude, representing North Yorkshire, it never entered my head what a big day was in store or how long we would be on the water.

But one of the great things about boating is that people in boats are so friendly and accommodating. We were moored up alongside a 170 tonne Humber barge, Spider T, http://www.spidert.co.uk/ representing Lincolnshire. So instead of having to wait hours in the coble, we were able to stay on the barge at the invitation of its skipper.

More than that, he was happy for us to sit and look around below. It was only afterwards, when going through my photographs, that it occurred to me that I would never dream of photographing the interior of a neighbour’s house and yet here I was doing the same thing, wandering in to bedrooms http://dickdonkin.smugmug.com/Boats/Queens-Diamond-Jubilee-Pageant/23340723_XHnH9f#!i=1887659128&k=WpGThRv and snapping away, all with the approval of the ship’s master.

Quite a few of the boats were representing counties since some requests for entries had come through Lord Lieutenants' offices. It's useful having a Lord Lieutenant in your crew. We had Jamie Dougdale, Baron Crathorne, Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire in ours. His smart uniform was swapped for a fisherman's smock on this day. The Lord Lieutenants only wear their full regalia on their own turf. Downstream of Tower Bridge we passed a three-master called Belem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belem_(ship) in which his mother had sailed around the world as an 18-year-old in the 1920s when the boat was owned by Sir Arthur Guinness. Many of the boats here had fascinating histories but they weren't mentioned much by the BBC.

Spending a whole day on the water in a 26 ft coble, exposed to the elements, presented an issue for anyone needing the toilet so Alan Richmond, the Gratitude's owner and skipper, had installed a portaloo on the bows. A kind of privacy could be achieved by getting under the canvas sail. I didn’t fancy testing it out, although there was no choice for some. http://dickdonkin.smugmug.com/Boats/Queens-Diamond-Jubilee-Pageant/23340723_XHnH9f#!i=1887645640&k=xFSV7NJ

Before the event we were moored a little way upstream of Hammersmith Bridge and might not have seen many of the other boats involved. But the whole of the rowing section came through our ranks to take their place at the head of the fleet. It was great to see so many people who had dressed up for the occasion. http://dickdonkin.smugmug.com/Boats/Queens-Diamond-Jubilee-Pageant/23340723_XHnH9f#!i=1884045667&k=k7rQ4jX

Some of the rowers had trained hard, a sensible preparation since they had to keep going at four knots for some 13 miles from the mustering points to their dispersal areas.

This proved one of the best photo opportunities of the day since the weather began closing in not long after the start. Given the conditions, I’m pleased with the collection of some 200 photographs assembled in this gallery here. http://dickdonkin.smugmug.com/Boats/Queens-Diamond-Jubilee-Pageant/23340723_XHnH9f#!i=1887699858&k=7GjbDWg

We had a friendly crew for the day - they had to be, given the small space in the coble. Paul Rose, the TV presenter and explorer who I've met many times through Earthwatch, a charity we both support - as Andrew does too - was as ebullient as ever. He's one of the friendliest blokes you're ever likely to meet and didn't seem the least bit phased by a Yorkshire-dominated crew.

Andrew's son and daughter, George and Zoe sat stoically at the stern while their mum, Caroline kept everyone going with Coronation sandwiches, cakes, tea, not to mention champagne at the end.

Alan gave us a safety briefing before setting off which included the news that if we were to fall overboard he wouldn't be turning around to pick us up. The organisers had forbidden it, presumably to avoid any risk of a pile up involving big barges and the like. No falling overboartd then.

I wanted to show off my fisherman's smock but the weather was so foul it had to stay under a raincoat. By the end of the day the water had seeped under our waterproofs and we were all pretty damp. But not in spirit. The whole event was fantastic and, had the sun shone, there'd have been one hell of a party on the streets that night. As it was we were glad to get back to our berth in Canary Wharf.

It’s a shame the BBC's pageant presenters didn’t do their homework on the fleet because there is masses of history in these boats and among some of their crews. But a lot of this was either ignored or missed by a poorly-briefed array of presenters who were barely up to the job. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2154424/Diamond-jubilee-BBC-attacked-inane-celebrity-driven-coverage-Queens-Thames-Pageant.html

I was taking my photographer role quite seriously. It became a bit tougher when rain started coming down like stair rods as we approached Tower Bridge. I hadn't realised the Royal Barge would be so big and I was so fixed on the red-coated watermen on its prow I didn't give myself much time to look out for the Queen. http://dickdonkin.smugmug.com/Boats/Queens-Diamond-Jubilee-Pageant/23340723_XHnH9f#!i=1884196775&k=VhqVsJg

But a photograph mattered less than our salute as Alan made sure we dipped our standard. What a privilege to share in her day.

I’ve included a few of my favourite images here. But there are a lot more to be seen in the gallery. My favourite quote from the day belongs to our skipper, Alan. When getting us ready for the off he said. “When it’s time I’ll say ‘let go.’ I won’t say cast off. You cast off your knitting. On boats we let go.”


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