Henley Royal Regatta: a spectator’s view



For the morning commuter, London Paddington station’s platform 14 might have seemed a rather peculiar place this week. Across the station, whiffs of an imminent occasion were evident: a hatted lady ordering a flat white at Delice de France; a dapper chap queuing to buy Bombay Sapphire in M&S. But it was on platform 14 that they convened, in a startling blaze of red chinos.

For me, Henley Royal Regatta is something of a family tradition. My stepsisters’ grandfather rowed in it for over 30 years and, ever since, the family has taken it upon themselves to attend. Not that there’s anything arduous about it. Pimm’s and picnics, promenades and Prosecco – this is undoubtedly a most civilised way to spend a day. Just so long, that is, as you can navigate the strict dress code – dresses below the knee, please, ladies (this is the Stewards’ Enclosure, darling!) and not too revealing; wedges to prevent grassy foundering – it’s all something of a minefield. If you’re me, that is.

That aside, let’s not forget the point of the whole thing. Rowing. The regatta has been held annually ever since 1839, barring the two world wars. Henley is the perfect location, being the Thames’ only straight stretch of water this long (a mile and a half, or thereabouts). Races set off every five minutes, so it’s hard to miss the crews sculling their way upriver, accompanied by a smattering of applause from deck-chair spectators on the banks.


The competitors work somewhat harder than the spectators

The particulars of the sport may likewise pass me by (for shame), but it’s difficult not to be seduced by the occasion. The glittering River Thames and its immaculate, verdant banks; the sunshine, so maddeningly bashful; the inevitable spots of rain, subject of wry, good-natured smiles between strangers.

Stripes and cravats, flannel and old boys’ caps; flowery flocks and wide brimmed hats – we spectators form a fellowship of sorts, like that between football fans on match day or fancy-dress party guests. We may be cold, unfriendly Londoners on any other day of the year, but today, lubricated by familial chatter and gin, we might just offer the neighbouring car a Waitrose sausage roll or two. Might.


Not a lady-knee in sight, thankfully

The regatta continues for four more days of hard-fought rowing. Me, I’m back in my scruffy jeans in central London, with my no-longer-banned mobile phone by my side – back to reality with a bump. But a day spent on England’s riverbanks, with family and (to quote Mr McEwan) the comfort of strangers – well, it’s a bit of a magical thing, somehow. And, as it turns out, we don’t scrub up too badly after all.

Read Adlard Coles Nautical’s books on the glorious River Thames – click the cover to buy.

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Pets Onboard

There has recently been a welcome addition to my family – Bob the West Highland Terrier, and this has led me to thinking about how he would cope onboard our boat.

Of course my first consideration was a doggy life jacket, he would definitely look adorable in need one of those.


They are available to buy in all different sizes, as well as a whole array of nautical fashion accessories for your pampered pooch.

But realistically, is taking your pet onboard really a good idea?

The answer is absolutely, I know Bob much prefers accompanying the family anywhere rather than staying at home. However, there are things to take into consideration before setting sail:

  • Just like humans, dogs and cats might take a while to find their sea legs, and sea sickness can be a problem. There are many natural remedies that can be used to ease the problem, have a browse through Adlard Coles’ Fast Fixes for your Boat for some helpful tips, or alternatively ask your vet for some advice.
  • If your dog or cat is trained to use the litter box, toilet calls should not be a problem. If not, remember to monitor what your animal is drinking and take regular trips to land to avoid accidents.
  • If the weather is sunny and hot, be sure to keep an eye on your pet. As much as animals love sunbathing, it can cause heat stroke, so try to keep them shaded and drinking plenty. Also, fibreglass boats can get extremely hot in direct sunlight, so make sure your pet doesn’t burn his/her paws.

Fast Fixes for your Boat is full of helpful tips on how to make sure your boat is pet proof

But for those of us who are more superstitious – isn’t it bad luck to take your dog or cat onboard?

The rule used to be that any animal not at home at sea was bad luck on board. According to Adlard Coles’ Don’t Shoot the Albatross by Jonathan Eyers, the rule that black cats are unlucky on land is reversed at sea, and white cats are the unlucky ones. Although a single white hair plucked from a black cat is lucky…Image

Over the years these superstitions have been proven to be untrue, with dogs and cats playing an important role in naval history.  Here are some of the most famous furry nautical heroes:

Unsinkable Sam

One of the most famous mascots of the British Royal Navy, Unsinkable Sam was the ship’s cat aboard the German battleship Bismarck. Unfortunately the ship sunk in 1941, and out of 2,200 crew only 116 survived, plus Sam. Sam was picked up by the destroyer HMS Cossack, this was also torpedoed and sunk a few months later, killing 159 of her crew. Still Sam survived. He then became the ship’s cat on the HMS Ark Royal … which was torpedoed and sunk in November of that year. Sam was rescued once again, but it was decided that it was time for Sam’s seafaring to come to an end.

Unsinkable Sam was given a new job as mouser-in-residence at the governor general of Gibraltar’s office. He eventually returned to the U.K. and lived out his years at the Home for Sailors.

This story doesn’t bode well for cats on boats, it has to be said. But then there was Simon…



Simon was the celebrated ship’s cat of HMS Amethyst. Simon was aboard the ship during the Yangtze Incident in 1949 and was wounded in the bombardment that killed 25 crew members, including the commanding officer.

Simon recovered and resumed his rat-hunting duties, as well as keeping up the crew’s morale. He was appointed to the rank of able sea cat. ‘Simon’s company and expertise as a rat-catcher were invaluable during the months we were held captive,’ said Commander Stuart Hett. ‘During a terrifying time, he helped boost the morale of many young sailors, some of whom had seen their friends killed. Simon is still remembered with great affection.’

When Simon later died of an infection, tributes poured in and his obituary appeared in The Times. He was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery (the Victoria Cross for animals) and was buried with full naval honors.


ImageJudy was the ship’s dog on board HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper before and during World War II. Not only did she save the lives of many crew members when Grasshopper sank, but she was also the only dog to be registered as a prisoner-of-war when they were captured by the Japanese. It was here that Judy was adopted by Frank Williams, who shared his daily ration of rice with her. In return Judy did her utmost to protect the crew, intervening when the guards were administering punishment and alerting them to the approach of danger from guards or hostile wildlife.

When the crew were moved to Singapore Williams smuggled Judy along, training her to sit absolutely still in a rice bag. However, the ship was torpedoed and Williams was forced to push her overboard in an attempt to save her life.

Luckily Williams survived, but was unsure if his companion had been so lucky. Tales started to emerge of a dog helping crew members to floating debris as the ship sank and thankfully Williams and Judy were reunited. However, Judy had one more hardship to endure when the guards got fed up of her and sentenced her to death. She managed to survive by hiding in the jungle and hunting for food.

After the war Judy lived out the rest of her days with Williams and was awarded the Dickin Medal. Her citation reads:

‘For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness’

Williams was also awarded the PDSA White Cross of St Giles for his devotion to Judy.

Whilst I can’t see Bob dragging us to safety if our boat sank, I think the family will definitely feel better with him there, and I can’t wait to see him sat on the boat in his little life-jacket.


Bob the West Highland Terrier