The Port of London Challenge
The Port of London Challenge was first held on 18th July 1996. It was started by Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House of Commons, and was arranged as a curtain-raiser for the famous Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race later the same day. It also showcased the then growing sport of Waterman’s Cutter racing and is now an established event in its own right.
The Challenge is rowed over a 4.4 mile course from HQS 'Wellington' to Chelsea Harbour. The Cutters are crewed by six rowers and a cox. In keeping with tradition, a passenger must be carried.
Only five Cutters contested the inaugural event in 1996 for a solid silver trophy donated by the Port of London Authority which was won by the Watermen’s Company rowers in the ‘Jim Holt’.
Such has been the growth in popularity of Watermen's Cutters since then (there are now over 30 of them on the Thames) that modern events have “staggered starts”. The Cutters are set off in waves so their crews are not only rowing against those in their starting rank, but also against the clock as the crew that records the fastest time over the course wins.
The Thames Waterman Cutter is 34 feet long with a beam of 4 feet, 6 inches. In keeping with the concept of traditional rowing it has fixed seats for up to six rowers and room for a cox and passenger. It is also simply adapted to the role of Ceremonial Livery barge with extra seating for passengers under a stern canopy. In this form the Cutter closely resembles the decorated craft often seen in historical scenes of the Thames in earlier centuries.
Click here for more information about Thames Waterman Cutters (opens in a new window).