Two Extras in Thames River Swim

This year’s River Swim had 49 official swimmers who took off from Kingston Bridge in a riot of flailing limbs and flying spray. Just over 21 minutes later, SLSC Captain Nancy ‘The Dolphin’ Shaw arrived at Trowlock Island to claim another great victory ahead of Tim Tolcher and husband Jason.

While the other keen competitors kicked for the finishing line, Richard Chaterjee was drifting downriver propelled by a languorous breast stroke which allowed him to view the back gardens of the rich and engage in some light banter with bystanders on the river bank.

So leisurely was Richard’s progress that his safety vessel - Nick Kirmatzis and Jonathan Buckley in a larger two-man canoe – resorted to back-paddling to maintain their place as the final marker. No such struggle for Richard as Rob Hughes and Nick Newman maintained their lead at the back.

It was a lovely evening. Boats came and went. Birds took off and landed. People sat outside pubs and drank beer. The sun dappled on the water. Nick rang home on his Blackberry. Jonathan took some pictures. It got a bit chilly. And then it warmed up again. Richard kept drifting down river.

About 40 minutes after the start of the race and about 50 yards from home, around the time when the winners would have been drinking their first beer and turning towards the Barbie and its spread of homemade salads, the reverie on the river was disturbed by a passing motor launch.

Unaware of the approaching wash, Nick and Jonathan had drifted so that their canoe was diagonally placed across the river. This was exactly where the little waves were coming from and they took the canoe on its side and tipped it first one way and then the other and then again, a little further.

Whooagh! The old river, like some canny Judo master tipped the two old swimmers into the warm muddy water. Those that saw it happen say it was a thing of rare beauty and hidden power: Nick’s Blackberry given a good ducking but Jonathan’s camera held aloft like Excalibur rising from the lake.

The ‘canoe chiefs’ climbed out onto a concrete jetty covered in goose shit, did what they could with the electronic devices and then hauled the canoe up and emptied. The motorized safety wheeled back to take some pictures, any concern completed inundated by tears of laughter.

So 49 swimmers left Kingston Bridge and 51 arrived at Trowlock Island, where the reception was warm, the food was good, and there was a round of beer from Richard Chatterjee. He took 46 minutes to secure last place and felt beholden to the safety boat that couldn’t save itself!

Postscript: The drowned Blackberry was stripped, rubbed down and then given a going over with a hair dryer. It’s now working just fine. The camera still managed to deliver some pictures. And the lesson learnt: When the world is at peace … watch out for little waves.

by Jonathan Buckley