The Sport of the Company
Rowing in its varying formats is the sport of the Watermen and Lightermen of the Thames, as defined by the following classes.
Fine Boat Racing
Sculling or rowing in lightweight racing shells using high-tech oars and equipment for competing at the highest elite and International levels. Epitomised on the tidal Thames by the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. The equipment is designed to produce high speed vessels for the global racing events. Both on the tidal and upper reaches of the Thames there are a multitude of rowing clubs each competing at various levels, culminating with the annual Henley Royal Regatta. Many Watermen belong to and compete within these clubs at elite and Olympic level. The Watermen’s Company invited its apprentices each year for a sculling weekend at the prestigious Leander Club based at Henley.
Racing in cargo barges using long sweep-oars. Rowing with the tide flow, crewed by Freemen and apprentices. Races cover several miles and require professional skill and endurance. The sport of Barge Driving has its origins in the LIghtermen trade, who in Tudor times used large flat-deck barges to lighten ships of cargo to allow them onto shallow berths in London’s ports. These vessels were called ‘Lighterners’ and the men ‘Lightening men’ corrupted over time to Lightermen. These men required a separate cargo carrying licence from Watermen’s passenger carrying licence. The sport involves rowing heavy Punt class cargo barges, with the tide flow, using long sweep oars to propel and steer them. Lightermen’s barge-handling skills, including mid-race turning and flat pick-ups. Spectators of these events travel with the races aboard pleasure boats giving a unique aspect to watch these events.
Fixed Seat Rowing
Fixed seat rowing for all ages and abilities using traditional boats steered by a coxswain and carrying passengers. Developed by the Company in 1995 as a sport for racing and the re-enacting of Historic Thames Pageantry. This type of rowing is a cast back to the original wager races of the 16th and 17th centuries when men earned their living carrying passengers along the Thames. It represents the very beginning of the sport when wealthy sponsors would patronise watermen, offering cash prizes. In 1989 following a re-enactment of a 30 miles Tudor Pull by H.M. Royal Watermen, Company members set up the Thames Traditional Rowing Association (TTRA) in an effort to make rowing accessible to all ages and abilities. Many of the City Livery Companies joined in this new approach to the sport using six oared Cutters and also introduced several annual events. The longest of these being the twenty six mile long ‘Great River Race’. The TTRA rules state that the vessels should have a minimum of four oars, without outriggers or sliding seats, carrying a coxswain plus at least one passenger.