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Preparations begin for annual University Boat Races

Preparations are underway for The 2016 Cancer Research UK Boat Races with the Port of London Authority (PLA) clearing the four-and-a-quarter mile course from Putney to Mortlake.

The Tidal Thames is the UK’s rowing capital with 6,000 people rowing on it every year. The University Boat Race is the most popular sporting event on the river, drawing thousands of people to the Thames river banks.

For the PLA and Boat Race teams, the event involves months of planning and preparation and as race day approaches the focus switches to simple tasks, like looking for rubbish in the river.

PLA Marine Services crews spend the week before the race scouring the course for obstructions, so that competitors can race unimpeded. The authority’s team usually recovers all types of wood from railway sleepers to tree trunks. Other ‘regular’ finds include traffic cones and bicycles. On race day, after one last check for floating debris, the PLA closes the river to navigation ready for the competition.

Christopher Rodrigues, PLA chairman said:

“A quarter of a million people are expecting to join us on the banks of the Thames on Sunday and another 15 million people will tune into the Races. We are excited to help make The Boat Race and other sporting activities on the Thames accessible to so many.

“Our twenty year plan for the river, The Thames Vision, is looking to improve participation in sport and recreation on the water by creating sport opportunity zones and develop more visitor moorings. With the support of the rowing, paddling and sailing community we expect this can easily be achieved.”

Rodrigues is an active rower, a former president of Cambridge Rowing Club and winner of the

University Boat Race in 1970 and 1971. His ’71 win was by ten lengths and was then second fastest time in the race’s 142 year history.

David Searle, Executive Director of The Boat Race Company Limited said:

“It’s a huge day for all four University boat clubs, and the PLA is behind the scenes managing the river to make sure it’s safe on Race day and throughout the year as the crews train on the tidal Thames.”

The PLA Marine Services team will be at the very start of the Races, holding the sterns of the Oxford and Cambridge racing eights steady for the starting gun.

For those who want to watch the Races live along the riverbank or get live coverage on TV radio or online visit http://theboatraces.org/watching-the-race for more details.

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About the University Boat Race

  • Date: Sunday 27th March 2016 3.10pm (women) & 4.10pm (men)
  • The Boat Race is between the University crews of Oxford and Cambridge first took place in 1829 at Henley. It is one of the oldest sporting events in the world.
  • The Boat Race takes place around Easter every year on a 4.2-mile course starting at Putney and finishing at Mortlake.

PLA pre-race preparations:

  • At the start of race week, inspecting the course to identify any hazards to ensure that they are removed (this can include sometimes include sunken cars);
  • Through that week, clearing the course of potentially hazardous driftwood or debris identified (we pull around 400 tonnes of driftwood from the river every year);
  • On the Friday before Sunday’s race day, positioning and manning the ‘start-boats’ and assisting with practice starts.
  • Work on these lead-up days can last 15 hours, starting at dawn.

PLA race day activities

  • Three PLA launches patrol the course, later two will close the river to all traffic between Kew and Wandsworth bridges, with a third following the race to help oversee safety;
  • PLA personnel man the start boats, holding the stern of the competing craft before the ‘off’; and
  • A driftwood (small salvage) vessel stands-by at Chiswick in case of any emergencies, with a diver on-board, ready to assist - usually freeing a fouled propeller.

About the PLA

  • The PLA is a self-financing organisation, set-up by an Act of Parliament in 1909 to run the tidal River Thames in trust for future generations. Its 350-strong workforce oversees safe navigation, protects the marine environment and promotes the use of the river. The PLA has no shareholders and any financial surpluses are reinvested in stewardship of the river and improving the efficiency of PLA operations.
  • The PLA oversees navigational safety and river operations on 95 miles of the tidal Thames from Teddington Lock, through the capital, and out to the sea.
  • The PLA is often at the heart of national events on the River Thames including the New Year’s Eve fireworks, river pageants and the University Boat Race.
  • More information on the Thames Vision project can be found at: www.pla.co.uk/ThamesVision