Diamond Jubilee: Taking part in the Thames pageant

School Reporter Oliver getting ready to take part in the flotilla
Image caption School Reporter Oliver getting ready to take part in the flotilla

During the two years of planning that were undertaken by the Sea Cadets in preparation for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames, two aims were identified.

Firstly, 54 powered Trinity 500 boats would each carry a flag of a Commonwealth nation and secondly, they would carry these flags in a clear diamond formation.

It is easy to underestimate the considerable amount of planning and preparation that was undertaken to ensure the success of what we aimed to achieve.

On the Friday night of the Jubilee weekend, almost everyone involved arrived at the Aspire Leisure Centre in Wandsworth which was used for briefings, storage of equipment and accommodation throughout the weekend.

The biggest challenge that evening was unloading all the 56 boats in total and parking an almost equal amount of minibuses that transported the sea cadets into a car park made for 30.

On Saturday, after an early wake up at 05:30, all the cadets made their way to breakfast and then later the fleet of minibuses drove us to Putney Hard, a lengthy slipway, perfect for launching so many boats.

The day was spent practising boat handling so that when in diamond formation, all boats would be able to maintain the separation of 10 metres behind the boat in front and five metres between the boats to either side.

From the afternoon into the late evening coxswains and boat supervisors attended further safety and navigational briefings by both the Port of London Authority and Sea-Cadet Headquarters.

Afterwards, to much excitement everyone was issued with brand new waterproofs, T-shirts and caps produced especially for the pageant. That evening it was with an overwhelming sense of excitement and anticipation that everyone went to bed.

Image caption The cadets proudly displaying the Commonwealth flags

The next morning, the day of the pageant, was another early start, crews began the half-hour walk at 09:30 down to Wandsworth where we would be ferried out to the pontoons where the boats had been left overnight.

With all our engines, generously provided for by our sponsors, Suzuki, started and ready to go, the Trinities began their short journey back to Putney Hard to be fitted with purpose-built masts to carry the enormous flags of the Commonwealth.

On approaching the beach, as far as the eye could see down the river, Sea-Cadets were amassing in their Trinity 500s. This was the most awe-inspiring sight.

On arrival at Putney, each boat was fitted with its Commonwealth flag, the Trinity of which I was coxswain was proud to be carrying the flag of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

As we waited on the banks of the river to be called to take our place in the flotilla, we watched the spectacular man-powered vessels take up their place.

At around two in the afternoon, the Cadets completed arguably the most challenging manoeuvre of the entire day, taking up the diamond formation on the river in the space of less than half an hour.

Once complete, in order to maintain our position in the formation, all the Trinities moved downstream at a speed of less than one knot while waiting for the pageant to begin. However the fleet had been somewhat too efficient at taking up its position and was then moving out of its allocated area.

With no option of stopping and space running out, the fleet completed a manoeuvre whereby all the boats turned upstream on the spot, reversing the diamond. To the relief of everyone, the move was pulled off perfectly and after another turn to head back downstream, the pageant began.

Image caption Trinity 500s ready to create the diamond formation

During the pageant the diamond passed through a total of 18 bridges with segments of it having to break formation and then reform at almost every bridge.

Highlights of the pageant for our Trinity included the three cheers we all gave to Her Majesty The Queen as we passed The Royal Barge and being saluted by HRH The Princess Royal from the vessel, Trinity Lighthouse Number 1, when we had to do another turn upstream.

It was not until we passed underneath Tower Bridge that the significance of what we had just achieved really hit us.

This had been a once in a lifetime opportunity and to be part of such as historic event was truly tremendous. It was a credit to the Sea Cadet Corps, its Officers, organisers and all the participating young Sea Cadets.

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