Two Berwickshire boats join Queen’s Jubilee river pageant

Members of the row team (left to right:) Steven Wright, Scot Maceachen, Julie Middlemiss-Brown and restorer Johnny Johnston with boat 'Unity' which will be taking part in the Thames flotilla to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee.
Members of the row team (left to right:) Steven Wright, Scot Maceachen, Julie Middlemiss-Brown and restorer Johnny Johnston with boat 'Unity' which will be taking part in the Thames flotilla to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee.

WHEN the thousand boats set off down the Thames on Sunday, June 3, this year as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant, there will be two Eyemouth boats in the flotilla.

For every boat from the UK and Commonwealth that was accepted to take part in this spectacle - the first of its size since the 16th century - three have had to be turned down, so for Berwickshire to have two accepted is a matter of great pride for former Eyemouth harbour master Johnny Johnston, who has close connections to both vessels.

Johnny was the main force behind the building of Eyemouth Rowing Club’s rowing skiff ‘Unity’ in 2010, to recreate the age when coastal communities would compete against each other in rowing competition. And ‘Unity’ will be joined in the pageant by the Eyemouth harbour vessel the ‘Biscoe Kid’ bought by the Harbour Trust in 2003 after Johnny had spotted the former launch boat from the Antarctic survey ship ‘John Biscoe’ up for sale.

Work to get the ‘Biscoe Kid’ shipshape for the pageant is currently underway - more help from volunteers would be much appreciated - and for the ‘Unity’ it’s the six man crew that are under pressure to get into shape.

They will have to be able to row ten miles down the course from Chelsea Bridge to Tower Bridge in two hours, which means keeping at a steady pace of four miles an hour alongside rowing skiffs from Ullapool, Stornaway and Aberdeen. And despite it being down river with an ebb tide it’s not for the fainthearted.

Signed up for the task are three members of the new Berwickshire-wide youth project Connect. Manager Steve Wright, development co-ordinator Julie Middlemiss-Brown, Scott Maceachen and 17 year old Billy are looking forward to the challenge and two others have already indicated that they would offer their services.

“Ideally we need a pool of ten rowers,” said Johnny Johnston.

“The role of the cox is quite important because they bring the team together and working as one unit.”

“At this moment we should be shopping around for committed folk to get involved between now and March, and invite them down to have a go,” said Steve Wright.

“Then in April/ May we will do some serious training.”

Scottish Coastal Rowing have offered to help with the training and despite Berwickshire being well represented so far in the rowing skiff- volunteer crew so far are from Duns, Coldstream, Coldingham, Eyemouth and Berwick - if back-up is needed they can also help with additional rowers if need be.

Come June 1, the crew will have done all they can to prepare and the ‘Unity’ together with the ‘Biscoe Kid’ will be on its way down to London to line up with the vast array of working boats, rowing boats, pleasure boats, historic vessels, wooden launches, steam vessels and others carrying up to 30,000 people, led by the barge carrying Her Majesty the Queen and the royal party.

By then the ‘Biscoe Kid’ should have undergone a complete overhaul, paint job etc and be looking the part for the royal occasion, be-lying her 40 years service in the Antarctic.

It’s a far cry from her days as a launch for the ‘John Biscoe’ that spent 40 years in the Antarctic travelling between ship and the 10 survey stations. ‘Biscoe Kid’ was stored in a barge on board the ‘John Biscoe’ and when they reached one of the stations ‘Biscoe Kid’ would be lifted into the water and would then tow the barge, loaded with provisions, to shore.

On her retirement the mini tugboat proved to be perfect for the role of harbour boat at Eyemouth and despite being thousands of miles away from her previous place of work according to Johnny Johnston ‘Biscoe Kid’ brought back memories for the Dunbar harbour master.

“He was involved in a Mid Atlantic SOS from a merchant ship when someone on board became ill and the ‘John Biscoe’ rendevoused with them and the injured person was transferred to the ‘Biscoe Kid’.

Her role in the Diamond Jubilee pageant may not be quite so dramatic but ‘Biscoe Kid’ will still play a major role on the day as one of the historic motorised vessels as the vessel of the official Berwickshire party headed by the Lord Lieutenant, Major Alexander Trotter.

Anyone interested in joining the skiff crew should contact either Johnny on 018907 50248 or Steve on 01361 884198. To find out more about the ‘Biscoe Kid’ contact Ivan Stevenson on 018907 50618.