Why Fulham could put a stop to any further Boat Race risk-taking

The Boat Race - Why Fulham could put a stop to any further Boat Race risk-taking - Getty Images/Ben Stansall
The Boat Race - Why Fulham could put a stop to any further Boat Race risk-taking - Getty Images/Ben Stansall

The risky gamble that sealed Cambridge's victory in the men's Boat Race against Oxford last Sunday will be consigned to history if Premier League side Fulham's plans for a passenger pier go ahead, the local watersports community believes.

In a race famed for coxes battling mid-river, two minutes in Jasper Parish jinked his boat drastically towards Fulham's Craven Cottage, seeking shelter against an unexpectedly strong northwesterly wind. Although it took his boat out of the fast stream, it gave Cambridge calmer water for long enough to steal a march on Oxford, who struggled through sea-like conditions on the more exposed traditional course.

But such a manoeuvre would not be possible in future races if Fulham get their way. They have spent £80million during the last two years enlarging their Riverside Stand and extending the river wall outwards by nine metres, which has created a bigger spectator area.

The project, which was launched in 2021, came under fire from rowers and sailors on the Tideway last year, and a jetty and bridge pushing out into this area would create a permanent obstacle for races and river sports clubs.

Locals backing “Stop the Pier” have so far collected 17,213 signatures on a “Save our Sports” petition and are supported by local MP Fleur Anderson. A consultation was held by Fulham in August two years ago but a counter-meeting was held by river users in April 2022 amid concerns that other river users had been ignored.

Since then, Craven Cottage’s riverside stand has been upgraded but talk of the pier project has gone quiet. The original artist’s impression of the jetty has been removed from the Riverside Development section of the club’s website and there is no application for it in Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s planning database. However, it is unlikely that a commercially useful ferry plan has been shelved and planning permission may yet be sought.

Craven Cottage - Why Fulham could put a stop to any further Boat Race risk-taking
Craven Cottage - Why Fulham could put a stop to any further Boat Race risk-taking

Fulham said last year there was no plan to extend a pontoon 80 metres across the Thames - a distance that may have been calculated by local campaigners looking at the original artist’s impression of the bridge and pier plans. Any extension would need to extend far enough for boats with a deep draught to moor at any time regardless of surface water height, which moves with the tides up to seven metres vertically four times a day.

A spokesman for Fulham said: “The club has made clear in a statement issued at around this time last year that there is absolutely no risk whatsoever to the boat race, either now or in the future. Fulham’s design would, in addition to creating substantial and obvious benefits to the local community, focus on providing a wonderful viewing platform which would enhance the boat race atmosphere, experience and accessibility.”

An Uber Boat service already runs to Putney Pier on the south side of Putney Bridge, a 30-metre walkway jutting out from a much lower wall. Passengers arriving here have a 15-20 minute walk to Craven Cottage, similar to that for supporters catching the Tube or bus to Putney Bridge. But westbound Thames Clippers operate as far as Putney only on weekdays, with 18 services focused on commuter hours, and finishing at Battersea during weekends.

A pier from Fulham’s higher wall, which is beside a considerably broader area of shallow shingle than at Putney, would need to be situated further out into the river to ensure that clipper boats could avoid grounding at any tide, so it is not surprising that the local river users are nervous even if 80 metres does turn out to be an exaggeration.

Head Races - a time-trial competition in rowing - and daily training would also be affected by such an obstruction. The sailors are already having problems with the new Fulham stand’s wind shadow, and both rowers and sailors are at risk of overturning in the heavy wash created at Putney by the Uber Boats.

Extending the regular use of passenger clippers a mile further upstream, into the reach where the Port of London Authority currently prioritises the river for unpowered boats by 30,000 users annually, would create more dangers.