The Little Ship Club provided the perfect setting for the Mums Away Best of Bond fundraising night on Friday 28 June raising money for The AHOY Centre, Deptford which raised £20,000 after costs. With the team riding the crest of their fundraising wave, this week saw them bought down to earth with the news that the French authorities have imposed a blanket ban on all 'unconventional crossings' which puts the row to France in doubt.
It was full house at the Club as members and guests from outside the Club sat down to much appreciated food and impeccable service from Didier and his team. The Silent Auction was conducted via bidding slips and a website shown on the AV screens in the Club. Georgia Catt and Amy administered the auction while The Pisces Quartet (one member of which is a Mums Away rower) serenaded us below the hubbub of bidding activity. We had guest vocalists Beth Littlewood (singer, teacher and another team mate) and Megan Bowen (daughter of a rower), and a brilliant trumpet solo with the Bond theme from Amber Moore (daughter of Beth).
With the conclusion of the Silent Auction, dessert was swiftly served before Lars Tharp took to the floor to conduct the auction proper. We hadn't expect such entertainment and wit as he extracted bids from willing and not so willing bidders. There was plenty of audience participation and every lot fetched more than its value with some going for double the expected return. A beautiful Swarowski crystal necklace made by Karen Warner, captured the imagination of many and while valued at £125 fetched more than £400 on the night.
With Barrie Martin offering a taste of racing on A Day at the Races, and Richard Keen a weekend of sailing on the East Coast on Greenwitch, the Lots reflected the sailing connection between Little Ship Club and the AHOY Centre just a few miles down the river which connects them both.
Nicola De Quincey's husband, Dr David Souden, donated a tour of one of the Royal Palaces, which trebled its value in bidding.
Our biggest auction lot was from leading portraitist June Mendoza, whose portfolio includes portraits of HRH the Queen Mother, HRH the Queen, every Prime Minister since the mid 1960s and many well-known names from the world of music and art. June is the mother of Pisces Quartet cellist and rower Kim Mackrell. There was some trepidation about this lot with a listed value of £3,500, a bargain for a portrait by an artist of June's calibre, but still a risk at any auction that there would not be more than one person prepared to bid for it.
We had nothing to fear as the bidding edged up and the portrait commission finally went for well over £4000.
The casino got underway with the Roulette Raffle, 37 tickets at £10 each for a chance for a case of wine valued at £275, selling out in minutes. Fun money of 50 and 100 dollar bills was sold for £5 or £10 and the overall winner, with chips valued at 1400 dollars won a Magnum of Veuve Clicquot. The casino alone raised over £1000 on the night.
Two nights sleep and Sunday 30 June saw us out on the river for 4 and a half hours battling wind over tide and completing our first 22 mile row. Sunday 30 June in the evening and some rather crippled women fell into their respective beds in various stages of exhaustion and muscle ache.
So what about the French?
The windy weather this year had prevented any crossings until Saturday 29 June when three crews lined up in Dover ready to row to France. The French have never allowed any AHOY Cross Channel rowers to land on French soil - apparently we could be trying to gain illegal entry into France, although I can think of easier ways than rowing a Waterman's Cutter 22 miles across the Channel.
The teams had already set off when the Pilot Company were called up by the French Coastguard and threatened with a frigate from Calais if they proceeded into French territorial waters. In the event, the three crews rowed to the centre Channel marker and raced back to a finish in Dover.
On Monday 1 July there was a flurry of emails and phone calls between crews and the AHOY Centre trying to unpick the situation. Apparently the French have a standard ruling not to allow man-powered craft to cross into their waters, which is generally waived by Cap Gris Nez coastguard on the day. But owing to an attempt at a night time crossing two weeks ago, the Admiral of Cherbourg has given instructions that the ban will be rigidly enforced.
The Wight Crew, due to row this week, have a good contact with Ellen Macarthur who has high standing with the French and has tried negotiating on their behalf to no avail.
So we are now looking at the prospect of not being allowed to row into French territorial waters. The team is disappointed that we can't achieve what we set out to do, but is united in its view that rowing across one Shipping Lane to the centre buoy, rounding it, rowing back across the same Shipping Lane and finishing in Dover will be the same physical feat, require a similar amount of super-tanker dodging and take us as far away from land as it is possible to be in the English Channel.
We are also now boycotting croissants, French wine and working out what magnificent gesture we will make as we turn our backs on France.
So much for l'entente cordiale!
All photos from Simon Warren (simonwarren.com) with grateful thanks for giving his professional services to our fundraising cause.