Founded in 2002 and growing fast!
In 2002 founder member, Ron Sverdloff, purchased a large number of redundant 18ft angling boats from Hanningfield Reservoir and, after selling most of them, he was left with some that needed attention.
In 2003 Ron advertised an all comers rowing event around Two Tree island which he hoped might lead to the development of a local rowing club. Ron then met an old friend, Keith Webster, from Benfleet who was a boat builder and who was also trying to set up a rowing club, using 16ft skiffs from a boating lake in Hampshire.
They decided to join forces and so the Lower Thames Rowing Club (LTRC) was formed, although it was a few years before it officially acquired that title. In 1993 Ron had founded a walking and cycling club, called the Traditional Touring Club (TTC) and it was mostly members of that club who became founder members of this new rowing club.
The original steering group comprised both Ron and Keith, TTC members and local fishermen and it met in Leigh Marina. The original venue for the club was going to be a scout hut in Benfleet but it burnt down on the very day before the lease was due to be signed! The club was then offered a home in Dauntless boatyard and spent many happy formative years there, thanks to their generosity.
Much thought has been given to what type of boats our club should use. Inland rowing clubs use what are called ‘fine boats’, these are the ones you see on the TV at the Olympics and the boat race. Unfortunately fine boats are very long (an ‘eight’ is over 55 feet in length), are rather fragile and need specialised launching and storage facilities. In addition they are not sea worthy!
Our local area and estuary are very tidal and can get very rough at times and also there are speedboats, jet skis and commercial craft using the creeks. These often kick up a heavy wash, making ‘sea worthy’ boats essential.
It was decided that the best boat for our purposes was a fixed seat four oared gig. The word gig is an old term used to describe a fast working rowing boat of then used for pilotage, as in the Scilly Isles, or used in the navy. We needed one of these to get the club off the ground, but commercially available versions were prohibitively expensive, so Keith decided to convert one of the original 18 footers from the Hanningfield reservoir.
One of the most battered was extended to make a 21 foot long boat. This worked but was very heavy to handle. This was raced at the Heybridge Basin ‘Round the Island’ race in 2004 winning her race – although in the process it nearly became a submarine!!
In 2005 it was decided to remove the heavy fibre glass seats, floor and gunwales. It was then sawn in half across the middle and lengthened the boat by five feet. Everything was kept as light as possible and the reborn boat was transformed into a 26ft gig. Interestingly it is lighter than the original boat despite being 8ft longer! The boat performed very well, being stable, fast and seaworthy and was used on an increasing basis as the club grew.
In late 2005 Paul Redman of Dauntless boatyard suggested building a second gig in his shed. This second gig was another conversion as before but was built in one go, taking about one month to build. This is what we now call the ‘Spirit’ class gig.
These two gigs cost the club approximately £1000 in materials only, labour being given to the club. Initially the club used heavy old whaler oars to row these gigs but they were soon replaced with lighter carbon fibre ones bought from the Thames Rowing Club at Putney.
The club still owns and rows three of the original 16ft skiffs and two of the 18ft Hanningfield boats, which are being refurbished to be used as training boats.