Trail Boat Rally, 13th-14th July 1996

The front cover of Dragonfly 62 from Autumn 1996 featured the Trail-Boat Rally on the front cover, albeit in monochrome. John Allen provided the following commentary, while the colour photos come from Gerry Townsend's collection.:

The first Trail Boat Rally on the Wilts & Berks Canal, held in Wootton Bassett on July 13/14, was the largest event organised to date. As with any event the planning started a lot earlier. In this case the first spark that made this rally possible was originally kindled in 1982.

Having just moved to Wootton Bassett and finding and starting to clear the path along what we later discovered was the derelict Canal took precedence over my wife's request to build a car-port.Anyway I do not have a head for heights so it was a good reason for putting it off.

In the summer of 1995 the Branch expressed an interest in a derelict trip boat in a Devizes field. After being assured it would not take much to restore, with the Community Action Scheme help, the Branch agreed to restore it. But where to put it under cover for a month or so for it to be repaired? Foolish us agreed to take it in, there being nowhere else for it to go and within a week the car-port/boat-port was built The boat arrived and as the extent of the rot became known, stayed on for 6 months.It was then decided to give her a unique paint scheme and gain the maximum use out of her by keeping her on the canal by running her as a trip boat during the summer.

Canal logic seemed to suggest that as we had one boat and were creating easier access for boats into the water, why not expand our Open Day to a full scale rally, the idea first having been suggested some years previously by Keith Walker.

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So the culmination of years of planning and work came to fruition over this July weekend when 8 Trail Boats turned up (the local rag reported 80 boats in attendance. When asked where the rest where we told them, around the bend1) . There were a great many stalls and events from a Punch and Judy show for the children to the Daystar Theatre group, to keep people of all ages entertained all day and evening.

To list everything, to thank everyone individually would fill this magazine. Suffice it to say that it would not have worked without it being a team effort from many people and organisations, not just local business and local members.

I did not realise until the weekend how far Trail Boaters will travel to a new event. Ours came from Cambridgeshire, Coventry and Suffolk to name a few places Boaters travelling hundreds of miles to a strange place, to meet new people with thousands of pounds worth of boat really does put the whole event into perspective.

As usual we supplied a bus and I know of one family who used it four times in one day to ensure they did not miss out on all the attractions including the dog show and fireworks finale.

We made a small profit but that is not as important as the publicity the Group attracted. Although it was an event led by a Branch, it publicised the whole canal. It showed that branches can work together. This has never been more important than with the imminent fonnation of the Trust, to show that many of the Local Authorities can also get together with a common aim. What better example can we give of the need to extend the canal towards Swindon than showing the restored canal maturing with all the wildlife in and around it.

One question being asked is: Are you doing it again next year?. That depends on those few members who get together a year in advance and start the planning process. One of the king-pins of that process has been our Secretary, Carole Moore.Sadly she has resigned as Secretary so we need someone to fill this vital gap.

It is also with great sadness that we lost the Boating Master, John Wheatland Clinch, from the AWCC who was taken ill shortly before the rally and died shortly afterwards. I do know that he rallied sufficiently to learn the event was a great success but, if for no one else than his and Ron Churchill's memory, we should continue what he and others started. To achieve anything like the same next year or perhaps form a bid for a national event in 1998, we need assistance from you out there to carry this success story on.

And what about the boat-port? The boat is now in the water and almost after finishing this we will be running boat trips on this sunny Sunday.