Royal Yacht Squadron Fleet Review and Beat Retreat
The Royal Yacht Squadron’s week long bicentennial celebrations commenced on Tuesday, 2nd June. Say it quickly and skip lightly over the hidden depths of that sentence and it doesn’t sound too bad at all. But ponder for a moment on the significance of the fact that it has taken the RYS five years of planning to ensure that the events, which celebrates the Squadron’s two hundred year existence, went smoothly and it might become apparent that this was one monumental operation.
What made the week complex was not so much the racing, something with which the Squadron is more familiar than most, but the fact that more royal visitors than you could shake a mace at were attending the Review of the RYS fleet and the Royal Marines’ Beat Retreat. Attending to our own royal family requires dedication and attention to detail but looking after the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, Princess Anne, King of Spain, King of Norway, the Aga Khan, Prince and Princess of Greece and many more of our own royal family is enough to frazzle the brain of the most ardent of planners.
On Friday 5th June, the day of the Fleet Review, the Squadron’s fleet of yachts were in place, lined up on specially placed buoys off Cowes, a cloud of bunting fluttering above the the Solent waters in the gentle summer breeze. Cowes was in virtual lock down with road closures and barriers in place to keep royal watchers at bay, with sinister personal protection officers in dark suits glowering at those who dare step too close. Shortly before the Review took place the various royal parties starting arriving from every angle. Needless to say, there was a variety of royal photographers and film crews who had arrived to record the occasion. They were equipped with the most impressive array of top quality DSLRs coupled with lenses the size of dustbin lids, ideal for extreme long shots of press-wary royals. However, I had a secret weapon, Fran, who was armed with a Canon 5D Mk3, an unobtrusive short zoom and a flashgun. As the Squadron had commissioned us to cover the event they had also ensured that we had unrestricted access to all areas. So, while the press were penned in to a suitably royal friendly distance, the Secret Weapon was quietly patrolling the Squadron’s pontoons on her own. Very quietly, she approached one young, attractive royal couple and politely asked if she might take a photograph of them. When they happily posed for her and Fran took some shots with just a touch of fill-in flash, the press pack went into a frenzy, running along the shoreline with their huge lenses, all trying to get in on the action. Too late, the Secret Weapon had been unleashed. The royal couple were Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece and Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece and like so many of the other royals, were absolutely charming.
Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece, pictured with Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece
There was a brief period of calm while the Review on the water took place, after which the royals returned to shore and we repeated the whole exercise all over again, clamouring for the best angle. However, it didn’t all go swimmingly because no-one knew precisely where within the RYS Haven the waterborne royalty would land. I quickly learnt to follow the pack of RYS flag officers who were there to greet the various royal parties and who somehow knew which pontoon to aim for. It didn’t always work that way and when they headed out to greet the Duke of Edinburgh I trotted confidently behind them. It was only when the Duke unexpectedly pulled in to a pontoon behind me that there was a sudden about face and I found myself in front of the line of flag officers all charging in the opposite direction. It was not a good place in which the Squadron’s event photographer should find himself, so I had to scamper ahead and pretend I was there to open the gate for them.
With the Fleet Review complete and the Royals safely ashore there was a brief interlude while they attended Evensong at the Holy Trinity church, after which the Royal Marines were due to perform the Beat Retreat on Cowes Parade, starting from the Royal Yacht Squadron’s driveway. The Royal Marines were to march onto the Parade and then play in front of royalty, assembled Squadron members and massed crowds.
Initially, I considered walking backwards, directly in front of the bandmaster as he lead his troop down the driveway. However, it was pointed out that they can march up to eighty paces a minute. There was no way I’d be able to stride backwards at this speed without reversing into the nearby rose bed or inadvertently joining the Marines’ drum section so I opted for the relatively safe option of hopping around the Parade as I dodged the troops.
While we were discussing our options the RYS Commodore, Mr Sharples, casually asked if one of us might like to photograph the Beat Retreat from a property overlooking the Parade. ‘I’ve made arrangements’, he added, ‘just ring the bell and they’ll be waiting for you’.
‘Who should we ask for?’ asked Fran.
‘Well, the premises is occupied by the King of Spain, but his staff are expecting you’, came the response.
And so it was that the Secret Weapon spent a very pleasant afternoon in the company of the King of Spain and his friends, quaffing champagne and just occasionally remembering to take a shot or two as her husband scurried about the Parade in Cowes.
An unusual, overhead shot of the Beat Retreat.
It was a truly fabulous event; the sun shone, the Royal Marines sparkled and the Duke of Edinburgh was clearly enjoying himself immensely. It really was a fabulous event that ran like clockwork, in keeping with the Squadron’s two hundred year history.
The Duke of Edinburgh, Admiral of the RYS, returning to the Castle after the Beat Retreat
At one stage both Prince Philip and Mr Sharples gazed above them, no doubt having caught sight of King Juan Carlos, accompanied by a female photographer clutching a champagne glass. I hate to imagine what thoughts might have been going through their minds!
As if all this excitement wasn’t enough, the whole exercise will be repeated again when the Royal Yacht Squadron hosts the International Bicentenary Regatta on 26th July. I’ll be there to cover the various functions and I can’t wait to see how the RYS will top what has already proved to be a truly memorable, exciting (and just a touch exhausting) event.