If you had told me when I was a girl growing up in Glasgow that one day I would sail into my home city on the biggest flotilla ever seen on the river to the cheer of thousands of people it would have sounded like a fantastical story. In fact until a couple of months ago I would still never have believed it, yet this week it actually happened and I am still wondering if it was all just an amazing nautical dream.
The Commonwealth Flotilla was timed to coincide with another huge event happening in Glasgow, the Commonwealth Games. Although sailing isn't one of the sporting events in the Games it is one of the events that make up the Olympics and it was a good way of reminding people that sailing is another of the many sports that people can get involved in.
As Saturday morning arrived and my train pulled into Greenock I was almost bursting with excitement. I was soon shown to my transport for the day, the Clyde Clipper, one of two boats run by Clyde Cruises that were taking part.
I had very kindly been invited along by James Stuart, CEO of RYA Scotland to not only experience this once in a lifetime event but to learn more about the opportunities available for people in Scotland to get on the water. I was joined by other excited guests, many of them RYA Gold members and representatives from other agencies looking to promote water based activities available in the country.
With the sound of boat horns and the musical strains of a piper drifting from the quayside we started to move into position.
We were one of the leading boats with the new hybrid CalMac ferry, Lochinvar, guiding us up the Clyde.
The Commonwealth Flotilla was making history as this was the biggest flotilla ever to have sailed up the river with over 250 boats of all shapes and sizes taking part. As we left Greenock behind and boat after boat appeared on the horizon I started to get my first real visual understanding of the scale of the event.
Then our historic adventure really began as we cruised at a slow but steady pace. The weather was warm and I spent most of the journey standing on deck enjoying the pleasant breeze and taking in the views. Once we left Inverclyde we were sailing quite far out from the shore and there were no crowds waving us along, just the chatter and the beautiful scenery to keep us occupied.
It also gave me a chance to take in the spectacle behind us as a curious kayaker also made his way out to watch the entertainment.
In the distance I got my first glimpses of Dumbarton Rock and the Erskine Bridge, places I know all too well from the land and I was looking forward to seeing them from a whole new perspective. What I hadn't anticipated was the number of people that were lining the bridge and shores from Dumbarton to Bowling, cheering and waving.
As we passed cameras photographed us from the shore as we photographed the crowd! It was lovely to see so many people out enjoying the flotilla.
Then out of nowhere a crazy kayaker appeared who was moving faster than any kayaker I've ever seen! He was overtaking boats and playing cat and mouse with the coastguard. As much as he was enjoying himself, with so many boats on the water he was becoming a safety hazard and after a quick word from the coastguard the drama was over and he made his way back to shore.
No sooner was this entertainment over than we passed a couple of Buckie boys (tonic wine drinkers) who decided to flash us on the way by, like a couple of extras from Rab C Nesbitt they played the Glasgow stereotype perfectly in their own comical way!
As we approached Clydebank it wasn't the sight of the mighty Titan crane towering over us that took my breath away, it was the mighty crowd that were standing cheering at us. As we sailed passed hundreds of onlookers I felt like royalty waving away, one of the Clyde puffers tooted us and as I looked ahead the line of people just seemed to go on and on. The people of Clydebank have a special relationship with the Clyde and I'm sure for many of them it was good to see so much life back on the river.
It wasn't just the people on the land that were enjoying the day, the crew on the boats seemed to be lapping up the support and were doing Mexican waves and dances in appreciation.
Although the Clyde may have lost many of it's great shipyards we were reminded not only of the history of the river as we passed decaying docks and buildings, we also witnessed the evidence that the river still provides industrial employment, albeit on a much smaller scale.
As we headed towards Glasgow Harbourside we were greeted with the loudest cheers yet, from balconies with bunting to people with flags, it felt as if we had arrived at the party. Our Captain responded with a loud shout of 'Hello Glasgow' over the tannoy. I felt a mixture of excitement and pride that so many people had embraced the celebration and made the effort to show their support.
They say that the Clyde runs through the veins of the people of Glasgow and for all too long it has been a soulless bloodline. Riverside regeneration is one thing but rivers are meant for boats and it is obvious to me that the people want to see life running through the river not just beside it.
Hopefully part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Flotilla will be the development of more water based activities on the Clyde.
From here on in we passed the new cultural landmarks from the Riverside Museum to the Science Centre and we were greeted with ever growing enthusiasm and ever growing crowds.
Our final destination, along with the rest of the flotilla was the Science Centre. I have to say I don't think I have ever witnessed a crowd like this in my life, all I could see was a mass of people filling every piece of land in view. For an ordinary girl from Glasgow like me this was a moment to savour and will be one of those special memories that remain with me for life.
So big was the crowd we were not allowed to leave our boats until some of it had been cleared as there were safety concerns about the amount of people on the quay.
Once off I was finally able to watch the remainder of the flotilla sail into the Canting Basin where they remained for the next couple of colourful hours before setting off on their return journey to Greenock.
If the intention of the Commonwealth Flotilla was to bring attention to sailing and encourage people to take to the water I can't think of a bigger or better way of getting that message across. The organisers were overwhelmed at the support which was far greater than they could ever have contemplated.
With our coastline stretching for thousands of miles and rivers and canals criss-crossing the country there are no shortage of opportunities to take up an aquatic activity.
My own experience of boat trips in and around the waters of Scotland have provided me with some of my best memories and adventures. Until you have seen the country from the water you have not really experienced Scotland.
As I made my journey home my thoughts were full of the characters, boats, people and history of the Clyde that I had passed and I was filled with hope that the flotilla could also be the catalyst for growing a nautical future not only into the river but all across the waters of Scotland.
There are many ways of enjoying the water in Scotland from sailing to kayaking to canal boats and much much more.
To find out more about RYA Scotland and the many events and programmes they run visit their website.
To find out about opportunities on the canals of Scotland visit the Scottish canals website.
For other water based activities contact your local outdoors centre.
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