“Believe me my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

The loveable Ratty, from Kenneth Grahame’s timeless novel the Wind in the Willows, could not have put it any better when he described to Mr Mole the charms of his favourite pastime.

And he would undoubtedly have enjoyed the nautical fun that is coming to Richmond next month when the Great River Race passes through the borough.

As excitement builds ahead of the annual event, two spectacular Maltese racing boats that will be taking part arrived in Teddington this week.

A lorry delivered them to enthusiast Sylvia Wicks’ boathouse, in Manor Road, on Monday, August 20, following a long trip from Malta.

Crowds will gather on the riverside to watch boats row 21 miles along the Thames – from London Docklands to Ham – during the annual river race on Saturday, September 15.

The event, which starts at 10.40am, attracts more than 300 crews from around the world and appeals to every level of competitor.

Spectators enjoy watching oarsmen in fancy dress as they leisurely pass by, while others cheer on fundraisers who are trying to make some money for their chosen charity.

Crews have been rushing to enter to be part of the fun ahead of the closing date on Tuesday, August 21.

Mrs Wicks, who has been taking part in the event for about 10 years, said: “For us it’s a gentle way of continuing in competition.

“It introduces new rowers to competition and introduces them to the Thames from Greenwich to Ham, which is an astonishing experience because you row from London to what is almost the rural Thames in Teddington past all the historic buildings which of course the Thames is noted for.

“In the diamond jubilee pageant this year there were something like 270 rowed boats and there will be 100 more in the Great River Race.”  

This year, for the first time, two Maltese boats called dghajsa have been brought to the UK especially for the event. They are a unique shape and spectators along the banks of the Thames will easily be able to recognise them.

Dghajsa are rowed in a style very different to that normally seen on the Thames. Rowers using the English sitting technique, or standing up like the Venetians, face each other to row a dghajsa.

When they are not racing, this idiosyncratic style is more sociable as conversation is easy when they are facing each other.

Navigation is safer because oarsmen and women can monitor the conditions in front of and behind the boat at all times and family rowing is more relaxed when parents can watch the developing skills of their children.

Passenger wherries on the Thames and Maltese dghajsa used to function in the same way as each other. Both were the main working and passenger-carrying boats on their respective waters and each evolved with the introduction of new technologies and with changing needs.

British rule in Malta from 1800 resulted in the amalgamation of British and Maltese boat-building techniques and a rapid evolution in dghajsa.

In both countries powered boats took over from rowed boats when it became necessary to carry more passengers, to go further and to haul heavier freight loads.

Also in both countries now, traditional boats continue in the hands of amateur rowers and boat enthusiasts in events such as the Great River Race.

Mrs Wicks, who will be riding as a passenger in one of the Maltese dghajsa, said she was looking forward to the excitement of the day.

She said: “It keeps many of the rowing traditions alive along the Thames, because obviously the wherries that used to row people and luggage around the Thames were replaced by motorboats.

“Amateur rowers can keep a wide range of rowing skills going and pass them on to successive generations and from amateur rowing emerges people with formidable talent who eventually become Olympic rowers.”        

This year, the Rose in June, a traditional Thames wherry built in Richmond by Mark Edwards, can be compared with the Maltese dghajsa. Although they are significantly different in shape, they are both relatively stable boats that are comfortable to row and ride in.

Those who are new to rowing can ask for more information at Richmond Bridge Boathouses, beside Richmond Bridge, where they can also hire boats.

The Great River Race was first held in 1988, inspired by interest generated by a 1987 charity row from Hampton Court to the Tower of London.

A total of 72 entrants took part in more than 20 boats representing six countries, including a Hawaiian outrigger war canoe, a Viking longboat and a Chinese dragon boat.

Mrs Wicks said: “The Great River Race is very important to Richmond, because by the time the rowers get to Kew people are starting to appear on the riverside and it’s immensely encouraging to be cheered on by enthusiastic people, because by then the rowers are tired.

“The crowds along the riverbanks at Richmond help you to get through the last stages to Ham, the support is essential to get you through the last strokes.” 

For more information about the Great River Race, including the expected time of arrival, visit greatriverrace.co.uk.