- Associated Press - Sunday, July 15, 2012

LONDON — In two weeks, if the worst transportation predictions come true, the streets of London will be clogged with hopeless Olympic gridlock, the venerable but tottering subway will be a nightmare of delays, and overcrowding and commuter trains will slow to a crawl.

But luckily for the British capital, a river runs through it.

And for London’s super rich, the River Thames will be an uncluttered highway to zip from party to party, from event to event in a flotilla of speedy yet breathtakingly expensive boats. Not for them the sweaty summer waits on the London Underground.

Protection Services International is just one of the many companies catering to the oligarchs, the sheiks and the just plain loaded who are coming to the London games and demanding top security and easy transport.

PSI normally concerns itself with making sure that Somali pirates stay away from supertankers off the Horn of Africa. But water is water, and celebrities are celebrities, after all. And with the Olympics ready to go in London, the River Thames suddenly presents a golden opportunity.

“It’s a massive event, people from all over the world coming here. … There are going to be certain threats,” said David McIntosh, a PSI bodyguard. “Any Royal Marine commando can adapt and transfer our skills that we’ve got from Iraq, from working round the Horn of Africa doing the anti-piracy stuff, and also from doing celebrity protection in Leicester Square.”

The Thames also was in the limelight in June — starting with a flotilla of some 1,000 boats marking the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. But the river has always been the city’s spine, the core around which its fortunes were built. It’s the reason London became a maritime city, then a world city.

The Thames connects great royal palaces, such as Windsor Castle and Hampton Court, and seats of power, such as the Bank of England and the Houses of Parliament, as it runs 215 miles east through London into the North Sea through the broad Thames Estuary.

It’s the viewing platform to best see the city and its sights — the London Eye, the Cutty Sark clipper ship and Tower Bridge, which at the moment is adorned with a huge Olympic rings logo to honor the games that take place from July 27 to Aug. 12.

In sporting terms, the river has long been a venue for trials of endurance, including the annual race between rowing crews from Oxford and Cambridge universities and the Henley Royal Regatta that draws crews from all over the world.

And for just as long, it has been the playpen of the super rich anxious to move about in style, says Robert Blyth, the curator of the National Maritime Museum.

“Historically, kings and queens would have traveled by river — the roads were rather uncomfortable and dangerous,” he said. “It’s a long time since we had a traffic jam on the Thames.”

The Olympic Park in east London’s Stratford neighborhood isn’t actually directly on the river, but it is close. Some venues though, touch the river, including the equestrian venue at Greenwich Park.

London is set to become the alternative destination for the super yacht — the floating palaces that are deluxe hotels with staffs versed in perfect service, owned by people seeking someplace more novel than Cannes, St. Tropez or Monaco.

“They want a change from the milk run,” said Benjamin Sutton, the director of communications for MGMT Yachts and Concierge. “It’s the Olympics. Our river runs through the city and all the Olympic sites … You can go to the south of France anytime!”

Yacht watchers will be on the lookout for the “Eclipse,” the 538-foot ship owned by Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who owns the Chelsea soccer club; the “Octopus,” the 414-foot yacht owned by Paul Allen, the Microsoft billionaire; and the “Leander,” the 246-foot yacht owned by Britain’s Donald Gosling, who made his fortune in parking garages.

It’s not as if London has gotten suddenly more dangerous. But for someone like Mr. Abramovich, who is worth billions, his family could face security threats if they were crammed onto the Jubilee Line, a main artery to the games.

PSI offered reporters a demonstration ride on the Thames, offering a taste of how the super rich might get to their seats at the beach volleyball competition.

It started with champagne at the Savoy, London’s elegant hotel. Then a trip on a rigid inflatable boat down the Thames followed the bubbly, a zippy excursion that could give Disneyland ideas on roller coasters and white water rafting. Envision ex-Marines reliving glory days with a high-powered boat to play with — you get the picture.

PSI declined to talk about prices — saying that depends on what the client wants and how complicated the security arrangements are.

At this level, talking about money is a tad crass, anyway.

But no matter what, they offer great scenery. The Thames will provide the images of London that viewers around the world want to see this summer and will remember for years to come.

“The river is the very reason for London,” Mr. Blyth, the naval historian, said. “London exists entirely because of the Thames.”

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