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Successful Thames Barge Sailing Match

Unexpectedly strong easterly winds the day before the 76th Thames Sailing Barge Match did not prevent the event taking place successfully on July 15 2006. Nevertheless, the strong winds did prevent two of the entrants from reaching Gravesend.

The wind moderated on the morning of the Match, though still blowing about force 4 from the ENE and bringing an unseasonable chill to the air.

The Barge Match Committee were embarked on board the tug Touchstone. Joining them was Gordon Swift, one of the pioneers of the sailing barge revival who has a long association with the barge Dawn which is now undergoing a major restoration and which should soon be sailing again.

First away was the Coasting Class. Entrants in this field included Ardwina; Beric; and Will (ex- Will Everard), at 150 tons one of the largest sailing barges ever built and a competitor in the pre-War Thames Matches. 

Sailing Barges (left to right) 'Xylonite' and 'May' rounding Sea Reach No. 4 Buoy, off Southend-on-Sea (picture credit: M WignallIn the Staysail Class, barges taking part this year were Reminder; Decima; and Repertor which crossed the line at full speed within eight seconds of the gun – a remarkable performance. Vessels in the Champion Bowsprit class comprised Xylonite; Edme; May; Adieu and Marjorie. 

Beric led the fleet into Sea Reach but had to turn back when a leeboard became detached.  In the Staysail Class, Decima, being pressed hard with a full size staysail, overtook Repertor and held her off for the rest of the day.   These two also proved the equal of the bowsprit barges which were unable to catch them or even reduce their lead despite their own extra sails.

The Committee decided to shorten the course to Sea Reach 4 buoy, just below Southend and first to reach it was Decima at 1008, followed six minutes later by Repertor.  The Bowsprits were led round the mark by Edme at 1030 and May at 1035 hotly pursued by Xylonite who had recovered not only her mizzen, damaged earlier,  but also most of her lost time.   Adieu and MarjorieSailing Barges (left to right) 'Marjorie', 'Adieu' and 'May' passing Canvey Island, Essex, as they head back up the River Thames to the finish line (photo credit: M Wignall) were close behind followed by Will and eventually Reminder who was the last to round at 1135 as the flood began to run. 

When the flood tide came, conditions calmed a little and with a following wind and the sun breaking through the return leg was a complete contrast to the outward.   Although far from relaxing for the crews who were engaged in the constant setting, changing and trimming of down-wind sails, the experience was much more pleasant.

Xylonite followed Edme up the south side of the river and in doing so passed May who stayed with Adieu and Marjorie on the Essex shore.   These bowsprit barges provided a grand spectacle with large and sometimes colourful running sails swelling in the fresh breeze. A gybe at the Lower Hope buoy provided a test of seamanship that was successfully negotiated by all.

Decima crossed the line at 1215 in a time of just four hours.  Edme was first home in the Bowsprit Class, but with a 20 minute penalty she took third place to Xylonite and Marjorie.   Reminder came third in the Staysail Class but Ardwina who had made a valiant effort to reach the outer mark eventually conceded to the strengthening flood tide and retired leaving Will as the only finisher in the Coasting Class.

After the match supper at the Three Daws waterfront pub in Gravesend, prizes were presented by Richard Everitt, PLA chief executive, who had been on the water following the Match.

Richard Titchener (left) Master of 'Xylonite' receiving his prize from Richard Everitt (right) (photo credit: M WignallIn addition to the trophies for performance, three cups are awarded at the committee’s discretion. The London and Rochester Trading Company Cup for Seamanship was awarded to Richard Titchener and the crew of Xylonite for their recovery from early difficulties and consistent smart handling of the barge. The Gold Belt Trophy for achievement was awarded to Iolo Brooks of Adieu for the dramatic improvement in the appearance and performance of the barge over the last few years. The “Majestic” Rose Bowl for the best rounding of the outer mark was awarded to Robert Deards, master of Marjorie

For more information about the Annual Thames Sailing Barge Match visit www.thamesmatch.co.uk (opens in a new window)