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PLA wins Thames Barge Driving Race

Thames Barge Driving Race 2006

The Thames Barge Driving Race has been held each year since 1974 as a celebration and demonstration of traditional Thames skills. The race took on its present form in 1975 - starting at Greenwich and finishing at the Houses of Parliament, about seven miles further up river. Barges are sponsored by local businesses and are decorated in bright colours. The crews are in fancy dress reflecting the current year’s race theme.

Red rank startThe barges start the race in three ranks, Red, Blue and White, depending on their past performance in the race. The Blue Rank starts at Greenwich Pier, abreast of the Cutty Sark. The White Rank starts further downstream at Newcastle Drawdock whilst the Red Rank starts from Tunnel Glucose, even further downriver.  During the race each barge must manoeuvre to collect at least one marker pennant from target barges that are moored at strategic points along the course. The first barge to cross the finish line at Westminster Bridge wins the race.

The Port of London Authority (PLA) barge Blackwall was prepared by Mike Campbell and Michael Russell and was allocated number 2 in the Red Rank. It was crewed by:

Michael Russell           (PLA Marine Services)Blackwall under way

Richard Waterhouse ( PLA Vessel Traffic Services)

Darren Knight              ( PLA Marine Services)

Nick Howard                (HCH Marine)
Dean Saward              (Apprentice with Thames Clippers)


Around 120 PLA staff and their families boarded the Miyuki Maru at Swan Lane Pier to support the PLA ’s team in the Barge Driving Race.


PLA staff cheer Blackwall on

Michael Russell takes up the story.


“We set off with a ten stroke per pair pattern (changing over the oars between Nick and myself and Darren and Dean) with Richard on the steering oar at the stern.  Our plan was to pick up our first flag at Chalkstones and then see how we were set for a sprint for the finish.


“By the time we had passed HMS Albion, moored on Greenwich ship tier, we were already ahead of the rest of the “red ranks” and closing rapidly on the white rank barges.  Richard did a fantastic job of guiding the barge alongside the target barge at Chalkstones so that we were ableThe race is on to pick up the marker pennant and resume our attack on the lead ranks with minimum delay and leave the middle rank barges behind us.


“As we rounded Cuckolds Point the leaders were well within our sights and we “upped” our rowing rate but by the time we had reached Wapping, the Dolphin, Grace, Ditton and Diana were still ahead of us.  As we shot through the centre arches of Tower Bridge, just ahead of Jake E Boy, Richard made a decision to take us up through the number two arch of Cannon Street railway bridge enabling us to overtake first Diana, then Ditton and Grace so that by the time we passed beneath a bemused crowd of tourists on the wobbly bridge we only had Dolphin to pass to win the race.


“In a nail biting final straight, we were almost closed down by two other barges which had now re-entered the leading pack.  However, cheered on by the supporters on the Miyuki Maru and Royal Nore, and wringing the last ounce of effort out of our tired muscles, we just managed to keep our lead. What a great feeling it was to finally pass Winners!under Westminster Bridge and let the tide carry us upriver past the Houses of Parliament as we celebrated our win and applauded the other crews as they crossed the line.”