Thames Match 2019 – 22 June

Thames Match Report 2019


The 88th Thames Sailing Barge Match was sailed on Saturday, 22 June. A fortnight previously the Blackwater Match had been called off due to atrocious conditions but our day dawned calm and sunny with only a criss-crossing of aircraft vapour trails disturbing the blue sky. A light breeze from the south-east gave steerage way to the ten barges assembling in the Lower Hope in very similar conditions to the previous year’s race.

The three entrants for the Coasting class started without difficulty with Lady Daphne the first away at 0737 followed by Thalatta and Lady of the Lea. The Staysails were more competitive with Niagara and Repertor sailing right along the start line as 0745 approached. Unfortunately both sagged across the line in the half minute before the gun and were given a time penalty, leaving Ironsides to make the first true start in this class about three minutes later and followed by Edith May. In the Champion Bowsprit class, Marjorie suffered the same fate as the two staysail barges being swept over the line early in attempting a fast start. It was left to Adieu to again make the fastest start of the day in just under a minute with the newly built and rigged Blue Mermaid close behind to complete the fleet.

As the barges worked down into Sea Reach the wind backed to head them but increased to a more useful force 2. Adieu rapidly caught up with Marjorie who luffed to prevent her passing to windward but could not then prevent her sailing through her lee. The staysail barges were perhaps more efficient in the prevailing conditions and quickly overhauled the coasters while holding off the bowsprit barges with Niagara establishing a substantial lead. The newly built Blue Mermaid looked a picture and sailed fast but seemed rather slow in tacking: no doubt this will improve with some further trimming and tuning.

Although the barges were making better progress than expected they were not going to reach the North Oaze before low water and the course was shortened to the Sea Reach 3 North buoy as per last year. Niagara put in a long leg toward Sheerness and on returning found that Ironsides working the Essex side had reached the buoy first, putting in a well-judged tack to just lay the mark and be first round at 1051 a minute ahead of Niagara. Repertor appeared to have over-stood the mark, bearing away as she approached to round at 1059 and allowing Edith May to close up on her and round smoothly at 1101 and smartly setting her running sails. By now it was slack water. Adieu led the bowsprits round at 1115 followed by Lady Daphne as the first coaster. By the time that Marjorie (1128), Blue Mermaid (1129) and Lady of the Lea (1132) rounded the flood was beginning to run and Thalatta (1047) had to contend with a significant current.

Running back up the river with most barges initially on the port gybe an array of down-wind sails was produced. These seem to get larger every year with some over a thousand square feet that in a squall would present a serious challenge to a professional crew. Generally the sail handling during the Match was very good and together with a gradual increase of the wind to force 3 added considerably to the barges’ speed coming up Sea Reach. The committee vessel X-Pilot struggled to overtake the faster barges.

The first barge back to reach the finishing line off Gravesend was Niagara at 1320 having outrun the committee boat, followed fairly rapidly by Ironsides, Edith May and Repertor. It is very unusual to see the entire staysail class come home ahead of any of the champion bowsprits. Adieu was the first bowsprit home at 1334 ten minutes ahead of Marjorie and Blue Mermaid. Lady Daphne at 1350 was the clear winner of the coasters fifteen minutes ahead Lady of the Lea who was in turn fifteen minutes ahead of Thalatta. The barges made a fine spectacle finishing and later rafted up on the Town pontoon and St Andrew’s tier with more spectators than usual due to coincidence with Gravesend regatta, a fun fair and a wedding party at the Clarendon.

After the usual Match supper at the Three Daws, prizes were presented by Robin Mortimer, Chief Executive of the Port of London Authority who had spent the day afloat watching the Match with our chairman, Michael Everard. First prize in the Champion Bowsprit Class and Thames Champion pennant was awarded to Adieu. The Champion Staysail class was won by Ironsides. Lady Daphne took first prize in the Coasting class. Ironsides was fastest to the outer mark, Adieu the fastest around the whole course and also took the prize for the best start.

In the open awards category, the seamanship award was made Cyril Varley of Thalatta not only for an excellent performance on the day but also in recognition of a long career imparting practical seamanship to a new generation of bargemen. The best rounding of the mark as judged by Robin Mortimer was by Geoff Gransden of Edith May. The Mainsheetman Trophy went to Jason Lendagh of Ironsides, the crewman award to Shiner Wright of Thalatta and the Gill Yule trophy for a young crew member to Vigo of Adieu. The Gold Belt Trophy for achievement was awarded for the extraordinary achievement of the Sea Change Sailing Trust in the financing, construction and fitting out of their new full sized sailing barge Blue Mermaid for work with young people. The trophy was accepted by Hilary Halajko, chair of their trustees.

In addition to those already mentioned, I would like to record the committee’s thanks to Miles Featherstone and his team at the PLA whose assistance has been invaluable, Alan Harmer of X-Pilot and Andrew Bain of Lady Hamilton our two committee boats, Andy Maxted of the Mission House and Roy Turner of Gravesend Sailing Club for the starting and finishing line guns and, of course, to all our participants. Next year’s Match is to be held on Saturday 11 July 2020. We look forward to meeting again then.

Julian Cass, Officer of the Day, 2019

Thames Match 2018 – 21 July

Thames Match Report 2018


The long hot summer of 2018 will doubtless go down in folk memory for years to come. The 87th Thames Sailing Barge Match, sailed on Saturday, 21 July, was perhaps less memorable though enjoyable enough for all concerned.   Yet another hot sunny day began with a flat calm in the Lower Hope as seven barges assembled for the annual match.  By the start of the Coasting class at 1000 a very light air from the east was just about giving steerage way as the barges drove down to the line on a sluggish neap ebb tide.  The engineless Cambria appeared to the committee to be making a perfect approach but faced with a difficult judgement of distance from the line touched down the main anchor costing some seven minutes delay. The other entrant, Lady of the Lea was nowhere to be seen.  Ironsides, Niagara and Repertor, the three entries for the Staysail class start at 1015 were similarly tardy, coming to the line with Adieu and Marjorie in the Bowsprit class and the delayed Lady of the Lea, leading to the six barges starting at around 1030.   The best start of the day was by Adieu in three and a half minutes, creditable for the conditions.

As the barges drifted down into Sea Reach the breeze settled down to a fairly constant light air from a generally south-easterly direction and most barges ended up turning down the south shore keeping well away from the Thames Gateway berths.   Lady of the Lea, however, stood out into the full tide and ended up making a long leg on the starboard tack fetching down as far as Holehaven and gaining a big lead over the rest of the fleet, a lead which she held all the way down the river.

It was clear that the course had to be shortened but with the ebb still running well this had to be put off until progress might be made against it.    Eventually the Sea Reach 3 North (the former South-East Leigh) buoy below Southend was chosen as the turning mark with Lady of the Lea reaching it at 1321, gybing round neatly but then making slow progress against the last of the outgoing tide.   Cambria followed round at 1337 and, with the wind SSE 1-2 and the prospect of an easy run home, stood away to the Kent shore to minimise the effect of the last of the ebb tide.

Niagara had stood well down the Essex shore and approached the mark from the opposite direction making a 360 degree turn involving both tacking and gybing in order to leave the mark to port at 1352.  Adieu had a smooth rounding at 1402, judged to be the best of the day, followed by Marjorie which like Niagara approached from the north but with the added complication of a small coaster that arrived close to the mark at the same time.   Finally in one of the few close encounters of the day Repertor reached the mark at 1425 while being overtaken by Ironsides to leeward but, having the inside station and making a smart turn, Repertor came out ahead and managed to hold onto her small lead.

Progress on the downwind return leg was determined largely by the barges’ available sail area and as usual we saw the varied contents of the depths of the sail locker.   Cambria broke out a huge and colourful yacht spinnaker which drew well while Niagara added to her large working sails an even larger running staysail boomed out to windward.  Not to be outdone in effort the Lady of the Lea produced a mizzen staysail squared off but this was no match for the big barges’ sails and having had her moment of glory she was slowly but steadily overtaken by most of the fleet.

By the time the Mid Blyth was reached Niagara with her tall gear had pulled ahead of Cambria to take the lead although the bowsprit barges were steadily closing the gap bringing with them an easterly sea-breeze of about force 2-3.   Nevertheless it was clear that the barges would not be back at Gravesend by the usual five o’clock deadline so the committee extended the finish by an hour.  However, the wind failed again off Thames Gateway and progress into the Lower Hope was painfully slow leading to a decision to curtail the Match at 1740 with the barges strung out along that reach.   Places were awarded based on the barges’ positions as shown on a radar scan kindly provided by the Port of London Authority.

Based on these positions the Bowsprit Class was won by Marjorie which had only recently overtaken Adieu.   Niagara was first by some distance in the Staysail class from Repertor and Ironsides while Cambria took the Coasting class despite a late rally by Lady of the Lea.  Our thanks are due to Niagara, Adieu and Cambria which continued sailing up to Gravesend after the finish providing a late spectacle for the waterfront in recognition of which they were greeted with the signal cannon.

After a delayed supper at the Three Daws, prizes were presented by Simon Swallow of the Shipowners Mutual Club, which has supported the match for many years.   First prize in the Champion Bowsprit Class and Thames Champion pennant went to Marjorie.  The Champion Staysail class was won by Niagara.  Once again Cambria took first prize in the Coasting class.   Marjorie was the fastest around the course, Niagara the first barge home.

As well as the class prizes, seamanship awards were made to Nick Ede of Lady of the Lea for an exceptionally well sailed race, and to Iolo Brooks of Adieu for his controlled rounding of the mark.   The Mainsheetman Trophy went to Colin Frake of Lady of the Lea.   The Gold Belt Trophy for achievement was awarded to Toby Lester for his restoration to sailing and indeed racing condition of Ironsides.   After a long, hot day in the sun competitors were at last able to relax and to enjoy a few cold drinks in the evening air.

In addition to those already mentioned, I would like to record the committee’s thanks to Tim Corthorn and his team at the PLA whose assistance has been invaluable, Alan Harmer of X-Pilot and Andrew Bain of Lady Hamilton our two committee boats, Andy Maxted of the Mission House and Roy Turner of Gravesend Sailing Club for the starting and finishing line guns and, of course, to all our participants.    Next year’s Match is to be held on Saturday 22 June 2019.   We look forward to meeting again then.


Julian Cass

Officer of the Day, 2018

Thames Match 2015 – 22 August

Thames 2012 6747

Start from Mucking No. 3 buoy, Lower Hope Reach, River Thames to South West Barrow buoy, returning to the finish off Gravesend.

Thames Match Report 2015


Coasting Class:


2nd: LADY DAPHNE (corrected time due to time penalty for crossing
the start line early)



Champion Staysail Class

1st: NIAGARA (by 2 seconds!)




Champion Bowsprit Class

1st: ADIEU


Additional awards:

Master making Fastest Start : Iolo Brooks, ADIEU

Master of the Fastest Barge to the Mark: Richard Titchener, REMINDER

Master of the Fastest Barge over the Course: Iolo Brooks, ADIEU

Master of the First Barge Home: Robert Deards, NIAGARA

Master exhibiting the Best Seamanship during the Match: Geoff Gransden,

Master exhibiting the Best Seamanship in rounding the Mark: Robert

Best Performing Mainsheetman: Ray Payne, REMINDER

Most valued Crewmember: Steve Burgess, MARJORIE

For Achievement of a Young Crewmember (under 16): twins Jack and Peter
Devonshire, MARJORIE

The course sailed was shortened to Sea Reach No.3 North Buoy as the
outer mark

Date of next Thames Barge Match Saturday 25th June 2016

How was it for you?

This year has been a new experience for many of the organising committee,
and we would like to learn from this year’s match and make as many
improvemnts we can for next year’s Thames Barge Match.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to send
them to Brian Pain at

Content © Thames Sailing Barge Match 2015

Thames Match 2013 – 13 August

The year 2013 saw the 150th anniversary of the Thames Sailing Barge Match and a record number of craft gathered to celebrate the occasion. It had been the intention of the late Match Secretary, Mark Boyle, that the original 1863 course finishing at Erith should be sailed and with the co-operation of the Port of London Authority we were able to realise that wish.

Sixteen competitors and two following barges came to the line on Saturday, 13 August, to find conditions flat calm at 0830 for the start of the Coasting class. First away was the diminutive Lady of the Lea, followed by Centaur, Lady Daphne, Cambria and Reminder. Ardwina had to use her engine to avoid drifting the wrong side of the start mark and took a time penalty. Wyvenhoe did the same in the staysail class leaving their first start to be made by the newly re-rigged Niagara a mere half minute after the 0845 gun. She was followed by Repertor and Edith May, the latter managing to set two topmast staysails (there are no sail restrictions in the Thames Match). In the Bowsprit class Decima had to anchor but dragged over the start line before the gun in the strong ebb tide, May and Xylonite drifted across together early and Marjorie was just half a length over when the gun went at 0900. The engineless barges Mirosa and Edme were more cautious and Mirosa made a good start one minute after the gun.

The barges all drifted downstream, those on the Essex end of the line including Ardwina, Edith May, Centaur, Wyvenhoe, Lady Daphne and Xylonite had a stronger tide, but were set into the bight and had to anchor above the new London Gateway port development. Those who had started on the Kent shore had less tide, but drifted clear down the edge of the Blyth sand and came through with an advantage, Lady of the Lea leading the field as the lightest of airs came in from the south. The Mid Blyth Buoy, barely six miles from the start, was chosen as the turning mark in the fickle conditions and Lady of the Lea reached it at 1030, two hours after her start. She was followed by Cambria which nicely judged the approach from her mid-channel course. Edme had worked her way through the rest of the fleet to reach the Mid Blyth at 1044. Although the barges could not make real headway back upstream against the last of the ebb none resorted to their anchors, perhaps having seen signs of a providential breeze approaching from seaward. Xylonite and Mirosa were neck-and-neck at the mark, both rounding well, with Mirosa on the inside. The change of direction to an easterly breeze coupled with the start of the flood tide then made rounding more difficult and the tail-enders were eventually excused what had become impossible in order to finish the Match the same day!

Running back up the river the barges broke out whatever light weather sails they could find – Cambria a yacht spinnaker, Decima an unorthodox stemhead staysail in addition to the bowsprit jib, and even the traditionalist Mirosa finding a rather yachty-looking striped flying jib. Cambria found the edge of the Blyth sand and stopped for a while and Centaur promptly joined her. The rest of the fleet made steady progress upstream in a breeze which occasionally reached force 2 giving good steerage way and scope for duels between barges to add interest. Commercial traffic on the river was greater than in recent matches and a large container ship coming down from Tilbury dwarfed the barges running up Gravesend Reach and provided a contrast between the centuries for spectators.

Edme was first to cross the finish line at Erith at 1448, in a time of 5 hours 48 minutes, watched by a good crowd which had assembled on the shore and on the restored Erith Deep Wharf, now a public amenity. She was closely followed by Xylonite, Cambria winning the Coasting class, Niagara winning the Staysail class at 1500 with Mirosa, Lady of the Lea and May so closely following as to tax the gunners to reload and fire sufficiently quickly. The remaining barges all finished under sail with Centaur bringing up the rear at 1627. The barges brought up at anchor or on buoys around the Erith waterfront providing a sight such as can hardly have been seen there within living memory and which was eventually enhanced by a colourful sunset.

The Prize-giving was hosted by the Erith Yacht Club and prizes were presented by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston who entertained the assembled company with reminiscences of Derek ‘Spiro’ Ling, the former skipper of Lady Daphne who died last year. In addition to the place prizes, the award for seamanship was made to ‘Mac’ McCalden, Master of Lady of the Lea, whose performance throughout the Match had been exceptional. The Gold Belt trophy for achievement was awarded for the restoration of Niagara.

Although the sailing conditions were not as challenging as one might like, the Match was safely and successfully accomplished and, whether or not it concludes this series of races, stands as a fitting tribute to the memory of Mark Boyle, so much of whose time and effort was invested in its revival.

Julian Cass
Officer of the Day

2013 results

A Supper for the Owners, Crews, Organisers and Guests, followed by the prize-giving, took place at the Erith Yacht Club on Saturday, 13 July.

Prizes were presented by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston CBE, RD, first man to circumnavigate the globe under sail, single-handed and non-stop, in 1968 aboard his 32 foot Suhaili, and the oldest solo circumnavigator when he did it aged 68 in 2007.

He is a past President of the Sail Training Association, was a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, and remains a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum – Cornwall, where Suhaili is an exhibit. He is also a past President of the Cruising Association and remains that organisation’s Patron. Through his Clipper Ventures organisation and the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race he has introduced hundreds of people to competitive sailing, a pastime enjoyed as much by barge crews in the Thames Barge Match as those aboard his Clipper fleet in the Southern Ocean.

Other Links:

Chairman’s Introduction

Match Committee

Race Committee

Race chart

Match Poster:

This year’s special poster departs somewhat from the style adopted over recent years, insofar as it features the renaming of the Match in tribute to the late Match Secretary, Capt Mark Boyle, whose portrait photograph is included, a ribbon to highlight the fact that it is being raced on the 150th Anniversary of the first Match in 1863 and, for the first time since this series of Matches began in 1995, a drawing depicting the race in times gone by, rather than a photograph of last year’s winner. It is hoped that this may become a valued memento of this year’s Match.

The poster illustration is from a Mezzotint from an original watercolour by the artist Ernest Stuart (1889 – 1915) who in his very short life achieved modest fame, his art enthusiastically sought after today.

2013 Thames Barge Match Poster.jpg

Previous Results – 1995 to 2012

Previous Year Results (2001-2012) can be found here.

Top Level Summary (1995-2009):


[1] This represents the number that arrived off the starting line and positioned themselves to await the starting gun.

[2] The distance is to the nearest nautical mile and is nominal based on a race course following the various buoys. It is for illustrative purposes only as each  barge tacks back and forth across the river as necessary, and thus they always end up covering an appreciably greater distance.

[3] The duration is given to the nearest quarter of an hour and is for illustrative purposes. The duration is defined as being the time between the Coasting class starting time [which always starts first] and the time of the last barge [irrespective of class] in the Match to cross the finish line, by the end of the Match. This may well be a “laggard”. The MV Princess Pocahontas will not wait for this barge but will have followed the front runner[s] up to the finish line – so its passengers can expect a shorter day

Thames Match 2012 – 28 July

Less than twelve hours after the opening of the London Olympic Games on Saturday, 28 July, ten sailing barges assembled in the Lower Hope for their own main event, the 82nd Thames Sailing Barge Match. An overcast and unseasonably cold morning brought a light northerly breeze just strong enough for the barges to manoeuvre for the start line.

In the Coasting class start at 1000 Pudge was a little eager and crossed just too early; Thalatta newly rebuilt and sailing again this season had to luff up to avoid the same problem and made the fastest start of the day half a minute after the gun. Cambria made an impressive start setting a large flying jib in stops as she crossed the line while Lady of the Lea gamely sailing with the Coasters completed the class. The Staysail class saw a close start with Melissa, Edith May and Repertor more or less abreast with Edith May sailing well and to windward. By the time the Bowsprit class came to the line at 1030 the breeze had faded leading to a slower start with Adieu two minutes after the gun followed by Marjorie and Edme.

Running gently down the river with the ebb tide, Cambria drew away into a big lead carrying the remains of the breeze with her. Repertor edged ahead of Edith May and Melissa while, unusually, the Bowsprits languished behind as the wind fell away with Edme faring a little better than the others.

By 1130 with the fleet spread over five miles of the river and little wind it was clear that the course would have to be shortened. With three hours ebb still to run the barges were likely to have to anchor to await the flood so the Nore Swatch buoy was chosen as the turning mark. Cambria reached the mark at 1240 and anchored in flat calm conditions. The rest of the fleet drifted slowly down on the sluggish ebb tide trying out their full wardrobes of sails to keep steerage way. Thalatta set several headsails and a mizzen staysail but to no avail. Edith May drifted ahead of Repertor which had difficulty keeping her head pointing downstream, Marjorie found a little draught mid-stream but it carried her well away from the Kent shore and the turning mark.

By 1400 still no other barge had reached the mark, there was no wind and no sign of a sea breeze: the turbine blades of the distant wind farm stood stationary in the haze and the ebb tide was done. The decision was taken to terminate the Match and to award positions on the basis of the barges’ distances from the mark at 1415 so that the craft could get back to Gravesend under power in time for the Match Supper. On this reckoning the order stood as: Coasters – Cambria, Thalatta, Lady of the Lea, Pudge; Staysails – Edith May, Repertor, Melissa; Bowsprits – Edme, Marjorie, Adieu.

Prizes were presented by Richard Horlock and special guest Griff Rhys-Jones, who had eschewed the offer of a relaxing day aboard the Committee motor yacht in favour of joining in the foredeck work on Edme. Griff entertained the company with his observations and reflections on the ownership of wooden boats and complimented owners and skippers on their dedication in keeping their barges sailing.

As the only barge to complete the shortened course, Cambria, master Richard Titchener won several cups and the Match pennant. The fastest start was by Cyril Varley of Thalatta who also won the overall seamanship award. Crew trophies were awarded to Simon Copsey (Cambria, mainsheetman), Roger Davies (Thalatta, crewman) and Freddy Webb (Melissa, aspiring youngster), the last representing at least the fifth generation of bargemen in his family.

The Gold Belt trophy for achievement was awarded to the Thames Sailing Barge Trust for their dedicated work over many years in the restoration of Pudge and Centaur without any public funding.

And so a rather frustrating day on the water was eased over in the convivial atmosphere of the Three Daws as experiences were shared and plans laid for future sailing.

Julian Cass
Officer of the Day, 2012

2012 result

Thames Match 2011 – 23 July

There had been some rain in the night, but the day dawned on Saturday, 23 July, fresh with a reasonable north-west wind. The first class away was the Coasters at 09.00. Cambria was first across, 49 seconds after the gun, though she appeared to be experiencing problems with her bowsprit. A minute later Lady of the Lea crossed with Lady Daphne 1 second behind, and Cabby some 20 seconds after that. The Staysails followed; Melissa crossing the line 10 seconds after their 09.15 start, thus winning the Capt RD Duke Cup for the fastest start. Edith May crossed 2 seconds behind, but unfortunately on the wrong side and incurred a 15 minute time penalty. Repertor charged the line with everything set and drawing, (the only barge to do so), 10 seconds after Melissa. This feat won Repertor the newly introduced Capt Jim Uglow Cup for Seamanship on the Line. Decima crossed about a minute later. The bowsprits started at 09.30, Marjorie crossing 1 minute after the gun, followed by Adieu 1 minute later. Each class crossed the line within 2 minutes of their gun.

The Bridge Committee now had to take a gamble. Turn the fleet early, or push on to the Outer Mark and hope that the wind did not fail. It was a run down the river wondering, had we made the right decision had we made the wrong decision, for the wind did start to fail.

However, Cambria rounded the North Oaze Buoy at 11.14, with Cabby some 15 minutes behind. Lady Daphne and Melissa rounded almost simultaneously at 11.40, followed 7 minutes later by Lady of the Lea. The remaining fleet, now bunched, led by Marjorie, followed by Edith May, Decima, Repertor and Adieu rounded within a 5 minute period just before 12.00.

Now began the long haul on the wind back up the river; some chosing the Kent shore, some the Essex. Cambria kept resolutely to the Essex shore and not only kept her lead of the fleet but added distance to nearest rival Cabby. Repertor recovered her second place position but could not catch Melissa. Adieu also stole a march on Marjorie.

Cambria crossed the finish line as 15.20, with Cabby 40 minutes later. Melissa crossed at 15.30 with Repertor 7 minutes behind. They were closely followed by Decima, Adieu and Marjorie between 15.40 and 15.45. Edith May crossed at 16.00, followed an hour later by Lady Daphne and Lady of the Lea.

The match was followed by a supper in the Three Daws. The prizes were presented by Councillor Michael Wenban, Tug Skipper and Journalist.

2011 results