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.
Officer of the Day, 2012