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