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