With eight events still remaining this season the Thames barge racing programme promises plenty of entertainment
With eight events still remaining this season the Thames barge racing programme promises plenty of entertainment.
These wooden and steel leviathans have been racing on the Thames since 1863, making their annual Thames Match the second oldest continuously held yacht race after the America’s Cup which was established 12 years earlier.
The vessels were originally developed in the seventeenth century from Dutch spritsail designs, their relatively large sail plans affording them a surprising turn of speed which has even been known to embarrass more modern sailing vessels.
Barges in the faster classes travel at anywhere from 8 to 10 knots in a Force 4 or above and with judicious use of the leeboards they are reasonable to windward with tacking angles from 100 to 120 degrees. These 80 to 95 footers also sport many labour saving features such as self tacking foresails as they were intended to be sailed by just two crewmembers; master and boy, so in some respects were years ahead of their time.
Perhaps equally surprising to modern yachtsmen, the barge matches are incredibly competitive. Some of the boats are over 100 years old and many have been racing each other for over 70 years, so owners have built up a vast knowledge on the performance of all the barges in the races and there is no love lost between them once the start gun fires.
The matches make for fantastic viewing and yachtsmen are encouraged to get out on the water on race days to add to the carnival atmosphere, but with the barges weighing in from 50 to 100 tonnes they are advised to keep well clear.
Dates for 2003 barge matches
Passage 28 June
Pin Mill 5 July
Thames 19 July
Solent 2 August
Whitstable 10 August
Swale 23 August
Southend 25 August
Colne 6 September