Course shortened

The 80th Thames Barge Race was a close run affair with 10 barges well matched in light airs necessitating every cunning plan from on board tacticians.

The barges: Marjorie, Reminder, Xylonite, Repertor, Lady of the Lea, Decima, Lady Daphne, Phoenician, Melissa and Adieu started in a fickle north-westerly breeze in the Lower Hope section of the River Thames.

The wind did not fill in and so the course was shortened from the North Oaze buoy in the Thames Estuary to the Sea Reach Number 5 buoy off Southend-on-Sea.

Some barges tacked in across the shallow Southend flats to miss the last of the ebb: Melissa wore the scars of such a tricky tactic: a two foot deep patch of mud on her starboard leeboard. But she did well and made the best use of the elements to round the buoy. Marjorie also stood over the flats and seemed to come back from nowhere once the breeze started increasing.

Adieu had been tail-end Charlie but whether by luck or planning was perfectly timed to round the mark: as all the faster barges had been set further down on the ebb. But it was almost finished by the time she arrived and also collected the first of the freshening breeze. She kept a good place in the fleet clearly better suited to windward work than going downhill.

But it was the flyer Xylonite who came into her own winning overall and leaving the next barge a mile astern over the finish line at Gravesend.

At the traditional sausage and mash supper ashore in the Three Daws, all the crews shared their day with trophies filled with serious draughts of alcohol.

Appropriately Michael Everard, CBE, was master of ceremonies. Rightly so as he is the great grandson of the original FT Everard who founded the world’s greatest coasting company at Greenhithe on the River Thames at the turn of the 19th Century. The company produced some of the most famous racing barges ever to sail on the river including Veronica and Sara.