Trip Reports

CAMRA Charters  – a success story for the Trust!

I’m sure most of you will know what CAMRA is – it stands for the Campaign for Real Ale, and it is actually the largest consumer group in the European Union, with over 160,000 members in the UK.  People who like drinking real ale usually have an affection for other “traditional” things, such as historic pubs, steam trains and…. Thames sailing barges!  It seemed the natural thing to do to explore the possibility of organising weekend charters for beer drinkers who wanted to experience life on a Thames barge.  Little did I realise how popular they would be!

After last year’s successful charter, the Maldon and Dengie Branch of CAMRA organised two separate weekends this year.  The first charter was from Upnor on the river Medway in July, which was followed by one from Maldon in September.  Both trips were very well received, with many of the CAMRA members expressing a desire to repeat the experience in 2016.

The trip from Upnor began with a very convivial evening in the King’s Arms in Upper Upnor, which is a regular entry in the “Good Beer Guide”.  The food and ale were excellent.  We set off from Upnor downstream shortly after sunrise (which was about 5 o’clock); the Medway lacks the scenic charm of the Blackwater, but there was plenty to see along the way.  We passed Sheerness and managed to do some sailing on what was a glorious summer’s day.  However, we wanted to explore Queenborough, so we headed into the Swale and anchored near the Harbour.  The range of pubs was not that impressive, but we soaked up the sunshine for an hour.  It was soon time to board the barge boat and re-join “Centaur”; we sailed to Stangate Creek, which was our overnight mooring.

After our meal, we drank some of the beer on board and joined in with skipper Geoff Harris and mate Mick Nolan as they sang some sea shanties for us.  An evening to remember!  We were up early, though, to make our way back up the Medway to Upnor on the tide.  The winds were very light, but it was a beautiful day which made for a pleasant trip back to base.  Quite a few of us took our turn at the wheel – Mick was also very good at assigning tasks to make us feel part of the crew.  The feedback from everyone was really positive; they had particularly enjoyed the interaction with Geoff and Mick, which had been first-rate.

Early morning on the Medway

Early morning on the Medway

The second charter left from Maldon in mid-September.  Only two of our group (including me!) had ever sailed on a Thames barge before, so this was an interesting trip.  Geoff was once again our skipper, with Peter Taylor as mate.  The Queen’s Head was the natural meeting place for the group on the Friday evening, and a good time was had by all.  Our destination on Saturday was Rowhedge on the Colne; we had arranged with the landlord of the Olde Albion to call him to let him know we were on our way.  He had indicated that he would open early for us at lunchtime, which was very accommodating of him!   After a couple of excellent pints of ale, we clambered back on board and Geoff headed out of the Colne.  We anchored off Bateman’s near Brightlingsea, which allowed us to make another trip ashore on the barge boat.  The Railway Arms is a quirky watering hole, but serves good beer!  After a great night aboard (with more sea shanties), we headed back to Maldon on the Sunday.  Once again, the feedback was very good indeed; Geoff and Peter scored high marks for their friendly and participative approach to the whole weekend.

Where will we go next year?  Suffolk is high on the list of options.  I don’t think we will have any trouble finding people willing to come along.

Pudge at Rowhedge moored near the Olde Albion

Pudge at Rowhedge moored near the Olde Albion

Two Charters in May 2014; Southend Match 2012; BOR Charter 2013; Medway Match 2005


Two Charters in May – CAMRA & Greenwich.

We arranged two early charters in May, a fortnight apart, and both benefiting from good tides and fine weather. The first was a dual charter, jointly organised by Chris Harvey and Don Baines, for twenty four members of the Maldon and Dengie Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). The task of provisioning Pudge and Centaur and organising meals was ably taken on by Penny Baines, and Don and Chris put three barrels of real ale from Maldon’s Mighty Oak and Farmer’s breweries on board each barge.

The CAMRA members met in The Queens Head for dinner (and some good beer) on Friday, then Pudge and Centaur left The Hythe around 0230 in a flat calm to motor down as far as Stone to anchor in St Lawrence bay. After a short but refreshing sleep both barges weighed anchor around 0700 and took the last of the ebb down the Blackwater, setting sail in a very light and variable south-easterly wind, and enjoying a full English breakfast once under way. The charter doubled as a shake-down sail for both barges. This had been cancelled due to strong winds the previous weekend. Pudge was christening her new topmast, and various sail-trimming was undertaken by skipper Geoff Harris and acting-mate Dave Perkins. On Centaur skipper Doug Nicholls and mate Alaina Winder made the usual adjustments to her rig and both barges ended up stemming the young flood tide off Sales Point in a wind that never rose above F2 and sometimes died away altogether.

Pudge used her engine for an hour to motor-sail out of the Blackwater, cutting across to the Colne via the Moliette beacon. Her crew then enjoyed a very pleasant sail on the flood tide up the Colne, being treated to the sight of two marsh harriers quartering Geedon saltings. She motored through the Colne barrier and moored at Rowhedge for an hour pleasantly spent in Ye Olde Albion which had four outstanding real ales on offer. We had booked with the river bailiff for both barges to moor alongside, but for some reason Centaur eschewed the use of her engine and could only make Pyefleet for lunch. Pudge left Rowhedge at the top of the tide and sailed back down to Pyefleet at the end of the afternoon where she rafted up with Centaur, on Centaur’s anchor.

Fortunately, Centaur had her three barrels of beer on board so her crew kept their thirst quenched. Come evening, and after a hearty dinner on both barges, a few of Centaur’s crew went across to Brightlingsea in Pudge’s barge boat with the two mates. On Pudge a spontaneous shanty evening occurred, with skipper Geoff leading the singing.

Next morning brought a welcome southerly F2 – 3 wind, allowing both barges to beat out of the Colne via the Inner Bench Head and then into the Blackwater on the first of the flood. The CAMRA members enjoyed a memorable sail back up the Blackwater with blue skies and a warm beam wind all the way back to The Hythe where both barges tied up around 1500 hours. Centaur’s crew had run out of beer (though we believe there was a bottle of Caribbean dark rum on board). Most importantly all participants in the charter agreed it had been enormously enjoyable, and there is already a lengthening list of CAMRA members hoping to repeat the experience next year.

The second charter was one Don planned to try to reinstate the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, charters that were an important part of the old TSBC’s programme in the 1990s.

A total of nine Greenwich Members enjoyed another fine weekend with some excellent sailing, skippered again by Geoff, with Andrew Berry providing sterling support as mate, and Daniel Dodson experiencing his first stint as third hand.

Penny again provisioned the barge, and even served a two-course meal on board for everyone on Friday evening when The Queens Head couldn’t accommodate our party of twelve for dinner (they had a wedding party off Hydrogen). This worked out well, because the skipper and crew joined us, bottles of beer and wine were consumed, and by the time we set off from The Hythe around 0130 the entire charter party and crew had gelled and we set off down the Blackwater like we had known each other for years.

As with the CAMRA charter, we motored down to Stone and anchored for the rest of the night. Again we awoke to light and variable wind, but managed to set some sail and bucked the early flood to get out of the Blackwater and in to the Colne. This time there was no requirement to make Rowhedge for lunch, and the Greenwich charterers enjoyed gentle sailing, with no engine, and with all sails set including the staysail.

Grenwich Charter Crew

The Greenwich Party

The Greenwich party contained a wide range of ages and abilities – and nationalities : we enjoyed having two Americans on board. Only one of the party had any prior experience of sailing, and that was some years ago as a deck officer on BP tankers. Never mind – he could tie a decent bowline under pressure, and really enjoyed being afloat once more albeit on a slightly smaller vessel than he had been used to. Geoff,  Andrew and Daniel did an excellent job in giving everyone plenty of opportunity to hoist and trim sail, raise the anchor and helm Pudge. It was also good for the charterers to see Daniel under instruction from Andrew. It helped them to understand something of the range of skills required to sail a barge, and see that this is an important part of the Trust’s work.

We finally rounded up and anchored at the mouth of Pyefleet, and most charterers enjoyed a bit of shut-eye after our lunch. Penny had organised the party into three watches of three, with each watch responsible for one meal per day. This worked well, and everyone mucked in enthusiastically (with Penny on call if help were needed). Saturday evening saw another shanty session, but this time Geoff had brought his melodeon. “Is there no end to his talent?” exclaimed the charterers, as their grizzled old skipper went through his repertoire.

We slept well that night, and woke to an ideal wind to take us back up to Maldon. There was much enthusiastic scrubbing of Pudge’s decks, anchor chain and windlass barrel, but also plenty of time to socialise on deck, and find out from skipper and mate something about the history and practice of barge sailing. Everyone who wanted to had at least one trick on the wheel, and three of us did a fairly good harbour stow on the foresail when we finally tied up at The Hythe. Most importantly everyone agreed they had had a truly wonderful experience, and we already have a nucleus of five Greenwich Members eager to come again next year.

Don & Penny Baines

Southend Barge Match 2012

The Southend Barge Match was held on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday. Mick Nolan was mate for the Race, with Martin Atkinson taking on the job of Mainsheet man.

The weather forecast for the weekend was to be mainly winds N to E up to force 5, with some rain showers.

On arrival at Maldon on Friday evening we found Reminder moored outside us. She was also going to Southend, with Julian Cass as skipper.

We mustered, about 2am Saturday, and as soon as Reminder had slipped we sprung Pudge off the Lighter, and followed down river.

Under engine we groped our way to Southend where we anchored east of the pier head, which was only faintly visible in the mist. Close by to barges Marjorie, and Adieu.  We then had some lunch, and waited to see if we could see other barges arriving.

Shortly after we heard Reminder reporting on the radio to London VTS of her arrival in the Thames reporting area. Soon after Cambria, and Decima reported in, although in the murk we didn’t see them. Then the heavens opened in a big way. We were glad we were not still sailing, as it was heavy stuff. It continued so till the evening, and although there were some deck leaks, we were glad for the work of the Thursday group, which had sorted out most of the known leaks over the winter. The rain was seriously heavy, and next day we heard how the town of Southend suffered serious flooding.

The crew opted to stay aboard for the evening, and enjoyed an excellent meal, and generally got to know each other.

Next morning we were up early for breakfast before the Match. The visibility had returned hazy, but looked promising, with wind N-NE 3-4. We were given the course for the day by mobile phone message, and when Mick Nolan arrived on the workboat he bought us the match notes.

Our Start time was 10.00, and our classmate was Lady of the Lea. The Fast Staysail Class start was 10.15. With Edith May, Niagara, Reminder, and Repertor competing. The Bowsprit Class start was 10.30. with Adieu, Cambria, Decima, and Marjorie competing.

So, it was up anchor and proceed to the start line. The plan was to do one test run for the start line. Then get back above the line, and have a go. I asked for the Topsail to be set, and as this was done, proceeded to set about lowering the Starboard leeboard. Unfortunately, the winch pawl sprang back into the gearwheel stripping 8 teeth, and cracking a frame in 2 places.  The board had stopped about halfway down.

Martin Atkinson got stuck in sorting out tackles to enable some use in at least raising the board if necessary. Whilst he was busy doing that, the rest of crew set the other plain sails. By the time we had ourselves sorted we were running for the line, just before the start of the faster Staysail Class.

Pudge and Lady of the Lea at close quarters

The course was to be a good choice for the day. The start was W to E to get us get us down river before the flood got into it’s stride. For us now it was clearly going to be a day of chasing the ‘Lady’. The weather got better, and it turned out a really nice day. With only half a board down we had to make one tack to get round the first mark, the W Shoebury bouy to starboard. We tacked across the other barges now coming down at a fair rate.  On the bad board again we were passed by the ‘Adieu’ with a bone in her teeth, their crew  giving us friendly encouragement. Clearing the W Shoebury bouy, we now headed towards the SE Leigh to starboard. At this time we had a grand view of all the fleet. Rounding the SE Leigh it was off across the river to the Nore Swatch buoy to starboard. Most of the faster barges passed us on this leg, but we appeared to be catching the ‘Lady’. Next mark was the Mid Swatch to starboard, and then back across the river to the pier head mark to port. A few heavy puffs on this leg meant keeping an eye on the staysail, but all the crew working well.

Reminder takes the pier head buoy during the match

On approaching the pier head mark. It appeared we had a chance to catch the ‘Lady’. She had not cleared it on the starboard tack, and had to tack round to clear the mark. We looked fair to make the mark as we approached on the starboard tack. Then the wind went fickle, and the tide got a grip on us. The ‘Lady’ cleared the mark, and we had to put another board in. Then along came the work boat, and started dragging the buoy more downriver. Unbeknown to us ‘Reminder had dragged the buoy off station when rounding it with other barges. So the ‘Lady’ had rounded it in the wrong position, which we were also aiming for. Now with the buoy back on station it was going to be a tall order. A phone call from the committee who realised our situation let us bear away from the same position as the ‘Lady’ had, to head for the next mark. This was back across the river to the West Nore Swatch buoy to starboard. Back to chasing the ’Lady’ again then.

After The West Nore Swatch it was back across the river, and the Sea Reach buoys, where only a week before the single buoys had been replaced by twin buoys to aid the new London Gateway Container Traffic. The tide was taking the barges upriver crossing to the north shore then it was long and short tacks, against the tide back to the pier leaving the Leigh Low Way Buoy, and pier head to starboard.

The ‘Lady’ was well up river, and looked to be well beyond the West Leigh Middle buoy. We crossed tacks as we gained the north shore, quite close. Our disadvantage now was the long port tacks back towards the pier which were on the half down starboard leeboard. Eventually on one of the short tacks we were able to get over the sands into the Leigh Ray channel out of the main tide. This appeared to give us a good fetch to the Leigh Low way Buoy. However, just as we approached it the wind headed us slightly, and we had to put a short tack in.

All the finished barges were anchored between the pier head and the Leigh Low Way buoy. The short starboard tack took us alongside the Pier to about two thirds it’s length from the shore. We then turned on the Port Tack to sail close and parallel to the pier out to it’s end (giving the spectators a fine view). We passed between the Pier end, and the nearest anchored Barge. Then hardened up the sheets to clear the Finish Mark. taking the Gun and Cheers to end the Match. We didn’t catch the ‘Lady’, but everyone said it was a most enjoyable day. The sails were stowed, and we motored to anchor amongst the fleet.

After a short chill out time. The Yacht Club provided excellent food prior to the Presentations. Trophies were presented by Southend’s Mayor. We were pleased to receive the cup for second in our class, and delighted to receive the Seamanship Cup for completing the course despite our leeboard handicap.

Terry O’Sullivan

Mary Gilder’s BOR Charter on s.b. Pudge 20th – 24th June 2013

‘Good Company’ – Pudge’s Crew

Even though Mary Gilder’s BOR (Brotherhood of Revelry) charter straddled Mid-summer’s day, much of our long weekend was spent sheltering from strong winds and occasional rain. A series of deep depressions were forecast for the Thames area, and we decided to remain tied up on the Hythe on Thursday evening. On Friday we set off down the Blackwater at 10:00 am an hour and a half before high water, and enjoyed a pleasant sail in light winds out to the Bench Head. The midday forecast gave another strong wind warning – westerly force 5 – 6 gusting force 7 – 8 so after sailing up as far as the Knoll in a freshening wind, skipper Terry O’Sullivan, turned Pudge back up the Colne and we anchored at the mouth of the Pyfleet in the lee of Mersea Island. This worked well, and although Pudge’s bob fluttered horizontally much of the night, at deck level we were sheltered from the worst of the wind.

Next day the forecasr was no better, with the wind now coming from the nor-west. The Pudge’s saloon, the main cause of the leakes being not in the planking, but under the lead flashing around the forhatch. A decision was made to motor up the Colne and take shelter under the lee of Rowhedge. Although this meant no sailing for the day it did mean that Pudge’s crew could sample the delights of the Albion (one of the finest pubs for real ale on the east coast), both at lunchtime and again that evening. The afternoon was not wasted, and more make-do-and mend was undertaken, with mate Doug Nicholls giving third hand Mick Nolan  a lesson on repairing Pudge’s rigging. The remainder of the crew explored Rowhedge, and found an impressive exhibition of work by local artists in one of the houses.

High water next morning found us sailing down the Colne, but still no further than Pyfleet. The wind remained blustery, though we did have a good sunset, promising better weather for our last day. At afternoon tea we helped Pat O’Sullivan celebrate her birthday with a chocolate Pudge cake, and a present from the rest of the crew – a copy of Arthur Ransome’s “We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea”. Later that evening we dined well in Pudge’s slightly less leaky saloon, and finished off the polypin of Nigel Farmer’s ‘Nelson’s Blood’ which we had wisely put on board.

Doug Nicholl’s and Mick Nolanrepairing the rigging

Don Baines working on the decks

Our final day dawned dry, but still with a light but chilly northerly wind. We took the last of the ebb out of the Colne, and with the lee boards up cut the corner across the Blackwater, past the Moliette wreck (which was very visible above the water at that early stage of the tide). By the time we had moored up on the Hythe the sun had come out at last, so at least we could pack up in the dry. Still an enjoyable charter – good company, good food, and a chance to catch up with all those little jobs on board that there is never enough time for during fitting out.

By Don Baines & Pictures by Chris Harvey

Centaur’s Medway Match 2005

Our truly international crew, consisting amongst others of ‘Australian’ Dave Perkins, Hasje Mousley ( She’s originally from Holland , and her name fairly obviously rhymes with washer as in nut, bolt and… ) , and Dilys Renouf, ( she’s from Ken’ in’shee )…met aboard Centaur at Maldon on a hot Thursday evening at the end of May in preparation for our four day mission to lift the silverware from the Medway Match, and also to watch the Southend Air Show.

We swiftly adjourned to the nearby Queen’s Head for a pint and a meal, and I was able to admire David and Dilys Renouf’s own quarter scale barge, ‘HOPE’ at her berth in the boatyard. We were also able to clock TSBT skipper Geoff Harris’s nifty footwork as part of the Morris Men troupe performing on the quay.

At 0345 on Friday morning I awoke slightly after everyone else. My brand new £7.99 Argos de-luxe alarm clock was a failure. Or at least a partial failure. Starting with a polite peep peep, peep peep, it swiftly wound its self up into an angry frenzy, with both volume and speed increasing exponentially. Unfortunately having rammed my ear plugs in with extra enthusiasm in response to the ever more frequent and urgent tip toeing of the rest of the crew from their bunks to the heads, I was unable to hear a thing. Not so everyone else on the barge, who were beginning to panic ( some even started reading the instructions for donning a lifejacket) and I suffered the indignity of waking to find (then) assistant Mate Phil Chatfield giving me a shake, and enquiring politely if I could hear that bloody racket.

We were soon away from the Hythe, and with no wind, our skipper Mick Lungley motored us off into the most spectacular sunrise, with a seething red sun heaving itself over the horizon somewhere out by the Bench Head. Past Thirslett, and we came across the yacht barge ‘BLACKTHORN’ – drifting apparently abandoned on a glassy sea. As we passed her a lone arm, perhaps that of the only survivor of her crew was waved feebly at us.

sunrise small

Photo by Andrew Berry

Cheerily we ignored his obvious distress and passed on, through a foggy bit off Bradwell, and found the Spitways buoys, before setting the sails once the wind filled in ,and progressing up Swin. As we crossed the mouth of the Thames we had a race with BLACKTHORN, and won, and REMINDER, and lost.

Approaching the Medway I saw a shark, but by then I was getting delirious in the heat, possibly as a result of a deficiency within the crew that manifested itself early on, something seemed to preclude the production of a proper brown cup of tea. The rest of the gang, the warm milk drinkers, said it was some porpoises, and on reflection I can see that they are more likely to have been correct. In fact the crew were extremely keen; I’ve never seen so many people up on deck, ‘Sail by sail’ books in hand gazing up at the rigging, lips silently moving as if in tribute to the late Peter Hearn.

Still chasing and slowly closing REMINDER we sailed up to Gillingham Pier, and anchored at 14:00, most people diving below to examine the deckhead, as we’d had search an early start. Later on we lowered the boat, and motored ashore, but being unable to find anywhere to alight due to the low spring tide, we gave up hope of attending the pre-match briefing, and settled down to a session of using binoculars to watch the match committee on the shore watching us through binoculars, watching them through binoculars etc.

Later on, after a superb dinner Mick and Phil led a sing song on deck, and we were able to appreciate the efforts of those who had made more effort than us to attend the briefing as they paddled and sploshed through the mud trying to refloat their boats and get back to the barges.

mick lungley 2008 s plume

Skipper Mick Lungley

much missed by all who sailed with himI never did find out what he meant when he said he was ‘just off to turn his bike round’. Photo by S. Plume 2008

 On Saturday we were woken up early again by skipper Mick loudly asking if anyone wanted to buy a battleship ( we were moored right off the old Chatham dockyard entrance, and I’ve since found out its an old WW2 joke ), and by 0700 we were under way and ready for our class start at 07:30.

The committee had mustered at the end of the pier, with the requisite shot gun to start the match, and so was the man with the cartridges, except he was at the end of a different pier. In a strong force 5, gusting 6, there was much fast and furious close quarter manoeuvring around the line and Mick somehow to master what to me was a fusillade of gun shots and made an excellent start – we were first over the line exactly 60 seconds after the gun. Unfortunately 15 minutes later in the bowsprit class, MARJORIE did the same but in 58 seconds , this we just missed the prize for fastest overall start.

By now the wind was blowing force 6, gusting 7, and with the ebb tide gathering power under us, we lead the fleet down river, with the GPS reading 8.6 Knots. Gybing occasionally to follow the channel, we had to brail up the Main and ruck the Tops’l each time, and then haul up the Tops’l halliard again, so we were all kept pretty busy.

The committee shortened the course, so no longer were we heading for the Medway buoy, but only to Medway No 6, not nearly so far out past Sheerness. At the buoy we smartly gybed and began the long beat back into the Medway proper. Initially we were contending with the last of the ebb still coming out of the river but the tide soon turned giving us much lumpier wind over tide sea conditions.

bone in her teeth

Photo by Martin Phillips

We were sailing magnificently, often the weather chine keelson was clearly visible coming out of the water, and the lee rail was inches above the roaring bow wave we were creating.. In a gust the fores’l sheet parted, and the crew rose to the challenge magnificently to get the errant canvas back under control, and rig a new sheet so that the barge could be winded. It wasn’t until this episode was over that someone from aft asked me if I’d seen the port leeboard – I hadn’t but it had given way under the strain and was cracked through from top to bottom.

centlbd small

Photo by Andrew Berry

That effectively was the end of our match, and although we persevered and sailed across the line, we had had to use the engine once to kick the head round, so we retired honourably. Nevertheless we had all had an exhilarating and memorable sail.

After trying to find an alongside berth up river, we gave up and brought up in the same position as the previous night, amongst many other barges, some of which had had struck their topmasts in an effort to reduce their windage. We were not the only barge to suffer damage, and later we found that aboard XYLONITE, the main sheet traveller, the big iron ring that runs along the main horse had parted – which explains why we saw her running off down wind. XYLONITE eventually recovered the situation and resumed the match, and completed the course.

During the prize giving speeches that night, which half of us did not even get to ( but that’s a long and complicated story ) the Race Officer kindly complemented on how well turned out Centaur was, and commented that she was going fast through the water. He also said how well her crew had coped with the conditions and that she had been handled well.

Andrew Berry 2005