Southend-on-Sea Sailing Barge Match

53rd Southend Barge Match took place on Sunday August 28th 2016.

Light hearted review by Officer of the Day - Dick Durham, presented at the prizegiving

Down Tops’l

Local historian Hervey Benham got a whole book out of it and today the crew of many of the barging fleet heard his title ‘Down tops’l’ cried out, not just once but several times.

Yes, at last the Thames Sailing Barge racing her rivals on their own river had a breeze, the first for many years and a breeze which saw off some other potential entries. Edith May had been due to sail across from the Medway, so, too had Ironsides, but the Essex coast is a lee shore in a stiff sou-wester and, seeking shelter under Southend Pier, with a nod to the centenary of the Somme, is like being in the trenches and wearing a colander as a tin helmet.

So fair enough, then.

But seven barges did make it, and the first to arrive was Adieu whose crew deserve a special award for braving the Heart of Darkness known as Leigh-on-Sea, served by a treacherous channel with as many oxbows as the Congo River and where the natives are as unpredictable.

As Adieu weaved up the shoal creek, semi-naked locals waited in silence on the wharves of the town. Many of the women were topless and covered in strange tattoos, while the men had glittering beads pierced into their ears.

There were no spears on this occasion but tombstoning savages, a carpet of shattered Stella bottles spread by young warriors in oddly immaculate trainers, and hunters of Pokeman-go united by mobile telephony, saw Adieu, before the appearance of heads on stakes, steering back down river on the next available tide.

Marjorie took the safer option: she anchored off Southend, ensuring that like, Joshua Slocum, a mile of razor-sharp molluscs existed between her and would-be boarders.

On the day of the race Defiance, became the subject of debate over whether she should be considered for the seamanship award: let’s face it to be forced to swing the compass just before the start should not have to be faced by anyone. She managed however and with a new card marked up for 180 degrees of deviation, certified that east is east and west is west.

For the crew of Niagara it was the morning after the night before, and for a while the night before was winning. But she soon got into her stride and showed those of us watching from the pier a clean pair of chines.

Xylonite performed a manoeuvre reminiscent of the Costa Concordia, whose captain wished to wave to his girlfriend before leaving for foreign parts.
Would the pier take it we wondered ?, as deck-chairs were rapidly vacated, selfie sticks were dropped in panic and abandoned candy-flossii blew shorewards.

It was left to Jimmy Lawrence to sum it up:

‘If that was an amateur that would be foolhardy…but that’s Richard and that’s impressive. How thoughtful of him to give us all such a view.’

As the barges tacked away up river we ate sausages in the lifeboat’s observation room, until we noticed day-trippers below us running for shelter as a rain squall hit the pier. Immediately we looked to the west.

‘Melissa’s lost half her topmast,’ somebody armed with powerful binoculars announced.

As my authority as Officer of the Day, had already been compromised several times for not being able to answer technical questions from an enthusiastic crowd, I immediately took ownership of this alarming news.

‘Melissa’s lost half her topmast,’ I repeated volubly, ‘let’s hope no-one’s been hurt,’ I added, assuming this would lend a patrician-like quality to my high office.

Lady of the Lea was the first barge to finish and I was able to crib David Renouf’s pocket history to a bystander who wished to know more about the barge, and feeling very pleased with myself lifted the now available binoculars to get a better view of the problems suffered by Melissa, to add to my authority.

It was time to call for rescue: the RNLI came to my assistance and as their buggy raced me along the planks to the exit, I ducked down beneath the windows.

David Renouf
Southend Barge Match Committee Chairman


Many thanks to everyone for their contributions to this exciting event.
Thanks to Christopher Tourle for photographs

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