Saturday, 26 June 2010

Thames Barge Driving Race

The barges arrive. It takes nearly 2 hours to drive them over the course.
The annual Barge Driving Race is fought between a dozen or so 30 ton dumb barges rowed by Thames Lightermen and Watermen using 26ft sweeps. Two row at the bow and another steers at the stern, also using a sweep.
The rowers do not so much power the boat as position it to take maximum benefit from the tide, which is flowing up from the start in Greenwich to the finish at Westminster, a distance of seven miles. This takes incredible strength and skill, and only qualified lightermen and watermen can take part (this is one of the few professions that still requires an apprenticeship to be served).
Mike Russell's boat, last 3 years' winner is in blue. We are supporting him.
Langstone Cutters chairman Mike Gilbert was on a boat following the race, with other members of the London2Paris winning crew, Gravesend. He took these pictures with his BlackBerry and posted them on his Twitter feed. The captions are Mike's.
For my top anecdote about one of these barges causing a still-visible dent in Cannon Street Railway Bridge, click here.
Mike's team about to cross the finish line first!      


JP said...

The lightermen are incredibly skilled. When towing a lighter they can let it go at just the right moment so it drifts into exactly the right spot by the quay side without power and sometimes with no one onboard.

Would have been interested to see that but was visiting Whitstable at the time.

Myrtle's missus said...

Do you know anything about the history of the red barge with the Union Jack painted on her? Do you know who owns her? I have a very similar barge called Myrtle which is converted into a houseboat. They are unusual in that they are made of riveted iron, and have squared off ends. Mine also has the hollows where the iron has stretched inwards between the ribs supporting the sides.