Pin Mill Sailing Club Barge Matches 1962-1994

A personal record of the Thirty Three Matches by Jack Haste - Taken from the book "Pin Mill Sailing Club Sixty Years" by Renee M Waite, printed 1995.

The summer of 1962 ended one hundred years of sailing barge racing on the Thames and barge enthusiasts believed it to be the end of a unique sailing activity. Not long after the event, a handful of Pin Mill Sailing Club Members were discussing this and Richard Duke, owner of Millie, and the Commodore, Arthur Davies, suggested that a Barge Class be incorporated in the Pin Mill Sailing Club August Regatta. The Commodore asked if I could bring a few of the remaining barges to Pin Mill for this occasion. The Sailing Club Committee approved the idea and the Sailing Secretary, Brian Humby, with the help of Richard Duke, arranged for seven barges to take part in the Regatta; a small working Sub Committee being set up to organise the Barge Class on that day. Capt. Lucas, a professional Barge Master, kindly offered to act as Officer of the Day. With a fresh north easterly breeze on regatta day, and thirty or more cruising yachts, plus many racing dinghies, cutters and whalers, all hell-bent on finishing their own particular courses, it was a case of "might having right" and the sailing barges came across the line in spectacular fashion, oblivious of the dozen or more yacht races. But, in good seamanlike manner, not one protest was "officially" lodged on that occasion. First barge home was Memory, beating rule Spinaway C, Ardeer, Saltcote Belle, Maid of Connaught, Marjorie and Millie. A supper for the bargemen was held at the 'Butt and Oyster'. The total cost of the Match, including this supper, was eighty pounds. This amount was raised by donations from members of the Club. It was obvious that if we were to run another Match in 1963 we would have to separate the barges from the Regatta and allocate a date in the sailing programme for the Barge Match. It was agreed that the working committee should separate from the Sailing Committee and continue under the Chairmanship of the Commodore and I was appointed Secretary.

After the success of this first Match, under the guidance of the Sailing Committee, arranging the 1963 Match was quite different. The Barge Match became an individual activity, having its own identity and attracting the Sailing Barge enthusiasts. The starting line was moved down river to Butterman's Bay to allow more space. A suitable Committee Boat had to be found and Peter Horlock made available the Motor Barge Remercie. The Committee was alarmed to discover that Remercie had been used during the past months for removing liquid polystyrene to B.X. Plastics at Manningtree and the three feet high letters written down her sides read "Highly Inflammable". Despite this, they smoked their pipes and cigarettes merrily through the Match, completely ignoring the possibility of ending the day with a big bang. The supper and prize giving was held at the Pin Mill Sailing Club.

The number of barges entering the 1964 Barge Match increased to ten, and with the kind help of Roger Finch, who did the cover drawing, we were able to make a Souvenir Programme available for the first time.

By the fourth Barge Match in 1965, barges that we had been led to believe would never venture out of their mud berths were appearing, all "toffed up" with varnished masts, borrowed topsails and new paint.

By now the barges had established their own set of courses and it was the Officer of the Day who, on the morning of the Match, selected a suitable course. Ken Voules has been the Timekeeper on the starting gun for every race throughout these thirty three years. We have often watched a dozen barges jockeying for the starting line, and admired the seamanship of the skippers and crews handling their vessels in such confined waters.

Following the tradition of the Thames Matches, Pin Mill rules permitted a Skipper and four crew only to sail the barge during the Match; passengers were allowed but could not take part in handling any of the gear. Only five working sails to be used - mainsail, topsail, mizzen, staysail and foresail. Although there were a number of very experienced bargemen around it was becoming increasingly difficult to persuade one to take on the task of Officer of the Day. They were well aware of the responsibility this involved towards professional sailormen who, while very conscious of the rules of good seamanship, had their individual interpretations of the Match Rules. It fell to the Officer of the Day to resolve some heated differences of opinion. In 1964, Capt. A. H. (Chubb) Horlock undertook this task, and after the Match, with a boat hook, a piece of chalk and the oak tree at the club house, he explained in detail the art of being first to round a buoy. With pint mugs at the ready and a considerable amount of goodwill, protests were resolved in a very friendly manner. The evenings often ended with a repertoire of amusing songs.

By 1966 the Barge Match Committee was well organised and some very successful Matches took place. The reputation of the Pin Mill Sailing Club Barge Match was growing and each year the number of entries increased, but this annual increase came to a sudden halt in 1966 after a disaster at Barmouth when a number of people were drowned from a chartered motor boat. The Board of Trade enforced a regulation that vessels carrying passengers and not holding a Board of Trade Certificate of Seaworthiness would not be allowed to go outside smooth water limits. All our courses, at the time, took the barges beyond this limit and therefore all courses had now to be restricted to the Orwell, Harwich Harbour and the Stour. Complete re-organisation was necessary. The Sailing Barge Association helped to put together an East Coast working team to bring barges up to the standard required to obtain their certificates of seaworthiness and thus enable them to carry passengers and the racing crew beyond the smooth water limit.

Thirteen barges took part in the 1966 Match, using a rounding mark up the Stour, off Harkstead Point and various marks back to Pin Mill. Capt. Jack Spitty, skippering the Edith May crossed the finishing line first.

We felt we had to seek the full co-operation of the Harbour Master at Harwich, Capt. Vic Sutton, to allow a dozen or more barges to be racing in and around the very busy harbour of Felixstowe and Harwich. Much to our relief, Harwich Harbour Board took a genuine interest and turned out the Harbour Master's launch to assist in the activity of the day. This support has continued ever since and it has been a welcome relief to the Barge Match Committee to have such a responsible authority approving the event.

The 1967 Match saw an entry of fourteen barges compete over the Harbour and River Courses and created much interest, for the Match could be watched throughout from many vantage points. These courses kept the barges closer to each other, which demanded considerably more skill in seamanship, and luffing matches became the order of the day. There were many near misses and in spite of four collisions recorded by the Officer of the Day no barge was the worse for wear. We were very fortunate to have Capt. Fred Cooper, a~ famous barge skipper and author of many books on barging, join our Committee and take on the duty of Officer of the Day. His understanding of the problems created by the 1966 Board of Trade Regulations made a major contribution towards running the Matches during the difficult years of the late l960s and early 1970s. Entries had dropped to only nine or ten as barges were finding it difficult to conform to the Board of Trade Regulations which required them to have life rafts, fire fighting equipment, distress signalling, insurance, inspections for seaworthiness and to employ a professional skipper.

However, by 1973 fifteen barges, which had been brought up to the Board of Trade standard, entered the Pin Mill Sailing Club Barge Match, eligible to be sent out to sea. The 1974 Match achieved the highest number of entries: eighteen barges entered and seventeen actually crossed the starting line. At this time the third Class "C" was introduced. Using the experience of previous sailing Matches and the barges' sailing records we were able to divide the Classes. "A" Class was for the Bowsprit barges, irrespective of their previous performance, and the Staysail barges were in either "B" Class or "C" Class. This gave a safer and more competitive start.

In these years the Pin Mill Sailing Club Barge Match was attracting more barges and in 1977 a record twenty six barges were entered in "H.M. The Queen's Silver Jubilee" Barge Match Programme. On the night before the Match the high spirited crews of the two smallest barges ever to take part in the Match, Cygnet and Seagull II, challenged each other to make and bake a cake during the race. The cakes would be judged by the Commodore's Lady, the Officer of the Day and the Match Secretary. Much merriment and mirth was caused at the Prizegiving to see the judges fighting their way through jam and flour. With much tact, the result was a draw.

In 1979 the Blue Circle Cement Co. started the Blue Circle Challenge Match (a Passage Match for Sailing Barges to be run on a course from Gravesend to Pin Mill, sailed as one Class). This was quite separate from the Pin Mill Sailing Club Barge Match, but Fred Cooper, Richard Duke and myself were appointed as Match Officers and acted as timekeepers on the finishing line.

The 18th Annual Barge Match was run on 30th June 1979, and Capt. Fred Cooper was Officer of the Day, but sadly a few weeks later going ashore at Stone Heaps on the Orwell he suddenly collapsed and died. Fred Cooper had served on the Committee as Officer of the Day for fourteen years. Capt. Mick Lungley, a local barge master, took over this responsibility and has carried out this task with great distinction from 1980 onwards.

Our 25th Silver Jublilee Match was held on 28th June 1986. A big effort was put in by all involved to make the day a most memorable one. A splendid day's sailing was followed in the evening by celebrations and the Sunset Ceremony, played by the Band of the T. S. Orwell (Sea Cadet Corps) on the Common, and the day closed with a splendid fireworks display on the foreshore in front of the club house.

The annual programme cover has always been designed by local artists and sold in aid of Match funds. The costs of running the Match were increasing and we were fortunately receiving generous donations from a number of interested companies and well wishers.

At this time I became aware of the importance of finding a successor as Barge Match Secretary, and Julian Ackland was approached to understudy me for the 1989 Match. It was unfortunate that he was dispatched in a twenty foot open motor boat to the Outward Mark in a strong nor-easterly to act as Timekeeper. In spite of this initiation Julian agreed to take on the duties of Assistant Barge Match Secretary for the 1990 Match, which enabled me to prepare to hand over my role after the 1991 Match.

A particularly spectacular Barge Match took place on 6th July 1991. Twenty barges entered, but not one of the original seven that had taken part in the first Match competed this year. They had all gone into retirement. Who would have thought that thirty years later the cost of the Match would have increased from eighty pounds to one thousand, five hundred pounds? The Officer of the Day had chosen an excellent course and apart from the excitement of the Committee Boat being given a thunderous head-on collision, (thank goodness from the smallest barge in the fleet) no other mishap ensued.

This match marked my retirement as Barge Match Secretary after thirty years, and I was presented with a silver gallery tray while my wife, Betty, was given a bouquet. There was a moment of mixed feelings to reflect back on the many friends I had made throughout these years and the relief of handing over an activity in which I had been involved for more than half my lifetime. As the day had started with a bang we finished with a display of fireworks from the shore.

I have enjoyed the support of all those who have served on the Committee, Commodores of Pin Mill Sailing Club and many friends who have contributed to the success of Barge Match Day, and express my heartfelt gratitude to them all.

Jack Haste

The full transcript of The History of the Pin Mill Sailing Club Barge Match by Jack Haste can be seen in the Pin Mill Sailing Club Library.