Thames Barge Racing

Barge Racing - River Blackwater - 11 June 2016
Thames Barges Mono
11 June 2016

Myself , and 7 other photographers, signed up for a trip on the Thames barge, Hydrogen, leaving from Maldon quay to observe the barge races. We did not consult the tide tables when we booked the trip some months ago, so you can imagine our horror when we discovered that tide times dictated an embarkation time of 04.45am – an alarm call of 03.00am to get there before they cast off.
Eight bleary-eyed photographers all managed to arrive at the designated time and board Hydrogen. After a welcome sausage roll and copious amounts of coffee we were ready for whatever the high seas were to throw at us. As luck would have it the weather was remarkably calm and barely a breath of wind was to be felt – a distinct disadvantage in a “sail only” racing day. We stood on deck eagerly awaiting the start of the first race. There seemed to be numerous boats of varying sizes all around us, with all sails set. We heard at least 3 “5 minute warning gunshots” for the start of racing and then they were off. Or so we assumed, as it was very hard to tell the difference between race preparation and racing for real. We think the barges drifted down on the now outgoing tide to a spot somewhere west of Bradwell power station and then anchored so as not to drift too far away. We spent the next 6 hours motoring around, and around on Hydrogen seeing various views of the barges and other vintage vessels.

Thames barges in Light Winds

Whilst the sailing may not have been very exciting for the barge crews, the conditions were excellent for photography as we drifted amongst the vessels. The reflections of the sails in the millpond-like water made for excellent compositions. There was much debate as to the appropriate shutter speed for such furious racing – the consensus was that 10 seconds was about right to freeze the action.

When we were not taking photographs there was a constant supply of food and drink to keep us happy. Breakfast, was followed by tea, coffee and biscuits at 11.00, followed by lunch of chicken and dessert of brownie and fruit at 13.00, was then followed by tea and cake at 15.00 hours.
We drifted back to Maldon under topsail at a stately pace of about 2 knots to arrive at 16.00 hours and then spent 30 minutes parking (the wrong terminology I am sure) the 100 ton barge in its designated spot on the quay. About this time the heavens opened (after glorious weather most of the day) and we were glad to arrive, slightly wet, at our cars by 5 pm.