Barge driven to success

Last updated: 22 June 2018

Barge driven to success

Winners trophy presentation.jpg

The traditional skill of river watermen and lightermen was celebrated in spectacular style in the 42nd annual Thames Barge Driving Race from Greenwich to Westminster on 15 July, sponsored by Tideway.

Crews of up to six took it in turn, three at a time, to row thirteen barges the length of the seven-mile course, with giant 20 foot oars, known as 'sweeps'.

Combining brute force with navigational skill, teams faced the additional challenge of collecting coloured pennants from moored vessels at strategic positions along the route.

First over the finish line in the shadow of Big Ben in a time of 1 hour, 40 minutes and 20 seconds was the 'Apprentice Lighterman' barge, a brand new vessel that will be used to train apprentices. The brainchild of outgoing  Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen, John Salter, it  has been lovingly constructed at South Dock over the last 12 months by a team of volunteers, led by Bill Robinson. 

The victory was doubly sweet for the Company as it marked the end of the domination of the race in recent years by their old (but friendly) rivals, the Port of London Authority.

The winning crew featured three recent winners of the other great test of watermen's marine prowess and expertise, the Doggett's Coat and Badge Wager, with Louis Pettipher, the 2015 Doggett's champion particularly enjoying the team element of the triumph, compared to the isolation Doggett's competitors face as they scull single-handedly from London Bridge to Chelsea.

The incoming Master of the Watermen and Lightermen, Simon McCarthy, said: "The Thames Barge Driving Race sees all the families and organisations linked with the working river come together in a fantastic celebration of the industry, its people and traditions. It was particularly great to see so many people on land and on bridges taking an interest in the race, as the teams passed by the river was truly alive, and that's always a sight to behold.”

Celia, General Counsel at Tideway, said: "As we start our construction and begin to move materials on the river, it was amazing to see how it used to be done until quite recently, by a mixture of physical endeavour and use of the tides. It’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years for transportation of construction materials, including for the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral, underlining the river’s central role in shaping the city’s development.

"Passing by so many of our construction sites, such as Chambers Wharf and King Edward Memorial Park, the race was a timely reminder of the key role our project is aiming to play in securing the long-term viability of the river for transporting freight, not least by inspiring more young Londoners to become river apprentices."

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