Russet red sails against a vivid blue sky: the annual Thames Sailing Barges Match always draws photographers – professionals armed with incredibly long lenses and others simply clicking on their mobile phones. No doubt the latter are in for a surprise when they view their shots later. Without a zoom lens the barges will appear as tiny specks. So on Sunday 27th August I set out in time to walk down the Pier in time for the 10 o’clock start. The tide was as far out as it could be, with seagulls and a couple of herons wading in the shallows. A ginormous container ship was sailing up the Thames and I reflected on the time when these flat bottomed sailing vessels plied their way up and down the Thames and the Medway conveying bricks, cement, sand, grain, gunpowder and rubbish in their holds. Timber and hay could be carried stacked on the decks.
According to Wikipedia “The Thames Sailing Barges sailed the Medway and Thames in a ponderous way for two-hundred years; then in the 1860s a series of barge races were started, and the barges’ design improved as vessels were built with better lines in order to win. The Thames barge races are the world’s second oldest sailing competition, second to the America’s Cup.”
After a pleasant couple of hours pottering around the Pier Head I set out to walk back to shore only to be rudely dragged back into the 21st Century. The pier had to be evacuated because of a “suspect package”. By the time the anxious staff reached me to warn me to evacuate I was almost back and watched the arrival of the pier train crammed full of passengers. Felt sad for the expectant queue of visitors milling around at the Pier entrance seeking information and anxiously glancing up at the helicopter hovering overhead. Several hours later the suspect package was identified as a lump of concrete.
Oh well! Nothing untoward happened this weekend when the Thames Sailing Barges sailed into London for the weekend. The barges tied up at Milwall Cutting Dock and were open to the Public with a pop-up museum. I started by going below deck on “Ironsides” because it advertised a cup of tea AND cake! The family has been restoring the barge for about four years now and live on board. All the barges are so different inside. I discovered one which offers cruises so is equipped with a bar and modern kitchen. Of course I stopped for a G & T. By now I needed lunch so I ordered pizza at a mobile van. They gave me a complete pizza – I had envisaged a single slice. So I offered a slice to another photographer standing nearby. Then I donated the remaining slices to the group “Track Dogs” busking on the first barge.