Colne Barge Match

Traditionally the closing race of the season, the Colne Barge Match always provides a great spectacle as smacks and barges compete for the honours.

The day begins early from the town of Brightlingsea, with a trip in the barge boat to the barge at anchor in Pyefleet Creek.

The smacks are first away, with the barge crews enjoying the best view of the crowded start. The barges follow shortly after, with the course usually taking the craft to Clacton, out to the Spitways and then back up the Colne to finish off Mersea Stone.

The prizegiving is then held in the Brightlingsea Sailing Club in the evening, where the crews will enjoy one final knees up before the barges return to their home ports for the long winter.

Pin Mill Barge Match

Based on the beautiful River Orwell, the Pin Mill Barge Match is one of the highlights in any bargeman’s calendar.

Arthur Ransome, the author of Swallows and Amazons, loved these waters and it is easy to see why, with the woodland coming down to the waters edge and only stately homes and farmland in between.

It is also home to the famous Butt and Oyster pub, a waterside inn that is a site of pilgrimage for yachtsmen on both sides of the North Sea.

The barges start in the confined waters of the upriver moorings, before heading out into Harwich Harbour where they are overshadowed by the cargo carrying leviathans of the Port of Felixtowe. From there, the course may go up the River Stour or out to Walton on the Naze before returning.

The finish is off Pin Mill and the prizegiving is held in the Pin Mill Sailing Club, where there is always a smashing spread of food laid on.

Collection on the morning of the Match will be from either the Butt and Oyster pub or Woolverstone Marina – details will be advised upon booking.

Passage Match

The Passage Match is unique in the barge racing calendar, sailing from the River Medway to the River Orwell in Suffolk.

Depending on the tides, the race can start or finish in darkness – providing a very different challenge for competing crews.

The weekend begins on Friday evening, with Edith May departing Lower Halstow dock and playing host barge for a BBQ in the beautiful and remote Stangate Creek.

An early start then usually awaits, with the 2019 Match starting at a bleary eyed 0330hrs…! However, this is worth it, with the beautiful sight of barges sailing together in the very first of the morning sun.

The conditions of the day depend on how fast a passage the barges make – if the wind is favourable in strength and direction, barges can expect to complete the course within 8 hours and crews will be in the famous Butt and Oyster pub at Pin Mill for afternoon beers. However, if the wind is against the barges and light, the race can go on into Saturday night.

The Passage Match is always the week before the Pin Mill race, so the barge remains in Suffolk for the week. Return journeys are made either by shared taxi or train from Ipswich (booked in advance – ca. £20 to Rainham).

If you book to join the barge, you will be allocated a bunk, but no bedding is provided, so please bring a sleeping bag and pillow.

Medway Barge Match

The annual Medway Barge Match traditionally runs from Gillingham Pier to Medway Bell Buoy and return, a course distance of 29 miles.

Along with the Thames, the Medway Barge Match is one of the most historic races in the world.

Officially, the Medway Barge Match was established in 1880 and has been held almost every year since, only temporarily being halted for the World Wars. There have now been over 110 matches on the River Medway, although a recently unearthed cup from the 1850’s suggests that it may be even older than first thought.

Of the 8 matches in total throughout the season, the Medway Match is always the season opener. Barges will travel up the coast from Essex and Suffolk to compete, with local barges ‘Edith May’, ‘Marjorie’ and ‘Niagara’ representing their home river.

The start and finish line is off Gillingham Pier (where Medway Queen is moored), which undoubtedly enjoys the best view of the match, along with The Strand, Gillingham and Minster Beach, Isle of Sheppey. The barges take between 5 and 10 hours to get around the course, depending on conditions. Regular updates and photos will be posted on Tiller and Wheel’s facebook page

Medway Barge Sailing Match Course Map
Medway Barge Sailing Match – Course Gillingham Pier to Medway Buoy and return

For more information, match day programmes are available from a variety of outlets prior to the match, including Sun Pier House in Chatham and Gillingham Marina.

If you would like to join a barge for the race, please book via the online shop, or contact us for more information. If the race is shown as sold out on our booking tool, please do contact us as we may be able to source places on other competing barges.

Racing Days

Between May and September, the East Coast plays host to a series of festivals and events. Take the opportunity to be aboard the barge for one of the Match days, which have been running since 1863. The prevailing conditions dictate whether you’ll experience a tranquil day gliding around the river, or a romping sail tearing up the course with up to 15 other barges.