Passage Match

Echoing the great traditions of when barges would race for cargoes, the Passage Match is an immersive weekend experience with great food, sunset drinks and hard racing.

Friday 19th – Sunday 21st June

The Passage Match is a weekend long race for Thames sailing barges, from the River Medway in Kent, to the River Orwell in Suffolk.

On Friday night, the barges muster amongst the wildlife rich saltmarshes of Stangate Creek, on the Medway, where passengers can get to know their ships and crew mates, whilst enjoying a complimentary BBQ and a few beverages to help the evening along.

Following a hearty breakfast and morning coffee, the barges set sail and head downriver to Sheerness for the start. From there, it’s time to press on all canvas as the craft seek to gain the upper hand. Skippers can plot any course they like, so long as they finish at the Orwell No. 1 buoy, just inside the massive container port at Felixstowe.

The barges then head upriver, to the barge Mecca of Pin Mill, where the famous pub – The Butt and Oyster – awaits – provided they get there before last orders! The conditions of the day mean that the race can go on into the night, with 5am finishes not unheard of.

Melissa approaches the finish in a gale force breeze – having raced all day, only seconds separate her and Edith May

The fleet will all moor on the hard on Sunday morning, outside the pub, where a prizegiving ceremony will take place before guests disembark for the final time, with transport laid on back to Ipswich Train Station.

The Match is unique in the events calendar, being a long distance, one way race, reflecting the traditions of barges in trade, when first to reach port was the first to unload and more importantly, first to get paid.

The Passage Match has been running since the 1970’s, originally through an initiative from Blue Circle (now Tarmac) . The race first ran between Gravesend and the Orwell, but from 2016, it now starts on the River Medway, near Sheerness.

To get involved in this glorious experience, read a little about each barge below and sign up to the crew!

19-21 June 2020

8 barges entered. 40 spaces for passengers available.

Friday 19th June

1700-1830hrs – Guests muster at Sun Pier House, Chatham for registration and welcome drink.

1830hrs – depart Sun Pier aboard ferry, provided by Jetstream Tours, heading to Stangate Creek, where up to 10 barges will be moored for the night. BBQ provided by Old Haven BBQ and drinks/music aboard host barge Edith May. 

2300hrs – guests retire for the night to their respective barges.

Saturday 20th June

0900hrs – Breakfast and coffee

1100hrs – Race start

Saturday evening/night – Race should finish sometime between 7pm-11pm, depending on conditions. 

Sunday 21st

0900hrs – Breakfast

1100hrs – Barges moor up outside the Butt and Oyster pub for prizegiving

1300hrs – Shuttle booked to take guests back to Ipswich Train Station (1hr to London Stratford, 2hrs to Chatham).

In addition to the above, guests will be issued with an authentic Guernsey jumper and hat, issued in their barge’s team colours and personalised with the name of their barge on it, echoing traditions of the past.

Prizes – There are cups for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 1st over the start line and Seamanship (for barges demonstrating exceptional skill)

NEW FOR 2020 – The ‘Last Orders Tankard’ – awarded to the first crewman to make it to the Butt and Oyster bar without using mechanisation of any sort – the prize being free drinks for their crew! Sure to be the most contested prize of the day. Sponsored by the Butt and Oyster

The finish – moored outside the Butt and Oyster

Essential information can be found below – please read before booking.

  • It can be cold on the water, even when warm on land – be prepared.
  • Do not be late to the rendezvous point at Sun Pier House on Friday night. The ferry departs at 1830hrs sharp!
  • The finishing time will vary according to conditions. A fast passage will see the barges at Pin Mill for 7pm on Saturday evening. Unfavourable conditions could see the barges finish as late as Sunday lunchtime.
  • The decision to race, or whether to continue to race, is solely for the skipper of each craft. Their decision must be respected.
  • Transport is booked to take you to Ipswich train station or Sun Pier, Chatham after the Match, from where you will be responsible for making your own way home.
  • Guests should bring a warm waterproof coat, plenty of layers, welly boots and a sleeping bag. Guernsey jumpers and pillows will be provided.
  • All catering is provided from Friday evening to Sunday morning, excluding refreshments purchased when on shore. Please advise of any dietary requirements as soon as possible.
  • The Passage Match takes place in a fairly exposed part of the Thames Estuary – bad weather and rough seas could occur and it may not be possible to immediately find shelter.
  • In the event of an extreme weather event, the Match may be delayed or cancelled. If it not possible to reschedule, refunds will be issued.
  • Refunds are issued at the sole discretion of the organiser. We are unable to refund cancellations made by the customer within 1 month of the event, unless we are able to re-sell the space.
  • CORONAVIRUS – Should the Match have to be cancelled due to government direction, refunds will be made available. The Match itinerary may have to be adapted to avoid large gatherings of people on Friday and Sunday, in which case it is planned the Match will go ahead with crews staying on their allocated vessels.
  • Each barge is set up differently – some have private cabins, some an open plan hold with hammocks. If where you sleep is a concern, please contact us and we can suggest the most appropriate barge for you.
  • All barges have toilet and kitchen facilities.
  • Each barge is fully compliant with all safety requirements. However, there are many hazards aboard a racing barge and by booking a space aboard, you accept that risks are involved and that you are responsible for your own safety throughout the event. Should an accident occur, no claim shall be made against the organisers of the Match or owners, skippers and crew of each barge.