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Christmas at The Barge Tearooms

We visited The Barge Tearooms at Maldon on Sunday as part of our family Christmas.  

Vicky and Rickard, on board sb Hydrogen, Christmas 2015

We hadn’t realized a charity rowing race would be taking place on the river in aid of RNLI, which meant there were large crowds both on Hythe Quay and all along the Promenade.   It was a pretty miserable windy, wet day, and we were glad to get on board sb Hydrogen and into the tearooms.   There were six of us; four scurried below into the warm, but two hardy souls stayed on deck.   The cream tea was excellent, and so, apparently, was the cake.  They even provide blankets and umbrellas for those who stay outside!   Well worth a visit.

Because of the repairs which are taking place to the Quay there were only the three Topsail Charters barges present:  sb Hydrogen, sb Thistle and sb Reminder.   At Cooks Yard, sb George Smeed is now looking very smart;  

Chris on board sb Hydrogen at Maldon, Christmas 2015

still without leeboards, but two freshly painted specimens were lying nearby in the yard so could be destined for her.   And sb Dawn was also there, wrapped up in her winter cover.

While we were there sb Kitty came back from a sausage-and-mash cruise and passed us on her way to Fullbridge where she is based at present.  

Gordon Swift RIP

We were very sorry to hear today from Gerard Swift of the sad death Captain Gordon Swiftof his father, Gordon.

Gerard says:-

“News of the passing of my father, Captain Gordon Swift, on the 7th February 2014.

“2014 has seen the 50th Anniversary of his association with sailing barge Dawn.   He bought her when her days had come to an end as a timber lighter.   She was laid up with others at Heybridge Basin.   After re-rigging Dawn, they were able to stay together for many years.

“He sold her to Newham Council but continued to skipper her.   Sadly she needed work in the early 1990s, which was the beginning of her end.   But Gordon would not give up on her.

“He formed the Dawn Sailing Barge Trust in 1996.   With many, many people’s support and help, she sailed again in 2008, in the Blackwater Match with Gordon at the wheel once again.

“He was always happy to talk to anyone about Dawn, and if they had the time there were many tales.”

Our picture, kindly supplied by Gerard, shows Gordon’s last time at Dawn’s wheel at Ipswich in 2013.

We send the Society’s condolences to Gerard and his family.

Last December, we posted about Dawn and the latest stages of her restoration.   Read it here.

UPDATE  –  We now have details of Gordon’s funeral, which will be held on Wednesday 26th February, at 12 noon, at St John the Baptist Church, Metfield, Suffolk, IP20 0LA.   All are welcome to join the family to remember with them the life of Gordon Swift.

No flowers please, but donations if wished to his chosen charity, The Dawn Sailing Barge Trust.   Donations may be made via Susan Whymark Funeral Service Ltd, Chestnut House, 12 Progress Way, Langton Green, Eye, Suffolk, IP23 7HU.  

Gordon’s family would love you to join them for the service and afterwards to share your memories with them over a mug of tea.

Dawn has a new website

Gerard Swift, Skipper of sb Dawn, has contacted us to let us know that Dawn has a new ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????website and to give a report on the season.   He says,

Dawn is the last of the full-size Thames Sailing Barges built with a tiller.   It is the aim of the Dawn Sailing Barge Trust to continue with her restoration so that she is completely back to 1897, her launch year.   The next phase is to replace the wheel steering with tiller steerage.   The next will be the steel mast and spars with traditional wooden spars.   There are many smaller details that will keep the Trust busy for a long while to come, but when complete she will be a full working example of Victorian maritime transportation actually able to carry a full cargo under sail.

Dawn has just finished another successful season of sailing with many new people able to experience a barge sailing.   Anyone interested in getting involved can find out more from the website.” 

The new website address is

Our picture, courtesy of Bill Sutherland and taken from his window, shows Dawn taking hay upriver to St Katherine’s Dock recreating the journey she and many others stackies would have made in their heyday.  


Mark Boyle (1957 – 2012)

The sailing barge world was stunned by the recent news of the death at age 55 of Capt Mark Boyle, Mark Boylethe organising secretary of the Thames Sailing Barge Match, since it was revived by him to celebrate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day in 1995.  

Mark’s love of sailing barges was kindled by the gift of a model kit when he was a child.   He built the model and was later taken to Maldon, Essex to see the real thing.   To his disappointment he realised that his model was full of inaccuracies, and on returning home he set about putting it right!  

Mark was a gifted historian with a wealth of knowledge on subjects as diverse as sailing barges and the Spanish Peninsular War.   He was also a talented author, writing articles for magazines about the sailing barges and his experiences afloat, having ‘gone to sea’ in his teens in the coasting trade aboard ex. ‘sailormen’ by then trading under power alone.   Through later years he crewed aboard the charter and hospitality barges that plied the coast, gaining his Sailing Barge Master’s ticket in 1987.  

Not content with working aboard the last of the trading barges, Mark developed his shipwrighting skills which have left their mark on many of the genre.   These include the Cabby, Dawn and, most recently, the magnificently restored Cambria to which he applied his talent and satisfied his barge preservation aspirations at the same time.   He recognised that for the restoration movement to have lasting relevance, it is equally important to preserve the environment of the sailing barge.   Sadly, the wharves and bargeyards have fallen prey to much questionable re-development, but Mark realised the equal importance of the ‘on the water’ activities, and saw an opportunity to contest the Championship of the London River again through the conduit of a revived Thames Sailing Barge Match.   

The enormity of the task before him in restoring this, the original barge match, to its rightful place in the sailing barge calendar would have scuppered many a capable organiser.   In the wake of the success of the 1995 race, there was an appetite for more.   Mark sought out the families which had played their part 100 and more years ago, with the result that the iconic names of sailing barge owners Everard, Clarabut and Goldsmith became associated with the Match once again.   The outcome of his effort and commitment is evidenced by the current series being the longest ever continuous revival of the race since its founding by Henry Dodd in 1863.  

The sailing barge fraternity has lost one of its stalwart supporters and his passing will have a significant impact in many ways.   The Thames Match committee has met and decided to continue with the organising of this year’s event, the 150th anniversary of the first, which will take place on Saturday 13th July and be known as The Mark Boyle Memorial Thames Sailing Barge Match in honour of his vision and dedication to a sailing contest almost as old as the America’s Cup.

(This tribute to Mark Boyle was written by Richard Walsh, who is Acting Match Secretary for this year’s Thames Match.   It is reproduced from the Thames Barge Match website, where the photograph of Mark also appears.) 


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