|This page modified June 11, 2012|
Annual ToW Thames Barge Driving Race - Saturday 21st July 2012
The race starts from Greenwich Pier at 12:00pm passing Tower Bridge at approximately 12:55-13:30 and finishing at Westminster Bridge.
The annual Thames Barge Driving Race is a demonstration of the skills and strengths of the competing teams to row a 30 ton steel barge, over a course of seven miles, from Greenwich Pier to Westminster using 20 feet long oars. The race is organised by the Transport on Water Association. Each brightly painted barge is manned by crews of Freemen and Apprentices of the Watermen's Company and sponsored by local businesses. The race starts from three points; barges which did well in previous years start further downstream (have farther to row). There is one overall winner, two class winners and two special optional race sections, for which crews will compete by picking up coloured pennants from designated moored barges throughout the course.
When the race is finished the attending tugs bring the barges and their crews back to Greenwich for the prize giving ceremonies.
The PLA barge 'Blackwall' ("Working for the Tidal Thames") barge was overall winner between 2006 and 2011 . Read the full story on the PLA website. This year the other teams will be even more determined to stop the PLA making it seven consecutive victories.
The PLA barge pulls away from the competition. Sean Collins' Thames Clippers barge, which finished second, can be seen on the far right (painted white).
Barge driving goes back to the times when the River Thames was used to transport much of the City of London’s merchandise. Before the introduction of tug boats, barges were used to carry goods from the main docks beyond Tower Bridge to the warehouses and distribution points along the river.
The barges were handled by Lightermen, using ‘sweeps’ (the long oars), who were well skilled in safely moving the large heavy craft. Lightermen and watermen have to be licensed to work on the river and have an extremely good knowledge of the Thames - it’s tides and currents. These days they still obtain their skills and knowledge by traditional apprenticeships.
Here you can see how the barges are 'rowed' with two oarsmen running up an incline just in front of the loading area in order to give themselves the required purchase on the 26 feet long oars to move the 30 ton steel barge. The steersman at the stern uses another oar to steer the craft.
The barge race day is probably the busiest that the Thames gets with barges, attending tugs and all sorts of boats carrying supporters. It is also very noisy as the various craft use their horns to encourage the barge crews.