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Association of Bargemen

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Association of Bargemen

We are always happy to hear from people interested in the Association and with Barges…..
Joining the AOB cost £20 per year for individual members and £35 for joint membership.

If you would like to join the Association, please contact:


AOB Membership Secretary
Julia Biddle
Tye Hall Farm,

Membership is renewable on 1st January.

For all other enquiries please contact:

Peter Taylor AOB Secretary, 33 The Cross, Wivenhoe, Colchester, Eassex CO7 9QL


If you would like to have a Log Book for Skippers and Mates, these cost £15.00 and are available via the Secretary at the above address.




Association of Bargemen


Founded in 1981 the Association is open to all who have an interest in Thames sailing barges. The current membership is over 100 members who are all barge skippers and mates, owners, and enthusiasts for these craft.

The committee works hard to protect the interests of members and the barge community. We participate in the running of the joint board that examines sailing barge masters for the MCA to award Certificates of Competence and the committee that is appointed by the MCA to administer the Thames Sailing Barge Standard exemption scheme. This scheme issues certificates to barges after checking that they are surveyed as sufficiently seaworthy and safety equipped to allow them to sail outside of the MCA Codes of Practice.

Working with the Sailing Barge Association we strive to ensure that these wonderful craft and the skills in sailing them are not allowed to die.

If you would like to learn more please get in touch with us via the Contact page.

Association of Bargemen


Apply for Membership

Association of Bargemen

The Association of Bargemen was set up to promote the enjoyment of Thames sailing barges and to support and promote the interests of the Thames Sailing Barge community. We organise regular social meetings, boat rallies and technical seminars. We are always happy to hear from people interested in the Association and with Thames sailing barges.


Use the following link for an application form

Barge Matches


2023 Dates



The AOB and SBA jointly produce a set of guidance note for Mates, and those seeking to become Barge Masters.


Proficiency Standard for a Sailing Barge Mate 07.10.09

Recommended Guidelines for Mates seeking award of Sailing Barge Masters Certificate 10.01.10


AOB Register of trainees and barge crew
Following a number of discussions, we have decided to create a register of people looking to develop their skills in barging, using the information to put skippers and owners in contact with potential crew and help develop experience and skills.
We hope that by creating this register, younger people looking to become Mates and potentially Skippers will be able to experience sailing on different barges, with different Skippers in a variety of situations.
If you or somebody you know would like to be included on this register, please contact AOB Sec at or go on to the AOB website, to download a registration form.

Trainees join the TSBT Easter rigging out weekend.

A number of trainees from the 2016 and 2017 intake of trainees helped out rigging out and heaving up on Centaur and Pudge over the Easter weekend. I addition to tackling the complexities of a sailing barge rig on the deck, there were more practical sessions, such as the question on how many tea bags make proper barge tea.

The TSBT trainee scheme currently has 19 trainees registered, and looking to develop their experience during the season.

Training Initiative

Following a number of discussions, we have decided to create a register of people looking to develop their skills in barging, using the information to put skippers and owners in contact with potential crew and help develop experience and skills.

We hope that by creating this register, younger people looking to become Mates and potentially Skippers will be able to experience sailing on different barges, with different Skippers in a variety of situations.

If you or somebody you know would like to be included on this register, please contact AOB Sec at or download a registration form, and send to AOB Secretary

Peter Taylor, 33 The Cross, Wivenhoe, Colchester, Essex. CO7 9QL

AOB trainee registration form

St Peter’s Dock, Ipswich

On Tuesday 11 September 2018, Ipswich Maritime Trust arranged for a small group of historic craft to congregate in Ipswich’s St Peter’s Dock. St Peter’s is the site of the original Saxon dock at Ipswich and therefore has considerable historical significance. A number of AOB members attended, with three Thames Sailing Barges, Thalatta, Victor and Melissa providing a spectacle for passers by and invited media. The barges were joined by the tug Fenland and Bawley Gladys. As there was a good high tide, the flotilla was able to stay at the top of the New Cut for an hour or so, giving plenty of photo opportunities to passers by on Stoke Bridge.

The event draws attention to the significance of St Peter’s Dock which potentially could be cut off for larger craft should the proposed new bridge to the Island site go ahead without an opening section. 
The AOB will continue to lobby for either a swing or lifting bridge. This may well be the final surviving element of the “Lower Orwell Crossing” project which is currently called in on cost grounds and potentially destined to be dropped.

Useful Documents

Some useful documents for Sailing Bargemen

For Sailing Bargemasters:

Application to renew a Sailing Barge Masters Certificate

Medical form ML5 https:

Bun Fight 2022


The 2022 Bunfight date was held at Pin Mill Sailing Club on Saturday 26 November.

After the difficulties of the Covid pandemic, it was really great to have a bunfight that felt more like”back to normal” and well supported by members old and young. The Pin Mill Sailing Club were as usual excellent hosts and with good weather it was a joy to be back at one of bargings traditional homes.
There was a change to the catering with Membership Sec and Treasurer Julia, well supported by husband David and Cheryl pitching in to provide a berfect bargeman’s lunch.

Many thank to Julia’s team for stepping in. The event was, as always, capped by Cyril’s raffle with prizes for all (well almost all)!

Thew next event will be the 2023 AGM to be held at Maldon Little Ship Club on Saturday 4 March 2023.



Bargemasters Ticket Renewals

With effect from May 2023 the scheme forn renewing Bargemasters tickets has been updated.

Please use this link to obtain a copy of the renewal application form

AOB Service Log Book

The AOB produces a Service Log Book for members to formally record time spent on sailing barges. The Log Book is a must for trainees looking to become Mates, and particularly Mates seeking to become a Bargemaster. A new Log Book cost just £15.00 and can be ordered through the AOB Secretary.

Memories of sb ENA

Most members of the AOB will be aware that s/b ENA has gone to her last resting place, R.I.P.

Tony Finbow and I went to see her in January 2016 while she was still alongside the jetty at Whitton Marine, Hoo on the Medway and the sight of her brought me to tears.


Why so?

Well I was the last full time skipper employed by Paul’s to manage and sail ENA from spring 1996 to October 1998. She took over my life and I thought that I in turn would retire out of her. That was not to be. The take over of Paul’s Malt by a large conglomerate sealed her fate and she was put up for sale and eventually a year or so later was sold away to Kent.                                                                 

ENA 9 Jan 2016








Harold Smy and Charlie Webb 1974

ENA’s early life from building at Mclearons at Harwich alongside Thalatta in 1906 has been well documented in books such as A Cross in the Topsail and there are various accounts of her exploits as a Dunkirk Little Ship.


After a long career under sail and later as a motor barge she was of no further use to Paul’s but in 1973 they agreed that the Sports and Social Club could take her over, re-rig her and sail her for their benefit and to promote the Company to its suppliers and customers. Brian Pinner from the Grain Terminal at Ipswich was the main driving force behind the operation and it is largely due to his efforts that ENA stayed in commission so long.

I recently gained access to a private archive of photographs and correspondence from Kim Shaw an ex-employee of Paul’s at the time who, with her husband Peter, was an active member of the team of volunteers who helped transform her back to sail under the guidance of Charlie Webb and Harold Smy. ENA took part in the 1974 Pin Mill Match newly rigged with her white sails under Captain Harold Smy. 1974 was the first year that barges raced in three classes at Pin Mill and Harold was very proud to come away with the Horlock Memorial Challenge Cup for the first barge round the outer mark in Class B and the Henry Filmer Challenge Cup for 2nd Barge home behind Kitty with Dawn in 3rd place.









ENA with new sails 1974 Pin Mill Match

In subsequent years Len Polley and later his brother Tom Polley took over as skipper. As well as her local charter work and attendance at the Barge Matches she voyaged further afield attending Dunkirk reunions and European Brewers Conventions in Amsterdam and Brussels. In 1997 I took her across via Antwerp to Maastricht, but that’s a story for another time.


In 1995 Tom Polley with Brian Pinner and senior company employees and members of Paul’s Social and Leisure Club took ENA to the 55th Dunkirk Little Ships reunion. During the course of that visit and the difficulties encountered negotiating the dock system at Dunkirk it was realised that ENA was in need of some serious refurbishment of the hull planking. A schedule of work was agreed and after taking ENA to Maldon and handing her over to Rick and Noddy Cardy, Tom Polley retired and the post of Skipper became vacant.


I was living at Hollesley on the Suffolk coast at the time, self employed, skippering the Barge Club barges and helping out on others, generally dodging about doing bits of boat repair work and building work at home. It wasn’t until November of 1995 when I was talking to David Westwood “Wes” then employed on Ipswich Dock and regular mate with Willy on Ardwina that I found out that Paul’s were trying to recruit a new skipper for ENA. The final date for applications was rapidly approaching and if I was interested a c.v. should be sent off, asap, to Brian Pinner who was in charge of all things associated with the barge. I spoke to Brian and quickly sent off my c.v. to the personnel department but it wasn’t until March 1996 that I was actually interviewed by the managing director, terms of employment agreed for the ’96 season and I finally got the chance to get to work.


ENA was still on the blocks at Maldon with work progressing slowly on re-planking the port bow due to the cold weather and one plank breaking as it was pulled into place after steaming. Frank King had been mate with Tom Polley and had agreed to stay on as mate with me. He had been keeping an eye on things during the winter and trying to keep things tidy and the barge dry and aired down below. Many days were spent during March and April sorting through all the various lockers and glory holes, chucking out accumulated rubbish then overhauling as much of the standing and running rigging as we could before painting, dressing the sails and rigging out at the end of April. The engineer came down one weekend to service the Gardner and the generator and to go through the spares and various procedures with me.


Many friends rallied round to help us at the time including Tony Finbow who would subsequently join me as mate, Terry O’Sullivan and Willy and Wes.

Ena at 1996 Thames Match                   

On Saturday 18th May 1996 at 12:55 Ricky towed us out into the stream for our return trip to Ipswich.With a N.E. breeze force 3-4 Frank set the tops’l, dropped out the main and set the fors’l. With the wind freshening N.E. 5-6 as we approached the Bench Head we decided to run in to Brightlingsea for the night. As we came round into the Colne there was a crack and and the sprit jerked across. The bottom starboard vang block steel binding had flown apart but the sheaves were still trapped in the wooden shells and so we slowly stowed up as we made our way in to join Pudge and Centaur, Thalatta and Edme already at anchor at Bateman’s tower. By 03:00 on Sunday the wind had fined away to E2-3 so we got underway and had a fine sail through the Wallet making 6 knots between the piers before stowing up near the Stone Banks with the wind freshening SW 5-6. We anchored for breakfast at Clamp House at 08:00 to await the tide to level in to Ipswich Dock where we finally docked at 13:15 with the wind gusting SW 6-7 in the river and glad to be in with our first trip under our belts.


There was no time to rest though as one thing we quickly realised was that the decks were in a very poor state. We enlisted the help of some of Paul’s employees and set them to, applying mastic to the worst seams then priming and painting the decks while I set to hauling the mizzen mast head forward and re-securing the mizzen shrouds and fitting mizzen vangs. The engineer was aboard again as the engine was dropping out of gear and there were leaks from the generator cooling pipes. Meanwhile down below my wife, Janet, was giving the galley a deep clean ready for the first charterers. All this because we had committed to attend the first of the new series of Thames Matches on 25th May.


I wanted to be away 0n Wednesday the 22nd May on the afternoon tide so we could have a proper shakedown on the way to Gravesend.


We left the berth at 14:50. At that time the lock gates were only opened on a level which made our operations more difficult than today. Frank King’s log reads ,“ 15:40 Anchored Clamp House wind S gusting 5-6, steady rain, visibility approx. 2 miles. Barge still being organised after leaving shipyard at Maldon. As well as refinements to the rigging, major repairs and filling to the decks in order to keep a dry hold. Painting and cleaning work continues”.


We left the anchorage at 04:55 on Thursday 23rd motoring against a SW4 which increased to 5-6 as we rounded the Maplin but we lost the tide near the Mid-Blyth and punched the ebb up to Greenhithe, where we anchored in my favourite place on the Thames at 16:20. Work continued on the decks and rigging until nightfall. Friday was given over to getting the barge tidy for the charterers and we dropped down to Gravesend just after mid-day to await our guests and race crew in squally showers. Frank’s log says “ Heavy rain persists until 19:30. 10 barges moored to the camel.”


Saturday 25th May, Race Day. Charterers on board, Frank and me, Terry O Sullivan and Tony Finbow I think. The log says wind WNW 2-3. I don’t remember exactly but I know it was very light. We set the gear at the Ovens turned off the engine and tacked the barge for the first time since I’d taken her over. That seemed to work OK so we sailed across to the Essex side and crept down on the edge of the tide well behind all the other barges. I spoke to Mark Boyle later and he said he didn’t think we were going to enter the Match as we were so far behind. However we crept steadily on getting more and more anxious as we approached the start, 10 minute gun, 5 minute gun, were we too soon, should we take a turn out, but we held on, for the 08:30 start. I thought we were too early but a faint voice came across from the committee boat “Well done”, so I thought we must be OK. We rounded the outer mark, course shortened to the West Shoebury buoy, at 11:35, third round with five others in as hot a pursuit as possible in light airs. We turned slowly back up Sea Reach managing to catch, then overhaul Hydrogen while Cabby and Lady Daphne were ahead. At the Ovens Cabby’s bobstay broke allowing us to slip past and hold on to finish at 17:03, 3 minutes after the official finishing time for the Match.


At the presentation that evening we received the Blue Circle Cement Cup for second place in the Coasting Class, the first year the cup was awarded.


After all the other trophies were awarded the winner of the cup for the fastest start of the day over all classes was announced. ENA, 22 seconds after the gun.










Doug and Frank with ENA’s Trophies from the 1996 matches.

The cup that was awarded was the R D Duke Cup, awarded for the first time since 1963 by Richard Duke’s family and awarded by Alistair, Splodge, Duke. To receive that cup in the first of the new series of Thames Matches in a barge that had not seriously contested the matches for several years was just the greatest experience and something I covet to this day. The rest of the evening passed in a blur of drink and congratulation. Somebody poured me back on board that night and somehow at 06:00 the next morning we were off to Ipswich again. We saved our tide and were back on the Albion berth at 18:06. Frank’s final comment in the log “A good trip, home just ahead of bad weather”.

We caught the opposition un-awares that year. In June at the Blackwater we won second place in our class and the Paddy Mulville Cup for the best rounding of the outer mark. At Pin Mill we won the fastest start in class, first round the outer mark and second home. At Southend we won the class and at the Colne we won the coveted Cock of the Colne for the fastest start.

I kept a daily record of all the work we did from 12th March 1996 to the last entry Nov 7th 1998 and reading back through it in preparation of this article I am astonished at all we accomplished. One other thing that very quickly became apparent was the affection held for ENA by everybody we dealt with at Paul’s. From the management and admin. staff at the Grain Terminal and the Albion Maltings to the fitters and engineers and electricians who used to come over at my request to sort out things that I couldn’t deal with.

There were long faces all round when the news came that she was to be sold. Tony and I put together a business plan to take the barge over and run her as a charter business from Ipswich but of course, neither Paul’s nor the new owners were interested in that and we could not afford to take her on ourselves. Subsequently of course both Tops’l Charters and Victor have found that there is a market for barge trips from the dock. In our day we often had to go down one day to take the barge out onto Cliff Quay for a charter the next day or stay aboard after a charter to put her back alongside late at night, but some of the best memories were of Skipper and mate underway and on passage up the Wallet or Swin under sail if possible just like our forbears had done for years past.

Ena 1957

 Next time I’ll tell the story of our voyage to Maastricht in 1997


                        Doug Nicholls

Photo Credits


      **      Ena as a motor barge in 1957. Note the boom or derrick raised clear of the hatches with try-sail furled along its length. Can anyone identify the barge Ena is laying outside?

AOB backs Shotley Pier

Shotley Heritage Community Benefit Society Ltd

The AOB has decided to purchase shares in the Shotley Pier project, in a gesture of support for this important facility.

With the prospect of finding suitable berths for Thames Sailing Barges in the Rivers Orwell and Stour becoming more difficult, any investment in this area must be welcomed. Anybody wishing to become involved with the Shotley Pier team, can get full contact information through