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History of the Swale Match

by Julian Mannering


It began, as many good things begin, in a pub. Having nothing better to do one evening in 1973, a Swale barge match was suggested to Lawrie Tester – owner of the yard at Hollowshore and later of the barge Portlight – over the bar of the ‘Shipwrights’. In the coming days the idea was floated to a few characters hanging around the pub and the yard, and from there the Kentish Sail Association was born and plans laid for a match, or regatta, on 21 September, for barges and any other type of traditional vessel which might be persuaded to turn up.


The weather on the day before that first Swale Match was horrendous with a hard gale blowing, just like the weather we experienced this year. As it was, the wind dropped enough the next day to race and, with Cabby as a Committee Boat, the barges Mirosa, Pudge, Olive May, Montreal, Ironsides, Ethel Maud, motor barge Alice May, the smacks Gamecock, Rosa & Ada and Bird of Dawning, the gaffers Anjac and Prince of Wales and the steamer Puffin, together with Seagull II and Xylonite and a Dutch barge as following boats, that first match was sailed.


There have been forty-five annual Swale matches since then and the weekend, now nearly always in August, attracts probably the biggest fleet of traditional sailing craft and steam vessels assembling anywhere on the East Coast. Competitors come from the south coast and mainland Europe, this year three vessels sailing across from Holland for the 47th race, which was dedicated to Lena Reekie, who was Match Secretary from the very start and who sadly died in January.


Who would have thought that four decades after that first race the Swale Smack & Sailing Barge Match would still be running, attracting a wonderful fleet of different craft every year whose russet sails are silhouetted against the morning sun as the fleet races out into the Thames Estuary. It’s always a magical sight; what a shame that this year’s match had to be cancelled in the face of 50mph winds. It will make next year’s race even sweeter and the date is fixed for 15 August. Go down to Harty Ferry and watch the spectacle.


Next years match starts and fi nishes at Harty Ferry on August 15 2020



Photographs of recent Swale Smack & Sailing Barge Matches

by Seamus Masters