The magnificent sight of Thames barges under sail

Histtoric sailing barge Victor, at Ipswich Waterfront. Skipper David `Wes' Westwood

Histtoric sailing barge Victor, at Ipswich Waterfront. Skipper David `Wes' Westwood - Credit: Archant

Exploring the beautiful river Orwell

The historic sailing barge Victor
ES 4.6.10
ES 30.10.10

The historic sailing barge Victor ES 4.6.10 ES 30.10.10 - Credit: Archant

There are few more magnficent sights on the river than Thames sailing barges under sail.

Coming up this month is one of the most eagerly-amaited of river events, the annual Pin Mill Barge Match, on the Orwell.

The Thames sailing barges were a mainstay of industry for decades, and of the war effort during two wars, on local East Anglian rivers including the Orwell.

The examples of these special craft that remain are now pleasure craft, in the main, lovingly restored and maintained.

The 54th Pin Mill Barge Match takes place on the river on Saturday June 27 this year.

There will be crowds on the shore, of course, and on other craft watching this special event from the water.

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The success of Ipswich as a port, an industrial and trading town has been built on the river over the centuries.

But surprisingly few of us have actually been out to explore the river under sail.

I was fortunate as an Ipswich Civic College student to have activity afternoons at Pin Mill. We had the chance to take dinghies out on the river, though I usually stuck to kayaks and paddled.

There will be around a dozen Thames sailing barges taking part in the racing on June 27, and maybe a few more “following on”, for spectators.

Ipswich-based barge Victor will be among them again.

Skipper David `Wes’ Westwood said: “It is a wonderful day out on the river on barge race day.

“We will be going out early in the morning and staying out all day, coming back at tea time.”

That day is part of a busy programme of cruises and charters for Victor this year.

Wes added: “The barge has to work to pay its way,” he said, “and we have tried to keep the prices down to attract people into the town.

“It is part of the living history of Ipswich.

“This is her home town, and her birthday year.”

Barge Victor was built by Shrubsails in Ipswich in 1895, and had a varied commercial career, including carrying munitions in wartime, and even as a strip club, before major restoration and her new life as a charter boat and pleasure craft.

“This is a special birthday year for her.

“We have busy year ahead. It is a uniqe day out. We find children really enjoy it, the chance to see the river from the water is really special.”

This year there are regular cruises, (weather permitting), with tickets booked from the Tourist Information Centre.

There are also Sunday cruises, alternating Sunday roast and cream tea cruises, birdwatching themed events and more.

During winter there were Friday night folk nights by the quayside, which is going to be entended this coming winter.

“We are always trying something new,” he added.

“We are looking after this barge for her town.”

Many historic barges have been lost and broked up over the years, with just their nameplates remaining.

So it is down to owners and enthusiast to care for and maintain these lovely sailing craft.”

In 2012 Victor represented Suffolk in the Thames Pageant for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and she has won more hearts and friends locally with a number of “special jobs” for Ipswich, including bringing Santa Claus to town and, recently, bringing “Queen Elizabeth I to Ipswich as part of Red Rose Chain’s “Progress” production.

Further details – including a leaflet about Victor’s cruise schedule - and tickets are available from the Tourist Information Centre, St Stephen’s Church, telephone 01473 258070, tourist@ipswich.gov.uk.