For James’s birthday, one of the presents I got for him was a weekend out on one of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust’s boats. Long time readers of our blogs may remember that three years ago, we spent a weekend sailing on the Thames Barge Reminder, on the Blackwater. We loved it and vowed to return, but they way it worked, with needing 11 other people to come along to share the cost, meant that we had never got around to organising it. The cost was also prohibitive (at £198per person for the weekend in 2010 it wasn’t something we could afford to do often!).
So, when I heard about the Thames Sailing Barge Trust (actually I followed a link on Twitter to their website) I was pretty excited. The Trust is a charity set up to run, restore and sail two Thames barges, Pudge and Centaur. They run charters similar to our trip on Reminder, but the big difference is that they also organise open weekends, whereby anyone (you don’t even have to be a member of the Trust, although we are now) can come along and sail. For an extremely reasonable £100 per person for the weekend, you just book in and show up. This means that you don’t need to sort out eleven other friends to share the cost with you, and additionally, it’s a great opportunity to make new ones! The cost includes accommodation on the boat on the Friday and Saturday nights, as well as all food (except for Friday night’s dinner). You have to muck in with the cooking yourself, but it’s not a problem, and is actually quite fun. I think this is extraordinarily good value for what is a wonderful way to spend a few days, and would definitely recommend it.
The boat we sailed on was Pudge, and it is based in Maldon, where we joined the rest of the crew on Friday night having caught the train and bus from Cambridge. We had a drink at the pub on the Quay and retired to bed. There wasn’t a full complement of crew so James and I had a 4 berth cabin to ourselves. We were supposed to be setting off at 4am, but unfortunately there was a mis-communication and the skipper didn’t show up, so we had to wait until the next tide to set out. He was very apologetic and everyone was refunded half the cost of the trip, but to be honest it didn’t really matter. We were secretly glad of the extra sleep and enjoyed a nice walk over to the other side of the river for a pub lunch, before heading back to Pudge and casting off at 2:30pm, in glorious sunshine. We’d been promised terrible weather by the Met Office so this was a bonus!
The weather miraculously held for the rest of the afternoon. It was wonderful – a nice breeze, sunshine, good company – the rest of the crew were a mix of experiences and backgrounds but were a nice bunch who we got on well with (although I was the only woman!) We got involved in helping with the rigging and the steering (so many new terms to learn!), and I was chef’s assistant for the evening’s roast dinner. At about 8pm we anchored for the night, and just as we closed up all the hatches and sat down for dinner, the promised rain arrived!
In the evening we were entertained by the skipper on his melodion, which was a nice way to end the day.
In the morning James and I were on breakfast duty and we set off at about 8:30 am in more sunshine. The wind had picked up so it was a little more challenging but we both spent some time on the helm. We tacked our way back up the Blackwater, tying up on the Quayside at about 3.30pm, having enjoyed beautiful sunshine all day (despite more rain having been forecast!). We were tired but it had been a brilliant weekend. We’ll definitely be back, and would love it if anyone wanted to join us!
We arrived back in Cambridge at 8:30pm, and it was great to be able to come back and wash off the weekend’s dirt in our own shower on Willow!