A Trainee on the TSBT Scheme at work on a barge. Credit: Thames Sailing Barge Trust

In the summer of 2016 a worrying situation arose. A number of barge charters and public trips could not take place because of a shortage of qualified and experienced Skippers and Mates.

As a result two new initiatives were started. The Thames Sailing Barge Trust set up a training programme for barge crews – The Trainee Skippers and Mates Scheme – with the aim of keeping alive the skills needed to sail, maintain and repair Thames barges. The Trust usually recruits around ten new volunteer third hands to train as barge crew every January and those who join accept that it is a long-term commitment to achieve qualification.

At the same time SSBR decided to mark the long service to the Society of founder member Richard Hugh Perks, who had stood down from the Committee for health reasons, by launching The Bargeman’s Award. Although it is SSBR’s project, discussions took place at once with the Sailing Barge Association and the Association of Bargemen. A judging committee of three was formed with Roger Newlyn in the chair and representing SSBR, Paul Jeffries representing SBA and Kevin Finch representing AOB. SSBR agreed to give each year’s winner a handsome glass trophy, a year’s free membership of the Society, and a cash award of £50. As from 2020 the cash award was increased to £100.

Although it was hoped that the Award competition would bring forward young barge enthusiasts, there were no age limits and older people who were new to barge crewing were welcome to apply. An application form was printed and circulated around the barge community. In that first year nominations were received for a good number, many of whom were already proving themselves on the charter and public trip barges and on barge match days.

Richard Walsh presents the first Bargeman’s Award to Tom Lagan. Credit: Tricia Gurnett

It was decided that the result would be announced and the Award presented at the Association of Bargemen’s Bunfight at Pin Mill Sailing Club in November. Richard Walsh, then Chairman of SSBR, presented the prizes to Tom Lagan, our first winner. Tom’s proud family was there to witness the occasion.

The 2016, 2017 and 2018 winners, Tom Lagan, Laurie Watkins and Matt Reid. Credit: Association of Bargemen

Since then excellent winners have been found each year, but no competition was held in 2020. Despite Covid, it was felt that the barge owners and skippers had managed to run a good number of trips and there had even been several of the later 2021 matches taking place. The committee therefore invited nominations and selected a winner for 2021, although the presentation has yet to take place.

Thank you to Roger, Kevin and Paul for all their work over the last five years to make The Bargeman’s Award so highly regarded.

The Bargeman’s Award winners so far:-

  • 2016 – Tom Lagan
  • 2017 – Laurie Watkins
  • 2018 – Matt Reid
  • 2019 – Olivia Slater
  • 2020 – No competition because of Covid 19
  • 2021 – Tom Moody