Racing on the Thames SB ‘Reminder’

‘Reminder’ is one of the last spritsail barges built and has a remarkable history of racing as well as trading between the Thames and East Coast rivers Orwell and Stour. In this extract, adapted from ‘Historic Sail’ by Paul Brown, we hear about her launch in 1929, some of her early racing exploits and her working life carrying barley. She’s on the National Historic Ships Register and still races successfully in today’s barge matches.

'SB Reminder'
‘SB Reminder’

Legend has it that in the 1928 Thames Barge Match, Fred Horlock promised his victorious rivals that he would give them a ‘reminder’ of the speed of his barges.

In the following year, 1929, ‘Reminder’ was launched from the F W Horlock yard in Mistley, Essex, for F W Horlock’s own fleet. She fulfilled Fred Horlock’s expectations, becoming champion barge in her class in both the Thames and Medway matches in her first year.

In that 1929 Thames Match it blew hard and ‘Reminder’, which had yet to carry a cargo, was engaged in a tussle with her sister ‘Portlight’, which culminated in the latter’s mast going overboard. As retold by Hervey Benham in ‘Down Tops’l’, Jim Stone, ‘Reminder’ skipper, reckoned that was the hardest race he was ever in. His barge was ready to capsize at any moment going up the Lower Hope. She began a sickening, unnatural, lurching roll, and he told a hand to stand by the tops’l halyard. Over she began to go, and only the order ‘Down tops’l!’ saved her. Her crew, in addition to handling 4000 square feet of canvas, were trimming her by shifting 35 fathoms of anchor chain about the deck, and when they finished they fell down on the hatches and lay there exhausted till someone said ‘Come on. Let’s get ashore out of this’.

‘Reminder’ won again in the light airs of 1930, but was beaten by the crack barge ‘Sara’ in the following three years. In 1934 she raced in the coasting class and won on both the Thames and Medway.

One of the last spritsail barges built, ‘Reminder’ had a steel hull which was painted white (emphasising her racing aspirations). She had a large sail plan to increase her speed, though this was reduced six years later to make her more manageable as a working barge. After this she did not win any more of the pre-war races. The main trade at Mistley when ‘Reminder’ was built was bringing barley to Brooks’ maltings and Free Rodwell’s maltings, usually from the Royal Albert Dock in London, but sometimes from ships unloading in Butterman’s Bay on the River Orwell, and carrying malt from the maltings to breweries. She was converted to a motor barge at Rowhedge Ironworks in 1947 or 1948.

Today the re-rigged ‘Reminder’ is a very regular and successful competitor in barge matches: in 2010 won the Sailing Barge Championships, based on points awarded by the Sailing Barge Association for results in nine different matches.

Adapted from ‘Historic Sail’ by Paul Brown

National Historic Ships