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Swale Smack & Barge Match

The 2023 Swale Match was fortunate with the weather, unlike many other events this summer, to celebrate the 50th instance of the event run annually by the Kentish Sail Association. Put the date for next year’s Match into your diary now: 10 August, 2024.

The forecast offered a south to southwesterly force 4 – 5, perhaps with a hint of 6 and that was an improvement on what had been forecast earlier in the week. Perhaps partly due to the unsettled weather, the turnout was a little disappointing, but it was good to see some new vessels anchored in the Swale. The great iron barge ‘Wyvenhoe’, built by Forrest & Sons at Wivenhoe in 1898 and now owned by Jim Dines of Topsail Rigging, made a welcome appearance having undergone structural repairs and general refurbishment over the past few years. Another new vessel to the race was the smack ‘Yet’, completely rebuilt by Dan Tester at Hollowshore and appearing in her first race having had her shake-down sail only the day before.

The wind piped up towards the time of the start at 11am and the smaller vessels made their way to the start line with a reef or two tucked in, but no sooner had the race begun than the wind dropped off and unexpectedly went round to the north. Reefs had to be shaken out and the sun shone down. It was turning into a fine summer’s day. The first barge around the outer mark at Herne Bay was the ‘Edme’ and she went on to win the bowsprit class, followed by ‘Marjorie’ and ‘Blue Mermaid’. ‘Alberta’ was the first smack to turn for home and she was followed a few minutes later by ‘Yet’. A duel on the beat home between these two ended with the ‘Yet’ crossing the finishing line just seconds ahead. ‘Wyvenhoe’ was first in Class 4, the staysail barges, followed by ‘Repertor’ and ‘Edith May’.

It was an enjoyable beat back for all. Rain squalls made their way down the Thames estuary but mainly avoided the Swale and the neap tides ensured a relatively flat sea. ‘Rosebud’ came first in the large gaffers class, followed by ‘Fable’, while ‘Gloria’, an old-style Crabber, won the small gaffers class followed by the little Shuttlewood-built ‘Jennie’. ‘Bird of Dawning’, another yacht built by Shuttlewood and the only vessel to have sailed in both the first and the 50th Swale Match, sailed a lonely race of one in Class 1a, replica smacks and bawleys. It’s always good to see the Dutch contingent, ‘Johanna’ and ‘Nooit Volmaakt’ had an enjoyable race, as did the two Bermudans, ‘Tivoli’ and ‘Alligin of Oare’.

We were delighted to have ‘Lilian’, the beautiful 1916 twin-screw diesel yacht, as our committee boat this year. She adds an element of style to the Swale and the day’s racing, and she’s a wonderful reminder of the elegance of the old-time gentlemen’s motor yachts. The prize-giving and party was held in the Testers’ yard at Hollowshore and our sponsor, Goacher’s Maidstone Ales, provided the beer to quench the thirsts of the skippers and crews.

It was a grand day and to hold the 50th Swale race all those years after Lawrie Tester and his band established the event was an achievement in itself. We thank all those who made the effort to attend. But the numbers of entrants have fallen in recent years, the fleet of traditional craft is declining and the sheer number of other East Coast events seems to sap the enthusiasm of owners and skippers. We are almost reaching the stage where we have more prizes for the Swale Match than entrants. Let’s hope a better summer next year may encourage a larger fleet.

Kentish Sail Association

The 2024 Match will be held on 10 August. Details to follow in the New Year. We hope you’ll be there.