Thames Sailing Barge Race competitors battle for position
– picture John Hargreaves



Mark Boyle (1957-2012)
- picture Christine Lawrence collection

Thames Barge Match acting secretary Richard Walsh writes:

The Thames sailing barge world has been rocked by a spate of deaths over this winter, a few not unexpected, others after many more than the ‘three score years and ten’, but the sudden, untimely passing of Capt. Mark Boyle at just 55 years of age, has arguably been the greatest shock to the fraternity. Mark, who single-handedly revived the Thames Sailing Barge Match in 1995 and has organised it ever since, had a love of barges since his childhood.

Mark’s interest was kindled by a tattered copy of Every Boy’s Hobby Annual for 1933 containing an article on how to build a ‘Sailing Barge Model’. In the late 1960s, before his teenage years, he set about making the model, resulting in Nelson of London being completed in just over a year. He was later taken to Maldon, Essex to see the real thing. To his disappointment he realised that his model was full of inaccuracies, and on returning home he set about putting it right! Mark was a gifted historian with a wealth of knowledge on not only Thames sailing barges, but also history in general, with a special interest in the Spanish Peninsular War of 1804.

He was also a talented author, writing articles for magazines about the sailing barges and his experiences afloat, having ‘gone to sea’ in his teens in the Thames Estuary coasting trade aboard ex. ‘sailormen’ by then trading under power alone. Through later years he crewed aboard the charter and hospitality barges, gaining his Sailing Barge Master's ticket in 1987.

Not content with working aboard the last of the trading barges, Mark developed his shipwrighting skills which have left their mark on many of the genre. These include the Cabby, Dawn and, most recently, the magnificently restored Cambria, to which he applied his talent and satisfied his barge preservation aspirations at the same time.

He recognised that for the restoration movement to have lasting relevance, it is equally important to preserve the environment of the sailing barge. Sadly, many of the Thamesside wharves and bargeyards have fallen prey to much questionable re-development, but Mark realised the equal importance of the 'on the water' activities, and saw an opportunity to contest the Championship of the London River again by reviving the ‘dormant’ Thames Sailing Barge Match. The enormity of the task before him in restoring this, the original barge match, to its rightful place in the sailing barge calendar, would have scuppered many a capable organiser.

In the wake of the success of the 1995 match, raced to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of VE Day, there was an appetite for more. Mark sought out the families which had played their part on the river 100 and more years ago, with the result that the iconic names of sailing barge owners Everard, Clarabut of the L. & R.T.Co. and Goldsmith became associated with the Match once again. The outcome of his effort and commitment is evidenced by the current series being the longest ever continuous revival of the race since its founding by Henry Dodd, Charles Dickens’ ‘Golden Dustman’, in 1863.

The River Thames fraternity has lost one of its stalwart enthusiasts and his passing will have a significant impact in many ways. The Thames Match Committee has met and resolved to continue with the organising of this year’s event, the 150th anniversary of the first, which will take place on Saturday 13th July and be known as The Mark Boyle Memorial Thames Sailing Barge Match in honour of his vision and dedication to one of the world’s oldest sailing contests. As Mark had himself intended, the Match will finish at Erith this year for the first time in 119 years, reuniting the contest with its origins.

Story dated February 12th 2013

Contact us Terms & Conditions About Us