STORY: Allied Milling & Baking Apprentices pause day job to compete in Thames Sailing Barge Match

Nine novice sailors to crew 122-year old sailing barge Gladys as company takes part in historic race for the first time in 15 years

A 20 crew from Allied Milling & Baking Group, part of Associated British Foods, will be entering this year’s historic Thames Sailing Barge Match aboard Gladys - a recently renovated traditional sailing barge owned by Allied Mills. Gladys last took part in the race in 2008. 

Match day (Saturday 8th July) will see crews from around the Thames Estuary gather on the river to race from the Lower Hope up to the North Oaze Buoy, where they will turn and heading to the finish line back at Gravesend, a total distance of 43 nautical miles. 

The Allied Milling & Baking sailing barge and her professional crew will be joined by a novice crew comprising nine apprentices from manufacturing, engineering, sales, and vehicle maintenance teams in the businesses behind household brands including Kingsmill and Allinson’s.

Andy Spark, who manages Gladys for the business said, “I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to use Gladys, and as I was recruiting an apprentice for my team, it occurred to me to plan some sort of voyage with apprentices from right across the businesses as our trainee crew for the race. They’ve all been so keen to be a part of this and I’m sure it’ll be a really memorable experience for them all. Hopefully this will become an annual event for our apprentices to look forward to.” 

The apprentices, many of whom have never sailed before, will spend the day before the match learning the ropes before overnighting on the barge. Following race day the crew will sail Gladys back to her home at St Katharine Docks in central London, before returning to their day jobs supplying the nation with flour, bread, and other baked goods.

 Ben Thompson, Engineering Apprentice at Speedibake said, “I jumped at the chance to be part of this experience. I’ve never had the chance to sail before and although I know it will be a steep learning curve, I’m pretty active and I’m really looking forward to the physical challenge. This is a fantastic opportunity for all of us apprentices and I’m sure that we’ll come together as a team as we all do something that is so completely different to our day job and outside of our comfort zone – I hope we do ABF and Gladys proud!”

Gladys was built in 1901 when some 2,000 sailing barges would sail up and down the Thames, carrying cargo in and out of London. She has been owned by Allied Milling & Baking since the 1970s when she was still regularly transporting 120 ton loads of grain and flour between Ipswich and Tilbury - the home of Allied Mills. Once retired from transportation, Gladys’ cargo hold was converted into passenger spaces and she has recently undergone a full restoration, leaving her fit for another 100 years of service. 

The Thames Sailing Barge Match is now the longest running, regularly organised, national racing event for traditional sailing barges in the world. Based in Gravesend, Kent, it takes place every year in association with the Port of London Authority. Wind conditions on the day play a big part in the outcome, but the average race lasts for about eight hours and is contested by upwards of 14 barges.

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