‘Billy the Whizz’ zooms up Thames in barge to win lightermen’s race

The fastest apprentice lighterman on the Thames is youthful ‘Billy the Whizz’—that’s official.

He won the ‘Apprentice of the Year’ title in Saturday’s annual seven-mile Worshipful Company of Watermen & Lightermen barge race from Greenwich to Westminster.

Martin O’Docherty, 21, known by his crewmates as ‘Billy the Whizz’, helped manoeuvre the Port of London Authority’s own barge, the Blackwall, round the Limehouse Reach bend and under Tower Bridge to arrive at the Palace of Westminster ahead of the pack.

They used their own strength and experience—and catching Saturday’s incoming tide and current.

Only three crew members at a time were allowed to steer each of the 30-tonne barges upriver, using heavy, 20ft oars known as sweeps.

Two crewmates powered the craft while the third used a sweep at the stern to steer the barge with the tide.

Billy and the rest of the crew—Michael Russell, Darren Knight, Mark Towens and Tony Handley—also had to collect pennants from barges moored along the course.

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That’s no mean fete when you have to leap across and back to avoid being disqualified—or falling in the drink!