Sailing Barge Association
Why the Thames Sailing Barge is so Important.
The Thames Sailing Barge has evolved into the ultimate development of the small cargo carrying sailing ship. The attributes which this gradual evolution has produced have made the Thames Barge unique. She is the largest cargo carrying sailing ship to be handled by only two men, being capable of carrying 250 tons and driven by up to 5,000 sq. ft. of canvas. Her flat bottom and shallow draught enable her to trade far inland up narrow winding rivers and sit happily on the ground when the tide goes out, whilst the Spritsail rig has a number of special advantages over the more common Gaff or Bermudan rig.

It is a simple rig to operate and enables Barges to actually sail whilst loaded with an entire haystack reaching 20 feet above the deck!!! The Mate had to stand on top of the stack shouting instructions to the Skipper who was incapable of seeing anything ahead of the Barge!

The very large Topsail which flies above the Sprit is positioned to catch the wind high up above the trees or Dockside warehouses thus enabling her to sail where other vessels would need to be towed. The great Sprit is also able to operate as a crane when the sails are stowed so that outside help is not needed for loading or unloading the cargo.
Stack barge

The Thames Barge is unique in being able to sail empty and without ballast yet still made remarkable trading voyages to the Continent, Spain, Ireland, Scotland and eve South America!

Humble they may be but their importance to Britain's maritime heritage cannot be overemphasised. They have dwindled in numbers from about 8,000 before the turn of the century to about 30 still doing what their forebears have always done and continuing to trade under sail.
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