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.
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.