Sailing a commercial barge in the winter was a brutal life. Getting up before dawn onto frozen decks, washing them down with hand drawn buckets of sea water to melt the ice, handling frozen ropes to hoist the topsail, being deluged with ice and water from the furled canvas above as you un-brail the main. Hours of beating to windward against the stream making inches of headway towards your destination in the waning light, wondering if you should 'put back'.
'On another black night we were running down to the Humber with a gale of wind south east and the barge was diving about so much that the skipper would not have me put the side lights up. Off Donna Nook with traffic in sight ahead and the sea smoothing somewhat , I went forward to get the lamps ready. I lit them and got them to the bottom of the focsal ladder when there was a noise overhead like a ton of rubble landing on the deck and a waterspout came down the hatch and put out my lights. I stuck my head up but finding the barge still bouncing along I retreated below to attend to my lamps. Fortunately the glasses had not been hot enough to crack and I soon had them relit. I hung them on the lamp boards outside the rigging something of a gymnastic feat in those conditions, and went aft to find out what had happened. A shelf runs off by Donna Nook and in heavy weather the sea breaks far out. We had strayed onto the edge of these breakers and shipped one solid over the stem. The skipper said he had never seen so much water on deck before with the barge light. He had thought I was on deck when the barge was swept and until I reappeared with the lights he had imagined himself coming home alone. '
Adrian White describing service aboard Thyra in 'Mainsheet Spring 2016 '
Others were lucky to be in port but then they were probably not making much money so if a cargo was offered they would like as not take it.
These days most Thames barges strip down in October until March avoiding the winter seas. Here on Snark we live aboard all year, but with an efficient solid fuel stove, modern insulation and heat distribution we are snug on our sheltered mooring in Old Mill Creek on the Dart, planning our next season.