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In the beginning....

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

The story of how Snark came about is an intriguing one and not at all obvious.

In the beginning a father and son , David and Nigel Speight, owned an old wooden Thames barge called 'British King'. The father, David, was a barge master and a ships captain as well as being a fitter and welder. His son, Nigel, a trained boat builder also acted as crew on the barge and on their 300 tonne coaster. In the early 1990's it became obvious that their barge was beyond economic repair and they scuttled it in the Walton backwaters having first salvaged anything useful from the decks including the rig steering gear winches etc. all around 1910 in date.

They hatched an ambitious plan to build a new steel barge based on drawings obtained fro the National Maritime museum for a class of barge built by J G Fay & Co. Ltd. in Woolston, Southampton in the later 1890's. Most people think of spritsail barges as being exclusive to the Thames but many were built in other ports and traded along the south coast as well as the east with Portland stone and other commodities. J G Fay were most famous for building gentleman's yachts including J class and other racing yachts. The company later became Camper and Nicholson, a name of great repute in the yachting world.

We can only speculate why they chose this design but the lines of the hull are certainly more fine and the sheer more elegant than a typical Thames barge. We like to think the influence of the builders skilled draftsmen who would rather be drawing an elegant yacht than a dumpy sailing barge. The long run aft and less bluff bow do encroach significantly into the hold, reducing the flat storage area and there are far fewer repeat frames than a normal barge has. Probably not a problem if you were shipping dense cargo such as stone or brick and an advantage to have a more weatherly hull in the coastal waters which the barges tended to trade in. (okay the boat speak has encroached; sheer, the curve of the deck line in side elevation;'long run aft' tapering in towards the stern from further forwards than normal; bluff bow more rounded than pointy; weatherly sails more directly towards the wind, but still has to zig zag.)

A spritsail barge is a large boat, 26-27 m long 7 m wide and weighing in at over 65 tonnes and is proportionately expensive to build. David hit on a plan to build it in four sections so it could be transported overland to be used as a film set and exhibition space, promoting traditional boat building and sailing. He persuades the predecessor to the Lottery fund to help finance the construction of the hull. So then where to build it, well in his back garden obviously. Fair to say this was no ordinary suburban back garden but a redundant iron foundry site in Walton on the Naze.

They were all set to go, about which more in the next blog

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