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In the wake of the barges of old

We are often asked why we keep a Thames barge in Devon, 'surely they only worked around the Thames and East Anglia?' Well most did but some traded all along the south coast moving bulk agricultural and building materials, fuel and lime.

The old postcard shows a white spritsail barge anchored in Dartmouth. This might have been a barge yacht. Private owners started to buy spritsail barges and convert them into private yachts as early as the 1930's.

Stills from old film footage from 1916 shows two commercial spritsail barges anchored in Falmouth.

The barges had no engines and relied on steam tugs to get in and out of harbour and for manoeuvring. A shilling would get you a tow into Margate in the 1920's. In some smaller ports winches on the quaysides were used to warp the barges and other coasters around.

When checking out old pictures of harbours we look for a brailed mainsail. The one in the painting of Brixham harbour is actually a brailed gaff mainsail, quite possibly a 'boomie' barge, that is a sailing barge with a gaff main rather than a spritsail. Then again it might just be artistic licence!

Snark is a 'mulie' having a larger mizzen than the classic Thames barges. This was the common rig for coastal barges though we are slightly smaller than the remaining examples such as Cambria and Thalatta.

This illustration from Edgar March's 1970 book, 'Spritsail Barges of Thames and Medway' shows both a mulie and a boomie under sail. The boomie, below, has high gunwale midships common on a coaster. She is very heavily ladened, the waterline is almost at deck level on the windward side. Her windward port leeboard is right down suggesting she has just tacked (its too late for her to tack and not hit the quay the photographer is standing on!!)

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