Snark anchored in Start Bay

Sailing Barge SNARK

Snark is a newly constructed, steel-hulled, spritsail sailing barge, more commonly referred to as a Thames Barge.  She was constructed to the original plans of a type of cargo-carrying commercial sailing barges built by J G Fay in Woolston, Southampton in 1898.  This class of barges were used all along the east and south coast as well as in the associated rivers and estuaries.  Her design has been updated a little to meet modern passenger vessel standards and to simplify the handling of sails for safety reasons. However, to all but the specialists, she is a Thames barge of the classic coastal mould. She is rigged as a ‘muley’ with a larger mizzen sail than a more common Thames barge and a long bowsprit. She retains the lowerable, deck-stepped mast needed to work 'above the bridges'. She has a flat bottom, with lifting leeboards and rudder to allow her to dry out on the tidal foreshore of the many estuaries and creeks along the English coast. 

The barges were the heavy goods vehicles of their day and at one time over 2,500 of them transported everything from Portland stone and Kentish bricks to hay and manure in and out of the cities and towns along the coast.  Many Snark's design carried stone from Portland to London to build the great monuments and buildings of the late 19th C city. Stories of them being sailed to the Scillies and trading up to Newcastle for coal demonstrate their range and versatility, two even made it to the Caribbean.

Snark is 84ft long on deck and 105ft overall. She weighs 67 tonnes. She has one lower deck and no wheelhouse. The steering and sail operations are all in the open air. She has a self-tacking fore and aft rig which makes her pretty weatherly and generally easy to manage short-handed. Indeed, Thames barges are often sailed with just two people and rarely more than three.


The building of the Snark was started in 1997 by previous owners and has only recently been completed to the standards needed for commercial use in and around the English Channel.  The progress of the construction has been recorded and can be seen in the following videos.

She is not a historic replica but uses the most useful features of the original barge designs alongside modern materials and equipment to provide a home for Qiao and Paul, the owners, as well as a place they can share with guests their enthusiasm for sailing and the sea and the pleasures of a simple life.

We normally sail Snark between ports, weather and itinerary permitting. She will sail comfortably at 8knt and generally average over 5. She also has powerful auxiliary engines for when we can't wait for the wind and to manoeuvre in busy harbours and restrictive waters. The generator supplies electricity and hot water for galley and heads (shower rooms).

Snark's main cargo hold is fitted out for crew and guest accommodations. The guest accommodation is in four cabins with single and double bunks. She has two heads and a well-equipped galley.

SNARK is licensed to carry 12 passengers and 3 crew, up to 60 miles offshore. She can safely cruise the English Channel as far as the Scillies and most of mainland Europe. However, we generally only take 8 guests for overnight and just 6 longer trips.