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The Spritsail Sailing Barge

Introduction

 

The spritsail barge was a very common sight in the Orwell and other rivers of the Thames estuary in the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries.  Many capable of carrying over 100 tonnes, they brought grain from London docks to the mills and maltings of Ipswich; carried straw, bricks, fertilisers, paper, coal, timber and many other cargoes between the quays, docks and river banks of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent and London. 

 

The design of the barges, with their relatively simple rig and leeboards (a type of lifting keel on each side of the hull), means they can sail in the narrow, shallow and often twisty waterways in this area but can cross the North Sea and go further afield in favourable conditions.  The usual crew was 2 men - the skipper and a mate who was often a teenager.  

 

In the mid-20th century, most barges were stripped of their masts and sails and operated as small motor ships.  Road transport eventually made the commercial cargo-carrying barge redundant and today no barges carry freight.   Most barges were broken up or abandoned but Ipswich Maritime Trust has in its collection parts that fortunately have been salvaged from such vessels before their final demise. 

 

However, around 30 - 40 barges have been saved, re-rigged and are sailing again as private pleasure boats or for holiday chartering.   Barges can often be seen near the Old Custom House here at Ipswich Dock and at Pin Mill on the River Orwell.

Comments

Posted:2013 6 30 10:29:57 GMT
barges.
very interesting.my dads family came from ipswitch.rope walk.dont know if its any were near.he went on the boats but think they were steam ships.Ended up at Goole.Were coal was transported using Tom Puddings.
sue goole east yorks

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