Log #12p Spritsail Barges and Canal boats

December 8, 1999 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 12 England, S&E coast rivers, The Logs

Log #12p Spritsail Barges and Canal boats
Boats in Britain

Limehouse Basin, London
Oct. 24/99

A spritsail barge is an old sailing barge that  can be from 30 to 90 feet long, originally used for industrial and fishing purposes, but now for tourist and personal cruising. They have a type of gaff rig, with a long main boom, and cutter rigged foresails. However, the gaff boom is supported by an additional diagonal (spritsail?) boom to keep the gaff up ,and the main sail is loose footed and loose headed. There are many types of barges, mostly gaff rigged, and some with leeboards (large paddles on swivels mounted midships on port and starboard that can be lowered into the water to provide a temporary keel on the leeward side). Bilge keels are also popular here. These sailboats have, rather than a single centre mounted keel,  two smaller keels running down the port and starboard hull bottom, giving good directional stability whether on port or starboard tack, and with the added advantage that the boat can sit on the hard, and be supported on the level rather than toppling over as single keeled boats would do when the tide goes out.

The canal boats, or narrow boats as they are called over here, are mostly for personal and charter cruising of the canals of Britain. These boats are anywhere froom 30 to 70 feet in length, but only 6 to 8 feet wide, and made of steel. They can be homey inside if one doesn’t mind long narrow configurations. They are often underpowered by a single engine and have tiller steering in most cases. Some may have bow thrusters, but navigating them in close quarters seems to require a ” bumper car ” mentality. Travelling the canals can be a pleasant way of seeing the country, but making much distance is not easily done as the numerous locks to be negotiated (during daylight hours only) prevent more than 10 to 20 miles of travel in one day. I have heard of people renting a canal boat for two weeks to travel only a distance of 20 miles or so. However, the slow pace, usually free dockage on the canals, the interesting countryside (when out of the industrial cities), and the friendly people can make such a trip enjoyable.

The locks are also manually operated by the canal boat’s crews in most cases and can take anywheres from 15 to 45 minutes per lock. The Regents Canal which empties into Limehouse Basin has 12 locks in the first SIX miles up to the Hampstead Road Locks!  Apparently in the summer season the lineups to enter the locks can be quite lengthy. However, I would be interested if an opportunity came up to sail a canal boat out of season up country someplace. I have thought of offering an exchange for a canal boat owner to live on Veleda here in Limehouse for one or two weeks (alongside only) in exchange for the use of his canal boat in an interesting part of the country.

We have enjoyed the sights of all the various old boats we have seen over here. I have been taking slides of many of them and hope to make up a slide collage of just boats accompanied by appropriate nautical music with no commentary, just to enjoy the sights of these vessels. Similarly I hope to make up two or three other types of collages with themes on: the ocean ( waves, storms, clouds, sunsets dolphins, whales, rainbows), castles and churches, and trees and flowers , all in their structural historical and colourful beauty, all without commentary, but just appropriate dreamy music.