Some thoughts on barge and smack boats

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Mike Feather’s smack boat Lettuce on the bar at Brancaster

Mike Feather sailing smack boat Lettuce over the bar at Brancaster, Norfolk. Mike comments that with a reef in she was under good control and rode the waves without shipping any water.

Alf Last’s boat Smack boats racing at Walton on the Naze 2002 Smack boat on its side

Above left. Maldon boat builder Alf Last built his best and last barge boat and a mould was taken off it. Here is a cast ready for fitting out. Many barges now carry these – they are stable and sail well. They do not dry out if left in the davits. Above centre.smacks’ boats racing at Walton on the Naze 2002. Above right. A smack boat on its side shows the shallow draft and centre board slot. Click here for more:

It’s sometimes wonderful how people you thought you’d lost long ago sometimes reappear in a new guise, and that’s how it’s been with Mike Feather.

Mike and I met when we were first year university students at Newcastle upon Tyne, and we were both involved in the local traditional music scene. Life moved on, as it does, and we didn’t meet again for years. I assumed he’d dropped out of music for the usual career and family reasons, until one evening a couple of years ago I found myself sitting next to him and his wife at a famous Suffolk waterside pub, the Butt & Oyster.

The occasion was an informal music session run by Katie and John Howson of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust, and like me Mike had turned up to join in with his fiddle and sing a few songs. It was great to see him in action again, but the really nice surprise was that over the intervening years he had also become a traditional boat enthusiast.

These days, Mike sails a fibreglass smack boat modelled on a traditional boat. When I asked him about how he came to choose the particular boat he owns, this is what he said:

‘Traditionally the East coast smacks have a very versatile tender that is:
– Large enough to get the crew in
– Small enough to lift on board and turn upside down
– Stable enough to carry a cargo
– Fast enough to get to the pub quickly
– Rows well, especially with two rowers
– Sails well
– And can be rigged quickly and easily with the rig stowed in the boat.

‘Having seen a couple of smack boats in action we decided very early on that this was the tender for us. As well as doing all the above they go very well with an outboard – faster than our smaller beach dinghy. They scull very well with a single long oar over the transom, which is very handy when you have a cargo in the way of oars. And they race very well.

‘We bought the GRP shell from boat builder Brian Kennel of Maldon and I fitted it our myself.

‘The final big plus for all larger wooden boat owners is that the GRP tenders do not rot away while you are busy working on the big boat.’

Smack boat Lettuce at Snape in 2002 Smack boats racing at Brancaster Smack boat on its trailer

Above left. Leigh cockler ‘Letitia’ with smack boat tender ‘Lettuce’ at Snape 2002.
The smack boat tows at sea quite well so long as the tow line is low on the hull to keep the bow up. Above centre. Smack boat Lettuce at Brancaster. Above right. Smack boat on its trailer. At 12ft in length, they generally tow without trouble, says Mike.

Mike let me have some more photos I thought readers would like to see.

GRP barge boat at Maldon, Essex GRP barge boat at Maldon, Essex GRP barge boat in davits

GRP barge boats at Maldon

Norfolk whelker ‘Blucher’ made of GRP at Wells GRP beach boat at Aldeburgh

The shape of things to come? Above left. Blucher is a GRP whelker seen here at Wells-next-the-Sea. Above right. A GRP beach boat at Aldeburgh. Mike comments that the wooden boats now all stay on the beach, perhaps to provide visitors with photo-opportunities…

Thanks for some great, informative photos Mike!

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on barge and smack boats”

  1. That is a really neat boat, I have a hard time getting a sense of scale from the pics though. How big are they typically? looks to be about 9 – 10 feet?

    Glad to see the site back again as well!

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