Barge skipper calls for positive view of sailing barges and supporting facilities

The relaunching of Bob Roberts’ barge Cambria at Standard Quay following repairs

Skipper of sailing barge Wyvenhoe Martin Phillips has called for a more positive view of sailing barges and the yards and skills that maintain them.

His comments appear on a weblog published by the Society for Sailing Barge Research, and follow wide publicity surrounding the loss of Faversham’s Standard Quay as a centre for the work. This includes the powerful film The Quay about the issue, made by Richard Fleury and Simon Clay.

(See the Comments link below for Richard’s response to Martin Phillips remarks.)

Campaigners have seen the loss of Standard Quay as a centre for barges as part of a wider trend, in which water-front areas have been developed for housing, restuarants and other non-maritime businesses, and so are no longer available for maintaining traditional craft.

However, Mr Phillips says we should not forget that barges and the yards that maintain them are thriving in Essex and Suffolk.

‘It is very sad that the landowner’s wish to develop the site has destroyed what had been developed at Standard Quay; however I feel that the coverage of this to date rather ignores reality of what has been achieved by the Thames barge and traditional boat community in East Anglia.’

‘Why can’t someone make an optimistic film publicising the achievements of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust (formerly the Barge Club) in keeping its barges sailing over the last 64 years, rebuilding two (Pudge and Centaur) without National Lottery support, and taking thousands of people sailing?

‘The trust’s training has produced about eight of the current sailing barge masters, including myself. It has done so much good to preserve barges and helped to bring people into the barge scene who go on to work on barges. Let’s celebrate this success please!’

Mr Phillips said Maldon and the Blackwater are home to a very active fleet of barges and two yards (Cook’s and Blackwater Marina) capable of working on barges, with blocks and two dry docks operating, and that there is also Andy Harman’s yard at St Osyth.

Topsail Charters has built a successful business over a quarter of a century preserving a fleet of active barges carrying thousands of passengers a year and employing a group of skippers and mates.

‘There is a host of evidence that the area is a hotbed of traditional skills and specialist shipwrights, riggers, metal workers, a blacksmith and much much more all based around the rich maritime heritage of the area. Traditional skills are actually thriving in East Anglia and the fleet of barges and smacks is a gem. Where else in the UK has a fleet of traditional craft in their home waters preserved and transformed from cargo carriers and fishing boats to working and pleasure vessels?’