The spritsail barge is to receive £100,000 to pay for restoring the wooden planking on Centaur’s bottom to its original thickness after nearly 118 years of sailing in the Thames Estuary and East Coast rivers.
Sailing barges are built with two layers of planking on their flat bottoms – a 2in inner layer and a 1in outer layer that is designed to be sacrificial – that is, it protects the inner layer of the hull planking from the wear that occurs in the course of normal activity when the barge settles on a beach or river bank.
After 118 years, Centaur’s sacrificial planking has worn thin, and it is this work that the grant is to pay for.
The repair work begins in August and the project is planned for completion by early 2014. The project will allow some trainee shipbuilders to extend their skills to larger wooden vessels.
This project will allow the TSBT to continue to operate her for the use of local groups and members of the general public, and will also provide opportunities for volunteers, youth organisations and schools to research or explore Centaur’s early history.
SB Centaur was built in 1895 at Harwich, Essex, and is one of the oldest surviving wooden barges. She carried bulk cargoes on the Thames Estuary and the rivers of Essex, Suffolk and Kent for over sixty years.
A Thames barge in the Swin, by Frank Mason. Click on the
picture for a bigger image
I’ve put this drawing of a Thames barge up this morning in honour of a group of pals who as I write are holidaying off the Essex Coast in the Thames barge named Centaur.
The sun’s shining and there’s a good breeze this morning, and needless to say, I’m envious, not least because in addition to sailing I know that there will be some great singing and music-making on board and ashore!
The scan comes from Vanishing Craft, written by F G G Carr and illustrated by Frank Mason. Writing nearly 90 years ago, Carr says this of barges: ‘It is hard to find a picture of the Thames without one or more of these beautiful vessels lending a touch of grace and colour to the scene. One cannot even think of the lower river without the barges, some under way, with their reddish brown canvas full and drawing and carrying them smoothly about their business, while others of their class lie at anchor with sails brailed up and waiting for the tide that sluices past their sides to turn in their favour.’
How times have changed. These days there are just a few barges still sailing compared with two thousand or more in Carr’s time. Still, I’m glad to report that we usually see at least one each time we sail on the North Kent Coast.
For more intheboatshed.net posts relating to barges click here.
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