Brightlingsea photos: sailing barge Centaur, the Aldous smack dock and the wreck warehouse


Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur

Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur

Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur

At Brightlingsea this weekend we were lucky enough to look over the sailing barge Centaur and even more lucky to spend a while listening to traditional sailmaker and sailing barge skipper Jimmy Lawrence tell wonderful stories about his time on the barges, and sing a few songs.

The Centaur is one of two well known barges in the care of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust, an organisation that keeps the boats in good shape and offers them for charter.

The trust dates back to 1948, a time when it was already clear that the barges were doomed to be replaced by trucks riding motorways and dual carriageways, and to some extent by steel-built Dutch barges famously built with government subsidies.

The Trust’s other barge is Pudge – and she’s in desperate need of work to get her back into sailing and chartering trim. If you can help with a donation or by running a fundraiser or simply by providing your labour, please contact the organisation’s officials.

On Jimmy Lawrence – the old boy is well worth hearing if you can. He has an amazing, fluid talent for entertaining and a teriffic collection of tales. One concerns his first day as a boy on the barges: apparently while he was finding his berth his new skipper barked a few orders at him and threw a new house flag to mount at the top of the mast.

Jimmy tells the story of how, as a lad of maybe 15, he then climbed the mast for the first time with no supervision. To do this job you raise the topsail, climb the ratlines, then ascend the topmast using the hoops holding the topsail to the mast, then you shin up the rest, clambering over the gold-painted plate-like object near the top and remove the old flag. Then you climb down, take the old flag off the frame, sew the new one on, and climb back up to mount it on the button. The whole thing must have been bloody terrifying, and either young Jimmy was fearless, or desperate to succeed or more frightened of his skipper than he was of falling, or a mixture of all three.

I took care to photograph Centaur’s mast above, so that readers could consider the situation in which the young Jimmy found himself.

Skipper Jimmy had a big roomful of non-sailing folkies in stitches as he told the tale. At the time I roared along with the rest,but the story was told so vividly that it has since been giving me nightmares – there’s no denying it has a dark side of callous  risk-taking where young employees are concerned. It’s a good thing we have employment laws and health and safety legislation these days.

Jimmy’s been retired for some years, but the sailmaking business that bears his name is still in existence.

PSPaul Mullings points out (in the comments below) that our pal Dylan Winter has a bit of film of sailing and conversation with Jimmy in his Keep Turning Left series. See it here. Great work – thanks Paul!

Brightlingsea Wreck warehouse

The Brightlingsea Wreck Warehouse

Brightlingsea struck us as a nice little town by the sea. It’s greatest curiosity that we saw was the Wreck Warehouse, which  dates from the late 18th century and was built to house goods recovered from wrecks. It’s worth noting that the local Lord Warden was due 20 per cent of the value of anything acquired that way. It’s a good job, being in charge of stuff like that…

Also, check that look out tower. Don’t get into trouble, or those Brightlingsea boys will be coming to get your stuff!

Finally, after asking members of the Colne local yacht for permission we took a stroll along the Aldous Smack Dock, which is on the site of the legendary Aldous boatbuilding yard, famous for building smacks and is now used for mooring preserved smacks.

Brightlingsea Aldous smack dock Brightlingsea Aldous smack dock Brightlingsea Aldous smack dock

Brightlingsea

 

 

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A canoe yawl in Bristol’s floating dock

Canoe yawl in Bristol Docks

Canoe yawl in Bristol Docks Canoe yawl in Bristol Docks

My sailing and boatbuilding pal Jim Vandenbos snapped these photos of a nice old canoe yawl in Bristol’s oddly named Floating Dock last week, and naturally speculated about the designer and the boat’s story. He thought the flattish sheerline suggested that it might not have been one of Albert Strange’s.

Does anyone have any answers please? Naturally, I’ve checked the Canoeyawl.org website but without success.

PS I should explain that Bristol’s Floating Dock isn’t actually afloat, but has lock gates so that vessels contained within it are always afloat.

Port of London Authority archives to be catalogued and made available

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Access to the Port of London Authority archive – said to be one of the most significant in London – is set to be unlocked in a three-year cataloguing programme.

The archive covering 250 years of London’s water-borne history is to be catalogued by Museum of London Docklands staff. The work is expected to take at least three years and will give historians, river lovers and members of the public easy access to the archive.

The PLA was created through an Act of Parliament overseen by Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to bring order to the chaos of the busy and congested port of the early 1900s. It came into existence on 31 March 1909.

The archive includes 30 boxes of documents relating to the 19th century dock companies; 120 boxes of documents relating to the early years of the PLA; 140 boxes of documents relating to post-war PLA activities; 50 boxes of post-war PLA personnel documents; architectural drawings relating to all aspects of the docks; and a range of PLA river charts. It adds up to a lot of material.l

An entertaining historical presentation telling the story of the PLA is already available can be found on the organisation’s website at www.pla.co.uk.