Working a Thames Sailing Barge Circa 1950
Written in 1995 to celebrate the centenary of the launch of the Thames Barge Sailing Club’s Centaur, this article is based on the oral history of her last-but-one skipper to have her in trade, Stan Yeates, and covers the years 1949-52. By then such barges worked the Thames Estuary and along the adjacent coasts of Kent, Essex and Suffolk. Their principal cargoes were imported grain and East Anglian wheat for export, transported between the London Docks, Maldon, Colchester and Ipswich. Timber, sand and ballast were also carried. Securing cargoes, the financial arrangements with agents and shippers, loading and trimming and life on board are all described. There is a valuable description of operating a sailing barge in these busy and sometime treacherous waters. Navigation was largely visual supplemented in bad weather with compass and leadline. The barge carried no radio or barometer, so Yeates had to rely on traditional means to forecast the weather. For much of this period his wife Chick shipped as mate.