Thames Sailing Barge

by Vermont Rice

The world around, any period in history, if you have a lot of cargo to move, a flat-bottom hull is the answer.  With it you have efficient use of interior space, high stability, and the ability to beach your craft most anywhere.  On Northeastern US inland waterways in particular, flat-bottom workboats used to be ubiquitous.  And now they are almost entirely gone, gone to the point where very few people in my area have much knowledge about building or sailing them outside of a museum context. So this lack is what our project is up against in trying to build an effective sail-powered cargo vessel on a tiny budget.

I still think Dave Zeiger has nailed it when it comes to the hull. Strong, cheap, and easy to build, the “triloboat” hull is also close enough to historic working flatboats in shape that we can easily mix and match features of superstructure and rig. Although the hull of a San Francisco Bay scow schooner, a Thames sailing barge, and a Chinese Junk are all basically flat bottom barge hulls, the rigs (sails and masts) they carry are fairly different.  It is likely that several rigs could lend themselves to our chosen route and the skill of our crew.

I recently read this detailed analysis on Thames sailing barge physics:

Wow, here is a lot of great insight on a working boat that used to be common as dirt on the Thames–virtually the equivalent of the semi truck back in its day. The Thames barges come pretty large–up to 80 feet–and have many design features required by our route.  First, it can lie quite close to the wind for a flat-bottom boat — 55 degrees.  Second, the masts can be easily lowered to go under bridges (The bridges on the Champlain Canal allow for 18′ of clearance).  And lastly, the sprit on the mainmast serves as a super crane, with plenty of strength and reach to swing a pallet of rice to the dock.  It’s also designed to be handled by a small crew (usually two, in the case of historical Thames barges).  So here is an interesting rig that we can’t rule out.

Once our hull is built next year, I hope we will have plenty of time on the lake to experiment with multiple rigs.