One Possible Future on the Water, Part 2

by Vermont Rice

Where could we go with sail power in the Champlain-Hudson Waterway?  With rising hopes and a good crew and plan coming together to launch our barge in 2013, I’m already thinking ahead to the next several years.

I have to say that our current design has a lot of advantages for what we are planning as a group.  It has low material costs, low requirements of time and skill for building, and is very cargo-friendly.  It is small enough to transport overland on a simple running gear without a wide load permit, and to store easily for the winter.  You might not want to take it out in the open ocean but then our plan would not call for that.  And additionally, the design falls below the US. Coast Guard design-review threshold for cargo-hauling boats.  Our goal is to build a sailing cargo vessel with a very low cost per ton capacity.  I think it’s safe to say at this point that our 36′ Triloboat-derived design will have a materials cost of under $2000 per ton.  Figuring in labor costs (which we needn’t do right away, this being a volunteer-driven build) we might be up to $6000 per ton.  For a new-built sailing vessel this seems pretty good!

In fact, if our little project grows, there might never be any reason to build a larger or more sophisticated design, if we can instead build multiple smaller boats.  A fleet of sail powered micro-cargo haulers (and I think 8-9 tons qualifies as micro-cargo, at least by water-transport standards) could be buying and selling in many places at once.  But could there also be an argument for a new-built boat with a larger cargo capacity, say for instance something along the lines of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s canal schooner Lois McClure, or a typical Thames sailing barge?  To speculate about this kind of thing is definitely getting ahead of ourselves, not having built one single boat yet nor navigated the route with cargo once.  However I can’t help but ask myself, as the snow drifts blow around the windows, is such a thing possible?  We’re pretty confident about building our 10.5 gross ton vessel on a budget.  What about a 60 ton vessel?  Could we do that too, or would be be better off to build six 10.5 ton boats instead?

I can’t conclusively answer, not having the engineering credentials to design a 60 ton barge.  But I would wager that we could probably build one for around $60,000 in materials, 64′ long and 12′ in beam, using 4′ x 12′ sheets of plywood laid athwartships for the deck and hull bottom.  Just like a Thames Barge, but with the simplified Triloboat-style lines and construction.  In a conversation a while back Dave Zeiger (aka Mr. Triloboat) agreed that it was possible, though we wondered together whether it would be more worthwhile than the building of multiple smaller boats.  But let’s just ask the question, if we were to consider such a thing, what would it look like?abt64x12 deck view abt64x12 section plane
This gives you some idea of the possible accommodations for both people and cargo on a platform this size.  Now we have bunks for five or six in the focsle, in 3 separate cabins.  The hold has nearly 6′ of headroom below decks, and the aft cabin has a more spacious galley and plenty of room for food, supplies, and gear in adjacent storage aft.

The more I learn about the “real” Thames Barges the more I think I need to go to England and sail on one for myself.  Thames barges of about the same size and shape pictured here were the definitive semi-trailer of the pre-WWII English coast and inland waterways, not to mention the heroic service of these barges in rescuing Allied troops from Dunkirk!  Yet despite their size they were routinely sailed by “an old man and a boy,” as you can here told in this neat little video, Barging Down The River.  These barges are absolutely awe-inspiring to me, and the tradition of their use is kept alive by the Thames Sailing Barge Trust.  I am sending in my membership for 2013!

If it turns out that 10.5 gross tons is just too small to keep pace with demand for this service, we may consider larger barges with increasing seriousness as the project evolves.