The Vermont Sail Freight Project

A Sailing Cargo Initiative Connecting the Farms and Forests of Vermont with the Lower Hudson Valley

Category: The Sailing Barge

 Here you can see a view of the inner structure of our planned barge. It is 8 feet in beam and 36 feet long, and features five bulkheads. This is probably a little excessive but will add to strength and help protect cargo in the event of a breach or leak. The sides and the belowdecks space are four feet in height, making maximum use of the width of 4′ x 8′ sheets of plywood.

As an improvisation on Dave Zeiger’s Triloboat, we’ve elected to point the bow, with matched curves in both dimensions (which Dave calls an “advanced barge,” with turbulence-reducing properties) and bring the stern sides in some too as you can see. This design involves curving the bow and stern chine logs (reinforcing framing members where the bottom plywood and side plywood join) to curve in two dimensions but we’re up for this challenge. We plan on using “tape and glue” joints and sheathing the whole with fiberglass.

The forward deckhouse provides light and headroom in the sleeping area. The aft deckhouse does the same for the galley and head, and this area can convert to sleep maybe two more people. There is 6’6″ headroom in the center of the cabins.

Thames Rig Triloboat Synthesis

Planning continues for VSFP

The rice harvest is nearly complete on my farm, and considering the dryness of the year and other challenges I think we did pretty well. We had 10 Bhutanese refugees take the bus down to the farm from Winooski and work a 9-hour day, harvesting some thousands of pounds of rice. I worked alongside them, along with two other white guys. I think it was something of a surprise to the Bhutanese to see a white person wielding a sickle and harvesting rice by hand!

Now a year into planning the sail freight project, we are pretty clear about our objectives and what design we will pursue. We’re still working out the people aspect of the project, as an effort like this can only succeed with the support of many and some measure of talent, too. It’s also possible that some of the research and possibly construction effort as well could be shared with a school. This project entails aspects of physics, economics, history, industrial arts, and geography, so it really invites the participation and intellectual engagement of students. There are a few local schools with which I’ve been parlaying, but no working partnership has yet solidified.

Triloboat guru Dave Zeiger and his partner Anke came to visit us here at the farm a week ago and we really enjoyed their company. Dave’s support and guidance of this project has been invaluable.

We discussed modifying the barge hull by bringing the sides in at the bow and stern. this complicates construction a little but having worked as a builder for some 10 years I think I can handle it. Below you can see the latest revisions. I’ve reduced the footprint of the deckhouses to make deck work easier–in previous drafts a person would have had to pass through the aft cabin to go from the main deck to the tiller. The smaller deckhouse with a walkway around it is more typical of 19th century workboats. The aft cabin is also lower, and the decks are more shear, with just a slight rise in the poop deck to ensure a sightline forward. In profile, now, this sailing barge hull more closely resembles a Thames barge or American scow schooner.

The Thames Rig Triloboat, continued.

Thames Sailing Barge

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.

Interior plan of the T32x10 Sailing Barge

Here you can get another view of the construction and interior arrangements of theT32x10.  This is of course still a draft and subject to a a lot of consultation and revision.

The boat is reinforced with bulkheads every 8 feet of length at minimum.  This results in several separate watertight compartments.  Each creates a separate “hold.”  The foremost, in the forecastle sleeping area, has only storage for the crew’s personal gear and possibly for sails and tackle in a locker.  The main deck has hatches to the two primary cargo hold compartments.  The hold beneath the floor of the main cabin has additional cargo capacity.  It’s expected that the aft hold beneath the poop deck will be used mostly for the auxiliary motor and other mechanical systems.

Overall, the boat is 32 feet in length and 10 feet in beam.  The main holds are 2’6″deep  x 10′  wide x 12′ long, both combined.  A boom rigged from the mainmast can hoist heavy items or pallets and swing them to an adjacent dock.

Clicking on the picture gives you a better view of the labels and particulars.

I think that the boat would be a very pleasant home afloat for the working crew, especially when you consider that the frequent dockings the plan entails will also provide opportunities to mooch showers off of friends and buy fresh food and drink on shore.

The T32 with a gaff sloop rig, as an alternative

While the traditional Chinese junk rig is still our main contender for ease of handling and jibing when running before the wind on inland rivers, the traditional rig for these waters is another possibility.  When I was at the Rockport Apprenticeshop (a school of wooden boatbuilding) as a volunteer in 1991, I remember sailing for […]

A Note on the Design

The most eminently practical and cost effective design I’ve come across is the T32 as designed by Dave Zeiger of Alaska.  I’ve rendered a 10′ wide one (T32x10) in these pictures.  Constructing the vessel will likely be the easy part of this project.  The harder part is building the network and solving the various logistical puzzles to ensure a smooth launch of the model.  Not to mention the software components I have in mind for the sales platform, which are rather out of this farmer’s depth.

Various plans to build it next year are under discussion, including building it at my farm and also possibly at a school.  The beauty of this design is that it can be transported on a mobile home trailer quite easily and thus stored on the farm inexpensively when not in use.

scow3 profile

A junk rig.  And carrying rice, too.

No, it’s not out of a fetish for all things Pacific that we are leaning towards a junk rig to carry rice. It’s just the most sensible rig there is, particularly for river trading flatboats. And it’s not my fault the Chinese came up with the most practical ideas however many thousand years ago.
At any rate you would never mistake it for a pleasure yacht, nor for a grease-covered diesel barge either. Nor even for a historic replica of a workboat from times past on the lake. It’s its own thing. And that’s okay by me.

scow3 interior

Interior of Sailing Barge

Here you can see the interior space arrangements — basic liveaboard accommodations for a working crew of 2. Bunks forward, and a table, galley, and head in the aft cabin. Cargo can be stored right on the main deck. The helmsman steers the boat with a tiller from the aft deck, which is raised, allowing a clear view over the cabin.