In the Tradition of the Thames Sailing Barge
The Thames Sailing Barge and her distinctive spritsail rig originated with the need for craft with good cargo carrying capacity to trade in the shoal waters of the London River and Thames Estuary. They proved to be seaworthy craft capable of longer voyages, and many made regular voyages to more distant British ports and to continental Europe, some as far afield as Spain. In their heyday at the start of the 20th Century there were some 2000 Thames Barge in trade. As the movement of domestic cargo shifted to rail and road, and larger power driven craft took on the overseas trade, the number of sailing barges dwindled and now only a few remain, mostly restored to a high standard and made available for leisure charter.
completed in 1993, continues a tradition of Thames Barges that were
neither necessarily large nor intended for trade. Although her length
on deck of 46ft is about half the average for this type of vessel, Blackthorn
is longer than some of her predecessors - the little Cygnet
for example, built for trade in the East Coast Rivers in 1881, is only
41ft in length. And from their earliest days some Thames barges were
originally built as yachts. Blackthorn's dimensions are almost
identical to those of Dinah, built
as a barge yacht in Rochester in 1887. The characteristics that made
Thames Barges suitable for their trade also make them ideal for pleasure.
The hull is exceptionally roomy yet has a shallow draft and dries out
upright, allowing access to harbours and creeks that few yachts of similar
length can visit. The spritsail rig is easily managed by a short-handed
crew and provides ample power. Above all the Thames Barge is strong,
safe and seaworthy.
Owen Emerson, who built Blackthorn at his yard in Lower Upnor on the River Medway, is a professional shipwright specializing in the construction, refitting and repair of this type of craft. Much of the gear he incorporated in the boat was reclaimed from older barges or reproduced to original designs. The sails were made by the late Les George, who was responsible for most of the canvas in use in the barge fleet today.
Blackthorn does however differ from her predecessors in that she has the benefit of a powerful Diesel engine and generator, modern navigation instruments, and the latest safety equipment.
SB Blackthorn is now moored outside her owner's house at Iken on the River Alde, a few hundred yards upstream of the similarly sized SB Dinah and downstream of SB Cygnet.