SAILING BARGE WHIPPET
was built and worked for Humphrey and Gray mainly in the Pool of London.
Whippet was Humphrey and Gray's Bonded spirit barge, which in itself makes her an extremely rare vessel.
A bonded barge is one that loads its cargo and the hold is then locked withmetal bars and a custom seal is attached. The seal remains attached until the goods are either:-
2. Landed and the Duty paid
3. Stored in a bonded warehouse under a similar custom's seal.
Whippet was never 'towed' but was 'rowed' or 'driven' with sweeps by a licensed waterman to keep it in the tideway. A skill that is now only practised in the annual rowing race.
In the 1950's and 1960's Whippet was used as Humphrey and Gray's training barge for its London apprentices.
It is a rare sight these days to see apprentices driving a barge under oars.
The Whippet was purchased by Reggie Coombes in 1969, who maintained the barge in its working condition and gave many displays of 'driving' the small barge which is also called a punt.
Punt racing on the Thames is a serious activity, and represents the independent spirit for which the Thames tideway is known.
for reintroducing this sport must go to the Greenwich Festival Match
Committee and to lighterman Reggie Coombes who was persuaded to make
a trial run during 1973. He rowed a half laden punt single-handed from
Barking to Greenwich, and by the following year there were enough entries
to make up a race.
Even in the 1970's Whippet was already a unique and historic vessel and Reggie Coombes decided to rig Whippet in the fashion of a Thames Sailing Barge of a century previous and retain the tiller steering.
Reggie Coombes then rigged the Whippet and sailed on and around the East coast wthout an engine until the early 1980's. In Reggie's own words making the Whippet - the only iron, swimheaded, lug mizzen, gaff rigged, tiller steered, topsail riggd sailing barge in the world - without an engine.
Although maintained to a very high standard throughout Reggie Coombes ownership Whippet has now had a long period of inactivity laying at the head of Barking Creek.
Whippet was purchased by Owen and Rita Emerson of Montreal, Victor, Blackthorn and Alice fame on the 24th July 2002.
With some small modifications they intend to recommision Whippet in the near future and her new home will be at Lower Upnor on the River Medway in Kent.