Thursday, July 08, 2010

Barge "Alice"

As mentioned previously I went out for a days sailing on Thames barge on Tuesday, and what a brilliant day out.. weather was perfect, sunny and hot, with a pleasant enough breeze to get us moving under sail...

As the weather was so good I decided to cycle down to Gunwharf in Portsmouth where the "Alice" was moored - not an insubstantial journey in itself (16 miles each way I found out afterwards..!)

...and on the way happened to see this one coming out...

..she's HMS_Lancaster a type 23 frigate of the "Duke" class.. she's been on patrol off the horn of Africa for the last seven months on anti-piracy, drug, and terrorism patrols, and only just got back to her home port at the end of May... I'm slightly gob-smacked to say that she's the sixth "Lancaster" to have served in the navy.. and makes me wonder what the most numerous ship currently is... another post perhaps..

Returning to "Alice" however, despite her appearance she was built at Wivenhoe in 1954.. she was originally built as a lighter (basically an un-powered barge that was meant to be rowed, or towed) for transporting goods between the River Lea and the Lower Pool of London. She carried various cargoes, but her claim to fame is that she was used to supply the pirate radio station "Radio Caroline" in the 70's.

She was eventually bought by a chap called Owen Emerson in 1994, who chopped off both ends (leaving the cargo hold section) and then went about welding a Thames sailing barge "nose" and "tail" to each end! He managed to finish all this by 1998 - astonishing amount of work, but she looks fantastic..

..she now spends her days on charter - taking parties like ours out sailing for the day.

So, following a breakfast of bacon rolls we dropped the moorings and headed out to sea - the plan was to sail over to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, have some lunch, and then head back to Portsmouth to arrive some time early evening.. and so it transpired...

Weather in the Solent as I said was perfect - just enough breeze to get the sails up, but not too much for a total bunch of incompetents. All sails were soon up and we wended our way to Cowes... have to say that the sailing experience on a big lady like this is entirely different to "Papillon" - very gentle movement, everything very "definite", though she does rack up a quite surprising turn of speed... there's a lot of sails, and she's not as heavily loaded as she would be when working... in normal operation she would only have a crew of 2 - a man and a boy...

Some views along the way... first off Osborne House, this was Viccie's summer time pad...

...and a little further on I also spotted this one...

...this I've managed to find out is Norris Castle which, despite it's appearance, was built in 1790 - there was I thinking this was a full-on medieval castle! Somewhat amazingly, it is still lived in, and despite that huge size only has four bedrooms...

Further on though we came upon these - which was a bit of a highlight for me - I think they were all there for the "2010 British Classic Yacht Club Panerai Cowes Regatta" which takes place later this month - there were at least four of these big boats out... practising perhaps??

..this one is the gaff cutter ‘Tuiga’ (Sail number D3) which was built in 1909 for the Duke of Medinacelli, who was a friend to the King of Spain, and designed identically to the King's yacht, "Hispania" - this was so that they could then race on equal terms against each other (though, allegedly, he never ever won... allegedly... ). She's now based in Monaco full time... a different world my friends!

I also saw "Mariquita" (built 1911), and this one who's name/provenance I'm still trying to track down..

...coming around the headland towards Cowes - "the mecca of world yachting" (it says here ) No reason to doubt it by the way - once we'd moored up and gone to find the pub for lunch I've never seen a high street so full of chandlers and yacht outfitters... nice place though, only my second visit but exactly as I remember it.

Lunch was over (accompanied by two pints of local brewery Goddard's "Fuggle Dee Dum" which was in outstanding condition) we departed Cowes, and the effects of the beer were immediately to be felt, with the more juvenile among us immediately legged it up the rigging... guilty, your honour...

Another highlight of the day - a visit by these guys on the way back.. no, no-one had fallen out of the rigging, one of the ladies on board is married to a helicopter winch man in the coastguard rescue helicopter - they were out and about on another job so they bypassed to say hello on their way back to the base... very impressive close up..

..and that was largely it unfortunately, would have been quite happy to have carried on for at leas another week. If you get the chance, or fancy something a little different I wholeheartedly recommend the experience.. just Google barge and Alice to find them..

Coming ashore in Gunwharf however, I found these two already moored... the first one is MGB 81 - one of the first boats of this design to be built, she was launched in June 1942. She took part in many wartime operations and received the battle honour ‘Normandy 1944’ for the role she played in support of the US landings at Omaha Beach during D-Day... more info here:

This one is "Medusa" - built in 1943 for convoy escort duty in the western approaches. There is a brilliant website that has a very good history of the boat here

Excellent day out...


  1. Excellent day out there Steve. Very envious.

  2. Sounds marvelous,thanks for sharing that. I can close my eyes and feel the swell and the breeze and smell the salt air and diesel.

    Amazing how much ship it takes these days to carry 1 little gun, a few missiles and a bird isn't it? Mind you much comfier to live on the old steamers I sailed on for a very short time.

    So did you come down hand over hand or slide down the rigging?

  3. Hello Steve,

    Agreed! Sounds like a fantastic time. A very interesting post indeed.

    Best Regards,


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Excellent day out! Dead jealous!


  6. Thanks guys... it was a brilliant day out...

    Turned out that the old gaffers were racing in the following event.. so the blue boat is "Mariette" - full listing of the entries here... awe inspiring to have so much history so close..

  7. What a wonderfully lovely outing! Thank you, Steve, for sharing it with us.

    -- Jeff

  8. Great post. I love days out like that. I have been following your reading output. I think those books in the middle of the Aubrey/maturin series are absolute classics and are my favorites. By then he really was into his story telling stride. I have re-read them a number of times.


  9. What brilliant weather as well! I'm off to Cowes shortly..our house is just by the slipway you can see above the red dinghy on the right in your picture!

  10. Legatus - if this weather keeps up - sunny AND windy - it's going to be an absolute classic Cowes week... add to that some very exciting races this year (the J's and the America's Cup boats) and it all adds up to almost as much excitement as Salute... well almost... :o))