The Society for Sailing Barge Research

 Glossary of Barge Terms

This page is provided  to explain the terminology used in connection with Thames Sailing Barges, their construction, their sail plans and their rigging.

If you cannot find the term you are seeking then try "A DICTIONARY OF SEA TERMS" on :-

AFT Behind in the sense of being nearer the stern of the barge.
ANCHOR WINCH The horizontal capstan in the bow used for weighing anchor (also called windlass)
APRON A vertical timber inside the stem to which the ends of the planks are fastened.
BACKSTAY Another name for the top mast shrouds.
BATTEN STUDS The metal clips on the side of the hatch coamings in which are wedged the battens securing the hatch cloths.
BEAR AWAY To turn the barge down wind.
BEAR UP To turn the barge upwind.
BEND A knot for joining 2 ropes or to attach a rope to an object.
BIGHT Loop made in a rope
BILGE The space between the bottom of the barge and the ceiling of the hold. (Floor)
BITTS Stong vertical timber members or iron bitt heads fastened through the deck beams.
BLOCK A pulley with one or more sheaves.
BOB Flag mounted on topmast truck bearing owners logo or colours. used to indicate the wind direction.
BOBSTAY The stay which supports the bowsprit against the lift of the sails set upon it.
BOOMIE Ketch rigged barge. A barge rigged with gaff and boom to both main & mizzen sails.
BOWSPRIT A spar extending forward of the stem on which the jib and staysail may be set. The spar is pivoted so that it may be raised in port.
BRAILS Ropes that are used to furl the mainsail & mizzen
CAULKING A method of waterproofing by ramming fibre such as horse hair between two adjacent pieces of wood and sealing with pitch.
CEILING (SEALING) The caulked floor of the hold.
CHAFFCUTTER A cast iron steering wheel.
CHAIN PLATE A metal strap attached to the hull to which the shrouds and other rigging are attached.
CHINE The angle between the side and the bottom.
CLEAT Wood or metal projecting arms which ropes are made fast round.
CLEW The back bottom corner of a sail.
CLEW LINES The ropes attached to the clew of the topsail. Used to reduce and stow the topsail.
CLAW (or DOG) A cast iron hook for holding the anchor chain temporarly while adjusting the chain on the barrel winch.
COTCHELL A part freight.
COVERING BOARD The board forming the outer edge of the deck.
CRAB Winch used for raising leeboards etc.
CRINGLE A rope loop, normally made round a thimble, which may be worked into or attached to the bolt rope of a sail.
CROSSTREES Lateral spreaders for the topmast shrouds which on a barge are called standing backstays.
DANDY Rig with small mizzen abaft the steerage.
DART To run dart is to sail dead before the wind.
DEADEYE A circular turned block of hardwood which is grooved around its circumference and pierced with three holes, used in pairs to secure the shrouds to the chainplates.
DOLLY WINCH Small winch over the anchor windlass, used handling a light line in warping, and for the main brails in a stackie when the brail winch is covered by a stack.
EYE A loop formed in the end of a rope or cable by spicing- hence eye splice.
EYE BOLT A bolt forged at one to form an eye or loop. Fixed to provide a securing point for lines or tackle
FAIRLEAD A means of diverting the run of a rope or mooring line to the most convenient direction for working and to minimise wear at the turn.
FAST To secure a rope to a cleat or similar - make fast.
FEARNAUGHTS Clothing made from thick woolen cloth
FENDER A flexible barrier inserted between vessel and quay or another vessel to prevent damage
FLUSHING or FASHION BOARDS Loose boards which slide in grooves to close a companion scuttle or cabin entrance.
FLOOR A transverse structural timber to which the bottom planking is fastened. The ends of the floor timbers are joined to the bottom of the frames. the keelson is fastened on top of the floors and the hold ceiling is fastened to the top of the floors.
FOOT Bottom edge of sail.
FORE & AFTERS Removable wooden beams running along the centre of the hold to support the hatches.
FORECASTLE (Fo'c'sle) Space below deck in the bow of the vessel used for the mates accommodation or storage.
FORE HORSE A transverse wooden or metal circular beam fitted forward of the mainmast. The foresail is attached to this via a sliding ring allowing the sail to traverse freely.
FORESAIL A triangular sail set on the forestay.
FORESTAY The wire which supports the mainmast in a forward direction.
GASKET A rope used to secure a sail when stowed, particularly the topsail.
GEAR The barges sails & rigging.
GUNWALE  (Gunnel) The top timber rail around the outer edge of the deck.
GYBE (JIBE) Bring the sails from one side to the other as the vessels course is altered to bring the wind from one quarter to the other.
HALYARDS Ropes used to hoist the sails.
HEAD The top corner of a triangular sail.
HEAD ROPE The part of the bolt rope at the head of the mainsail and mizzen including the rope from the mast to the sprit which supports the sail.
HEADSAILS The collective name for sails set before the mast
HEAD STICK The spar laced to the top of the topsail.
HELM The steering - a steering wheel or tiller.
HOOP The wooden or metal rings by which the topsail is attached to the topmast.
HORNS The shaped ends or chocks to which the main horse is bolted.
HORSE [1] A transverse member on which the sheet traveller runs.
HORSE [2] A sand bank or shoal laying in mid channel.
HOUNDS Shoulders where the shrouds rest near the masthead.
HOY bARGE A vessel making regular passages with mixed cargoes.
HUFFLER A pilot or extra hand employed to assist in getting the vessel up difficult rivers and creeks or through bridges.
JACK STAY The iron rod bolted clear of the main mast to which the luff of the mainsail is attached.
JIB SAIL A triangular sail set between the end of the bowsprit and the head of the mainmast.
KEELSON Stout longitudinal member running from stem to stern inside the barges bottom, forming the "backbone"
KICKING CHAIN or sTRAP Chain rigged from rudder to quarter to prevent the rudder kicking when at anchor.
LEACH After or back edge of a sail.
LEE The side of a vessel away from the wind.
LEEBOARDS Large wooden boards hanging from the side of the barge. the leeward one is lowered when the barge is heading towards the wind to prevent leeway being made.
LEEWAY Being blown downwind instead of making progress into the wind.
LIGHT IRONS Iron bars mounted in sockets by the main shrouds which support the light screens in which the port and starboard navigation lights are hung.
LIGHT SCREEN A board on which the navigation lights are hung.
LIZARD A short length of rope with an eye spliced in one end to hold another rope in position, as in the case of the mainsails lower brails. ( Also known as a Stirrup).
LOOSE fOOTED The lower edge of the sail when its not attached to a boom. E.G. the mainsail as opposed to the mizzen.
LOWERS The lower brails of the mainsail.
LUFF Forward or leading edge of the sail.
MAINS The main brails of the mainsail.
MAST CASE (See Tabernacle) Steel case in which the heel of the mast is mounted.
MIDDLES The brails below the mains and above the lowers.
MIZZEN Small sail set on a mizzen mast aft. It can be sprit or gaff rigged.
MOUSING Several turns of light line round the mouth of a hook to prevent it unhooking accidentally.
MULIE A barge with Sprit mainsaila gaff boom mizzen instead of a sprit mizzen.
MUZZLE The iron band which, with its links holds the sprit heel to the mast.
NEAPS weak or low high tides occurring when the sun & moon are in opposition. (High water at London Bridge around 9.00 o'clock).
NOCK Throat of the mainsail.
PAWL Iron fingers fitted on the windlass and winches that engage in the barrel teeth to prevent the winch from turning backwards under load.
PEAK The top back corner of a four sided sail.
PEAKS The uppermost brails above the mains. (also called uppers)
PENDANT A short length of wire or chain hooked onto a tackle.
PORT The left side of a vessel when facing forward.
PUMP SOCKET A deck level fitting into which the bilge pump is shipped.
READY ABOUT The order given to prepare the crew that a barge is about to change tack.
REEF To shorten sail by tying up the foot of the sail to reduce the wind pressure.
RATLINES Thin lines hitched to the shrouds to provide steps for reaching the hounds.
RIB TICKLER The barges tiller.
RIDING LIGHT The oil lamp hung from the forestay at night to signify the barge is at anchor.
RIGGING CHOCKS Thick blocks of wood fastened outside the rails to take the chain plates for the shrouds.
ROLLING VANG Fitted port & starboard in addition to the vangs, they are led from the sprit head to the rail near the bows and are set up in a seaway to give further control of the sprit.
RUFFLE The serrated iron ring fitted to the barrel of an anchor winch into which the pawl drops to prevent the chain running out.
SAILORMAN London river term for a sailing barge or a bargeman.
SEALING (CEILING) The caulked floor of the hold.
SEEKERS Vessels that rely on fixing their own freights instead of carrying the owners own goods.
SERVE The covering of wire or rope with thin line to protect it.
SHACKLE A "U" shaped iron with a pin used to join chain or ropes.
SHEAVE The wheel in a block that turns as a rope runs through.
SHEER The curve formed by the deck line.
SHEET The rope(s) which control a sail.
SHROUDS Standing rigging which supports the mast laterally.
SNUG LOADED Having all the cargo below hatches without deck cargo.
SPIDER BAND An iron band on a spar with eyes to which rigging or fittings may be attached.
SPINNAKER A head sail spread out on the opposite side of the mast to the mainsail when running before the wind.
SPRING Mooring rope leading from either aft from the bow or forward from the  stern of the vessel and secured to prevent the vessel moving to and fro when tied up against a wharf or another vessel.
SPRING TIDE The big high tides occurring when the sun & moon are in unison. (High water at London Bridge around 3.00 o'clock).
SPRIT  (Pronounced Spreet)The spar which extends diagonally across the mainsail or mizzen to extend the peak. It is fastened near the base of the mast on the starboard side by the standing lift (stanliff) and the head rope of the sail.
SPRITTIE A spritsail rigged barge.
SPRITSAIL A sail extended by a sprit.
STACKIE A barge loaded with hay or straw. A barge built expressly for this purpose.
STANDING LIFT (Stanliff) - a wire rope which supports the sprit from the hel band.
STARBOARD The right hand side of the vessel when facing forward.
STAYFALL A flexible wire rove through a pair of large blocks. tThe lower being attached to the stemhead and the upper to the end of the forestay forming a tackle by which the mainmast is raised or lowered.
STAYFALL TACKLE The tackle connecting stem head to forestays, used to raise and lower the gear.
STAYSAIL A triangular sail which may be set in three ways: from the bowsprit to the topmast head over the jib, from the stem head to topmast over the foresail, and as a spinnaker for running before the wind. In this case the sail is set up and down the mast with the tack tackle hooked to an eye at the bottom of the mast case.
STEM The foremost timber member of the barge set vertically from the keel to the rail. the head of which (Stem Head) carries the forestay and other rigging.
STOPPER A rope used to prevent another coming loose or unreeving
STUMPIE (STUMPY) Barge without a topmast.
SWIMMIE Barge with square overhung bow like that of a London lighter.
TABERNACLE A frame or case to support the heel of the mast or bowsprit.
TACK [1] The forward bottom corner of a sail.
TACK [2] To go to windward by sailing at an angle to the wind.
TAIL The loose end of a rope which has been wound round a winch or cleat.
TACKLE A set of pulley blocks and ropes used to gain a mechanical advantage.
THROAT (See nock) The forward top corner of a four sided sail.
TRANSOM Formed of lateral members fastened inside the sternpost to which the hull and deck planking is fastened.
TRAVELLER The iron ring which travels along the main horse. It is fitted with an eye to which is attached the main mast sheet block.
TOPMAST POLE That part of the spar between the hounds and the truck.
TRUCK The circular wooden cap at the top of a barges topmast or mizzen mast.
UNDER WAY The description of a vessel which has movement. (Sometimes written as "under weigh").
UPPERS The brails above the mains. (See also "peaks")
UNREEVE To pull a rope from a sheeve or block.
VANGS (Pronounced Wang) Wire rigging from the top of the sprit to each side of the deck to control the sprit. The vang fall  is the tackle rigged on the lower end of the vang.
WINDLASS A powerful hand operated winch mounted on the bow of the barge. Used primarily for raising the anchor and raising and lowering the mainmast.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sailing Barges


How does a barge work, what are the sails and how are they set? How is the rigging arranged.(In general what are the Mechanics of a sailing barge?

There is a excellent Web Site written by Ivor Bittle  see www.ivorbittle.co.uk which explains the mechanics of the barge and how it is sailed. the site includes sailing theory, and the mechanics of raising & stowing sails, the functions of various winches & rigging & spar details.

Where can I see a Thames Sailing Barge? You can usually be sure of seeing a  Thames Sailing Barge at  the following locations.
Hythe Quay, Maldon  Essex. Hythe Quay Maldon, Essex
St Katherines Dock, by  Tower Bridge, London St Catherines Dock, London 1999
Standard Quay, Faversham, Kent Sketch of Standard Quay, Faversham by R-H Perks 1999
Dolphin Sailing Barge Museum, Milton Creek, Sittingbourne, Kent Cambria & Oak at Dolphin Yard 1998
See "Barge Match" Page Before the start of the 1980 Colne Match

Other locations where barges can sometimes be seen include:-

Snape Maltings, Suffolk

Pin Mill, Ipswich, Suffolk

Ipswich Dock, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Hoo & Upnor, Kent

Port Solent & Haslar Marina, Portsmouth, Hants

Ipswich Docks by Peter Ferguson 1974
What are those large flaps that hang on the side for? Those "Flaps" are called "Leeboards. Being flat bottomed barges have no keel to keep them upright when sailing to windward. To give them stability the leeboard is lowered on the lee side of the vessel when sailing to windward thus giving the vessel stability. S.B. Reminder in the 1980 Colne Match
Why are the sails a red  colour? The sails are painted (Dressed) with a mixture of mainly red ochre and fish oil and other  ingredients to preserve them and make them more efficient.
How many crew did a barge carry? Barges normally carried a crew of two men and a dog. A few barges were sailed single handed (and a dog). Some of the larger coasting barges carried a crew of two to five men, a boy and a dog.
Do barges have engines? A few of the later barges were built with an engine installed and many had an engine fitted as auxiliary propulsion at a later date. Only one or two barges remain that rely on the wind alone for propulsion.



Updated 19/05/2016