Boats & Barges


The Pioneer is the very last of the larger size Essex smacks to survive, although only her bottom and parts of her other structure were salvaged as a basis for her reconstruction.

The Pioneer was built in 1864 at Rowhedge and originally worked off Brightlingsea dredging for oysters. She was later lengthened and had a wet well added to enable her to fish further afield.

The Pioneer continued to sail from Brightlingsea and by 1919 Joseph Eagle one of an old local fishing family was managing owner. The trade slumps of the early 1920s bought further change of ownership and eventually she was laid up and became a houseboat at East Mersea, later being towed round to West Mersea on the nearby river Blackwater where she was moored on the mud. It was not until 1998 that she was rescued from the mud and fully rebuilt and restored back to sailing condition by the Pioneer Sailing Trust. She was re-launced in 2003 and after a lengthy refit above and below decks, she started sailing in 2005.

Nancy Blackett

Arthur Ransome's Nancy Blackett is a 28ft cruising yacht which he bought in 1935 and used as the model for the “Goblin” in his book “We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea”, based around Pin Mill and the River Orwell. The sequel “Secret Water” was set in the Walton Backwaters.

The boat was discovered derelict in Scarborough Harbour in the 1980s and she was brought back to the River Orwell to be restored to her original condition. The Nancy Blackett Trust was set up in 1997 and now owns, preserves, and sails her.

Welcome aboard and find out how you too can enjoy an Arthur Ransome sailing adventure!

Sailing Barge Victor

Sailing Barge Victor was built in Ipswich in 1895. Until the 2nd World War she loaded linseed from farms around the East Coast for discharge at Colchester and onward shipping to London with linseed oil in barrels.

During the 2nd World War she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy to transport munitions from Chatham dock to cruisers, corvettes and destroyers.

Victor was the last sailing barge to be decommissioned. She was converted to a motor barge and traded for the London & Rochester Company on the Medway until sold in 1964.

During the next 10 years she had a short career as a strip club before moving to Ramsgate. Whilst on passage she got into difficulties and the crew were rescued by the Ramsgate lifeboat which also towed Victor to port where she lay for 4 years unused. She was later used as a houseboat on the Medway.

In 1974, Victor was purchased by Owen Emerson, a shipwright, who rebuilt and re-rigged her. In 1995 she was purchased to operate as a 40-passenger charter barge and floating office located primarily on the South coast at Beaulieu and at Tower Bridge London.

In 2005, Victor was bought by Steve Godwin and Tony Chancellor who brought her back to the East coast. She underwent a major refit at Maldon and Mistley, including new mast, sprit, running and standing rigging, new electrics, water and heating systems, water and fuel tanks, refurbished decks, saloon, cabins, galley and heads. Victor today is now in 1st class condition and working in the charter and events business with an MCA Passenger Certificate for 40 persons. David 'Wes' Westwood of Ipswich is the Skipper and operations manager.

Victor will be taking part in a lifeboat exercise this afternoon, departing at 3pm for 1 hour. Tickets to be on her and observe the exercise from on board can be purchased for £10.

Sailing Barge Centaur

Centaur was launched by John and Herbert Cann at Harwich on 15 February 1895, for Charles Stone of Mistley.

Built of wood, she was a coasting barge able to trade all around the British coast and to the near continent, trading between Calais London, Portsmouth and Southampton. She entered barge races, winning the 1898 Harwich race, and 1899 Medway match.

In 1911, she was sold and traded between Colchester and Milwall, taking linseed oil in drums to London and returning with raw linseed and cottonseed.

After the 1st World War she traded between London and the Essex and Suffolk coasts, with Colchester the principal port.

In 1940 whilst at Dover preparing for the Dunkirk evacuation, she was damaged and began taking in water. Unable to sail for Dunkirk she returned to Maldon for repairs.

In 1951, she was used as an unrigged timber lighter bringing timber from ships moored off Osea Island to Heybridge Basin.

She was sold in 1965 and re-rigged for leisure work and in 1974 was acquired by the Thames Barge Sailing Club. The club began an extensive restoration, replacing most of the frames and planking and was completed in 1995. She now works out of Maldon for the Thames Sailing Barge Trust with charters and cruises between May and October each year, taking up to 12 passengers.

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