Sailing Barge Thistle on the Blackwater

Over the years we’ve walked pasted the sailing barges moored at Maldon and promised ourselves that we’d go on a trip on one of them one day. Well, that day was yesterday and it lived up to expectations. Granted it was cold, grey and rained on and off, but it added to the atmosphere!

We booked through Topsail Charters, on a 2-hr sailing that included an optional bird-watching walk along the Promenade. Two of the barges were on duty, and we watched SB Hydrogen take on board its passengers and then quietly leave the wharf and head out of Maldon.

On board SB Thistle, first port of call was downstairs for tea and biscuits whilst the crew readied the barge for departure. The inside of the barge was roomier than expected, very atmospheric with its small portholes and blazing stove. Back on deck as we left the wharf, we watched the town receding into the distance as we passed the Promenade.

A couple of smaller sails were unfurled by the young crew (no ancient salty sea dogs on duty on our barge!) and once the diesel engine was turned off, it was beautifully quiet as we headed out towards Osea Island. If you book a trip in late October you are hostage to fortune in terms of the weather, and soon a quite steady, cold drizzle settled in, leaving the less hardy of the passengers to scurry down below. But others, included us, braved the weather and soaked in the atmosphere, the quiet chopping of the waves, with visions of Dickens’ Madgwick struggling across the mudflats.

Hearing the wind in the sails, and watching the crew splicing the mainbrace (or whatever it was) close up, and chatting to them about the history of the barge, was really enjoyable.

We watched SB Hydrogen makes its turn, and head back to Maldon, before we made our leisurely turn, with sails being repositioned, saw us heading back towards dry land, with a bowl of hot soup and a sandwich below deck to get some warmth back in us.

A great day out, and we’ll look to go again in the future – next time in the height of summer!