SB Centaur

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SB Centaur 3862.jpg
Centaur at the Hythe Quay in Maldon
United Kingdom
Name: Centaur
Owner: William Barrett

J & H Cann (Harwich)

Commissioned: 1895
Status: Private use and private charter ship
Notes: 99460
General characteristics
Tonnage: 61
Length: 85.6 ft (26.1 m)
Beam: 19.55 ft (5.96 m)
Height: 0 ft (0 m) to top of mainmast
Draught: 6.2 ft (1.9 m) distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel)
Propulsion: Spritsail and diesel engine
Speed: 0 knots (0 km/h) maximum speed
Range: 0 nautical miles (0 km)
Notes: Wood

SB Centaur is a wooden Thames sailing barge, built in Harwich, Essex, England in 1895. She was used to carry various cargoes (mainly grain) until 1955, when she was derigged. Between 1955 and 1966, she was used as a lighter until bought in 1966 by Richard Duke to re-rig as a charter barge. She was eventually sold in 1973 to the Thames Barge Sailing Club (now the Thames Sailing Barge Trust) for members' sailing. Restored between 1984 and 1993, she now sails out of The Hythe, Maldon.


Thames sailing barges were the HGVs of their time, moving 150 tons of loose cargo at a time from outside the capital to the city. They brought in coal for the furnaces, bricks to construct mills and houses, and hay for the horses. Barges were used to transport rubbish from various cities out to the brickfields where it was used as fuel; it was only for the last mile of the trip to the brickfields that road transport had to be used.[2] The spritsail rig has many advantages on rivers and in confined waters: maneuvering under topsail and mizzen catching the steadier wind clear of the wharf side buildings. Its flat-bottomed hull allows her to ride over the shallow waters of the estuary and penetrate the creeks and higher reaches of the rivers of the south east.[3] She could be berthed on a flat mud bank, against a camp-shed, on a barge bed or a held tide dock.

By the 1880s, there were three types of sailing barges: stumpies, river barges and coasters. SB Centaur, built for Charles Stone of Mistley, was to be used for coastal trade. She was launched on the 15th February 1895 by John and Herbert Cann at the Bathside yard, Gashouse Creek, Harwich.[4] March relates that she was built specifically for the 1899 Medway Barge Race and construction took a period of six weeks.[5] Indeed, she did win that race, passing over the finishing line at Upnor 2 1/2 minutes ahead of SB Giralda.[6] The Mistley barges worked Dunkirk, Calais, Antwerp, Ostend, Alderney, Bruges and the Netherlands, from ports including Dover, Rochester, London, Lowestoft, Goole, Shoreham, Southampton and Newport.[4]

In the First World War, SB Centaur joined her sister barges taking foodstuffs and large quantities of coal, coke, and pitch to the French ports of Le Treport, Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Commonly there were 180 barges discharging at Le Treport. They sailed over enemy mines due to their shallow draught, and too small to attract enemy U-boots. These were profitable runs as carriage was charged at £6 a ton.[4]

In fog, the Centaur was struck amidships by a CMB (coastal motor boat) which mounted her deck and settled on her main hatch. Both boats were undamaged and the Centaur returned home and safely unloaded her cargo.[4] After the war, she resumed coastal trade. Ephraim Cripps was her skipper for twenty years and kept records of each voyage - Colchester was her main port from 1928 to 1930, and she worked the Essex and Suffolk coasts.[4]

In 1933 she joined the Colchester fleet of Francis and Gilders Ltd transporting grain between Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, into London. The first civilian maritime event of the Second World War was the Dunkirk evacuation where hundreds of small ships rescued allied soldiers from the beaches. Like many of the sailing barge fleet the Centaur sailed down to the assembly point at Dover, where she was damaged by a tug and couldn't make the crossing. The rest of the conflict was spent doing 'War work', and afterwards she resumed working the grain trade. [7]

In January 1952, in Force 6-7 winds with seas breaking across her hatches, her steering gear broke and distress rockets were fired. She was given a tow into Colne by the SB Saxon. Francis and Gilders Ltd were the last 'seeker barges', barges that sought any cargo; they merged with the London and Rochester Trading Company in 1951. The new owners were intent on selling on these barges, and Centaur took her last cargo in 1955. The Centaur, George Smeed, Kitty and Mirosa were sold to Brown & Son of Chelmsford, de-masted, de-registered and used as timber lighters.[7]


  • 1895 Charles Stone.
  • c.1900 Dolly Rogers.
  • 1911 Ted Hibbs.
  • 1915, John Sawyer.
  • 2017, Marcus Oliver Andersen
  • - Francis & Gilders
  • - L.R.T.C. (London and Rochester Trading Company)

In 1955 she went to Brown & Co. and was derigged for use as a timber lighter.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Renouf, David. "Sailing Barge Centaur". Retrieved 12 May 2017. 
  2. ^ March 1948, p. 1.
  3. ^ March 1948, p. 3.
  4. ^ a b c d e WW1 Survivor 2017.
  5. ^ March 1948, p. 97.
  6. ^ March 1948, p. 153.
  7. ^ a b Barge Trust 2013.


  • "Centaur -delivering the goods". First World War: Britain’s surviving vessels. Retrieved 13 May 2017. 
  • March, Edgar (1948). Spritsail barges of Thames and Medway. London: Percival Marshall. 
  • "Centaur". Thames Sailing Barge Trust. 11 December 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2017. 

External links[edit]