Sunday, 17 February 2013

Gravesend Bawley Marigold

   Who’s for tea was the first call made by the skipper as we passed the tip of Maldon Promenade on our way down river from Hythe Quay in a tender dinghy and pulled alongside the clinker built Gravesend bawley Marigold?  “Oh yes” was the joint reply as warps passed over her bulwark and one by one we climbed aboard. A teeth grating northerly had arrived just as we did which had us all reaching for our top layers of clothing. I had come to join Kevin Finch, owner of Marigold, and a few other lads who together we would make a motley crew of seafarers out for a brisk winter sail - Roger - the only man I know who began his life on a Thames barge as cook, became mate and then skipper on the same vessel.  Then there is Ben, usually at sea nine months of the year as part of a crew of seven sailing a square rigger, and last but not least Andy; project manager on major tall ship rebuilds and other nautical concerns. The real treat for all of us was the lady herself, Marigold. She is a wooden boat of exceptional build quality; in fact her shapely timbers and fastenings ooze with a heritage that is from Cooks yard in Maldon where she was built in 1978. The yard has a long history in building and maintaining barges and working boats and built Marigold replicating the lines of her sister ship Lilian, built in 1869, and like her is clinker built with an overall length of 30 feet, plus 14 foot of protruding bowsprit and a beam of 11 feet, her draft digs in at four feet six inches.  She has a cutter rig and like the Lilian she is engineless. In Lilian’s time there would have been a small fleet of her type of bawley based at an area called Bawley Bay which is in Gravesend Kent, on the banks of the lower reaches of the River Thames. 
Bawley Bay and Anchor Cove with the old Mission building
They were mainly shrimpers so would have been built with wet wells to keep the shrimps fresh but later adopted copper boilers in the main hold to cook the catch as soon as they were hauled up and sorted from the nets. Kevin has been a skipper and mate on Thames spritsail barges so when he became owner of her three years ago he found both sailing and handling a pleasure as in essence her bawley rig is very similar to that of the barges rig. She even has a forehorse for the staysail and her mainsail can be fully brailed. Marigold had been kept at Brightlingsea by her previous owner for many years so having her back in Maldon where she was built and where Kevin is based is a fitting home coming for such a fine ship.

Bawley Marigold - ultimate evolution of the ancient Peterboat
  The Met Office weather forecast had given the promise of a force six so one reef was put in while we waited for her to float. The time was two hours before high water and her aft section of keel was still held firm in the Maldon brown stuff, but Kevin gave the nod to the foredeck crew and immediately her three strand ropes were gripped and pulled on sending her lengthy wooden gaff and six mast hoops aloft before her main canvas was brailed and left “ready”.  Next up was the staysail. This was already hanked-on therefore just needed the head block attached by its hook and then hoisted up but ‘backed to port’. The traveller was sent out along the bowsprit and the jib halyard pulled taught and Just as they are on a barge most lines on Marigold are cleated but not hitched so they are ready to free off at a moments notice.  All was ready but a shift in wind left us in stays for a few tantalising minutes but it came back even stronger. We were now ready to get away, the nod was given and mainsail let out, the jib sheeted and all three sails filled in unison. The call was made to let go her mooring and we all looked and waited in anticipation for the moment she would shift… What happened next is a situation most East Coast mud berth holders would be familiar with when aiming to get away early - she still clung dearly to the mud!  Kevin asked everyone to move forward and then suddenly she responded and we began to shift, driving quietly forward in a glorious display of curved brown canvas that had her gunnel reaching water level until checked by her ballast bringing her on an even keel again. What followed was some thrilling winter sailing on the upper Blackwater, with plenty of time for everyone to either control the sheets or take a turn on the helm.
The bawleys boomless main is crew friendly
Plenty of three strand to play with, and the forhorse
Settling on the new tack. Note the deadeyes and handspike windlasss

  We had come along for a sail today but Kevin carries a full array of oyster dredges and trawling nets just as these vessels would have done in the golden age of 19th century working sail. Marigold will be available for charter in 2013, for a whole day or for a few hours taster on the top of the tide, to individuals or groups of up to six and is a great opportunity for anyone who has always wanted to experience the thrill of a magnificent traditional East Coast working boat, be it a pure sailing adventure or practising those age old fishing methods, he or she will not be disappointed.
  Tony Smith 

More information or enquiries about booking can be found at

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