**Life at An Angle Dutch Barge Information, European Waterways Calendars, The Quick Reference Guide to Dutch Barges, De snelle Gids van de Verwijzing voor Nederlandse Aken By Jane and John Griffin 2007**

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Sailing a Dutch barge!

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by Jane and John Griffin.


Sailing Vrouwe Antje

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 This section is written not say how to sail your barge but just to say how we sail ours. The way we sail Vrouwe Antje is dictated by how she is set-up as well as the fact that we normally sail with only two crew. We are sure that there is better ways to do things and we're learning all the time.

Many of our techniques have come from studying old pictures of Dutch barges under sail. We've included these pictures just encase they give you any good ideas. If you have any please e-mail!

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Vrouwe Antje as with most sailing barges sails like any other ship except for a few differences.

The Lee-boards. Lee-boards are there to stop us moving through the water sideways. The barge it flat bottomed and moves through the water just as easily sideways. One lee-board is always down anytime there is a sideways force on the sails. In short one lee-board is down except when on a run or motorsailing.(Run=Wind behind the barge.)

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Sailing close to the wind. The best I've been able to do is sail 45 degs off the wind! Due to the flat bottom the boat's track is more like 55 deg due to moving through the water a bit sideways. Nothing can be done about this on a barge so it just means more tacking. wilhelmina.JPG (55609 bytes)
Stowing for sail. The boat is not just a sailing boat but our home in the summer. We do not have any free-standing furnishing. In Vrouwe Antje everything is bolted down and most breakables are already broken and now plastic. Our home gets tipped on its side! striidber_IFKS_2008_lem1_03.jpg (480416 bytes)

This is not an angle we would be happy at!

Jibbing. The boom is much heavier then a yacht's. The reason for this weight is that a traditional Dutch sailing barge is not fitted with a kicking strap. (A kicking strap holds the boom down keeping the sail tensioned.) On Vrouwe Antje the boom is solid wood and starts out 8 inches in diameter. In its 14 meter length the middle is 11 inches in diameter reducing back to 8 inches at the tip. The idea behind this set-up is that if a gust of wind comes along the sail fills lifting the boom. The stronger the gust the more the boom is raised causing the sail to bag spilling the wind from the sail. It sort of regulates the force on the sail. The only disadvantage to this system is dealing with a 300 LB+- boom. High_wind_and_dark_sky_low_res.jpg (25088 bytes)

Vrouwe Antje doing 7 kts on a run! Big smiles!;-)

Roving Backstays. Normally we do not jibe Vrouwe Antje. If the wind is anything but very light then Vrouwe Antje's heavy boom would be to uncontrollable. Further the roving back-stays would get caught as the boom flew from one side to the other side. (Roving-backstays are cables that go from the top of the mast to the stern.) The headsails run on cables that go from the top of the mast forward to the bow and bowsprit. With the headsails filled they put an enormous load pulling the mast forward. The back-stays counter this force. One back-stay must be on anytime the headsails are filled. On most modern yachts a back-stay runs to the stern aft of the end of the boom allowing the boom to move freely from side to side. The reason that Dutch barges don't use this design is the booms are to long. Vrouwe Antje's boom is so long it hangs over the stern. This length is needed to give it enough weight and accommodate the large main sail. Your barge could have a different set-up? VrouweAntjesailing.jpg (40676 bytes)

Vrouwe Antje with one reef in and only two sails up. Conditions weren't expected to be bad but we were sailing with two crew only.

So with all that in mind, how do we go about sailing Vrouwe Antje?

We start out by choosing the right weather to sail in.We spend a lot of time watching the weather forecasts. The max insurance wind velocity is a force 5. With most barges insurance limits the wind to force 4 but due to the fact that the sails act to stabilise the barge most sailing barges are limited to a 5 (20 kts). On the other hand you need a force 2-3 (5-10 kts) just to get the barge moving well! Shipping forecasts are normally not very accurate and generally over a to large of an area to be that useful. What we normally look at are the wind-surfing sites. They show the inshore winds in detail with the forecasts and actual reports for every 2 miles along the coast. They also show wave heights.

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Vrouwe Antje with one reef close hauled. Conditions were a force 5 with 1 meter swell.

We spend time looking for over-falls on the charts and if we have to go in these areas we plan to arrive with little tide running or wind going the same direction as the tide. (Over-falls are areas where an underwater ridge normally generates large waves when the tide is running. This is even worse if the tide is running opposite to wind.) If we are planning to sail off shore very far like a channel crossing then we try to plan a departure with wind and tide running the same direction. If they are going in opposite directions then the waves just build and build. Scan0028.jpg (21458 bytes)
Saying this we have found that if the wind is under a force 5 then the waves are not to bad. There are exceptions like with most things. If there has been a large storm (force 8+) within the previous 3 days then the waves can still be large and hanging around. Normally it is an issue of looking out the window and going for it but if we are planning a long trip then we always wait for 3 days of low winds before setting off.    zeilkast1.jpg (25553 bytes)

On a run in light conditions and an extra sail can be added below the main.

With Vrouwe Antje's sails, reefing underway is near to impossible. The canvas is so heavy that with it  flapping in the breeze we would likely to be thrown overboard. Once one reef is in then the next is not to difficult. If the weather is marginal we leave with at least reef one in. Most Dutch barge sails are lose footed. In other words the sail is only attached at the base of the mast and the tip of the boom. To reef all we do is tie the base of the sail into a large sausage with short ropes that are sewn through the sail. We then tie the base of the sail through the reefing point and do the same to the luff of the sail. (The luff is the outer side of the sail). Have a look at the pictures as some show a technique where the sail is reefed then the Gaff is part lowered so the sail bags spilling air. This lowers the centre of pressure on the sail stopping the barge from heeling over in strong wind.

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Gaff lowered to lower the centre of pressure on the sail. Also note the sheets attached to the Gaff. They are needed here to stop the gaff from swinging around

Having to much sail up on a barge is a problem but not having the sails up at all could be very much worse! A barge is like any other boat except for not having a keel. A barge has ballast giving it positive stability. It has sails like any other sailing vessel. It has lee-board so it tracks forward through the water. What it is missing is roll dampening. This is where the sails come in. As long as the sails are up they dampen roll oscillations. Obviously a barge is more limited then a ocean going sailing ship but they can be safely sailed in most conditions as the Dutch have proven. Some of the pictures appear as though they were sailing in near gale conditions. I have no intentions of proving the point though! Bargesailingraisedfoot.jpg (243358 bytes)

Note the raise mainsail foot. This gives better forward visibility.

With stability in mind all we do is drop the main as late as possible and leave the middle headsail until we are sheltered in the harbour. Our worst experiences have been when we were late getting the sails up. Leaving Honfleur though the lock we were hit by a 2 meter wave from two large tugs travelling at 20kts. We couldn't see them until we had left the lock. There was zero wind but we should have raised our middle headsail anyway the second we left the lock. Lesson learnt!

For stability point of sail is just as important. If the sails are not filled then they produce not nearly as much roll stability. So for a channel crossing you need a east-west wind or a course the is at least 45degs. off the wind. A run gives very little stability and further has the danger of an inadvertent jib. One advantage with a run is that apparent wind is reduced by the boat speed and in most barge sailing conditions this is enough to make the wind seem more manageable.  We have turned tail and ran several times! We have found if conditions get bad always sail even if it means being at sea much longer then motor-sailing. This is what the barge was designed for!

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On a run sometimes it is easier not having the main up thus avoiding a chance of an inadvertent jibe.   

The last point is handling the lee-boards. One has to be down when sailing on any point of sail other then a run. On a run both lee-boards can be lowered about 1/3 to 1/2 way to help with directional control but not so far down that they flap. Without the sideways pressure they can flap with each wave and eventually damage them. When we tack one comes up and the other down. As we tack if we are slow lowering the lee-board then the sails will fill before it is fully down. This pins the lee-board to the side of the barge as it starts moving through the water sideways and stops us completely lower it. We then have to head back into wind and have another go! We hesitate with the bow into wind to get one lee-board up and the other down then point down-wind again. We tend to start the engine when we tack to give us plenty of time. Not something allowed when racing but we don't race. Also, with two crew everything takes time. historic1.jpg (48847 bytes)

Here the middle headsail is poled out and the base of the main is raised to give better forward visibility. Also note the lines running from the tip of the gaff to deck. This is used to pull the gaff off of the shrouds when on a run. In very light conditions its not very much of a problem but in strong winds the gaff could chaff against the steel cables and possibly damage the rope holding the sail on. Also when sailing with the gaff lowered the sheets are there to control the gaff from swinging around.


Here is how we tack we:

Start engine

Point into wind

Sheet in the main

Let out the front head sail

Raise the lee board and lower the other

Swap backstays and tie the one not being used forward of the mast.

Bring the boat through the wind

Let out on the main and sheet in on the front head sail. (The middle headsail on most Dutch barges are self tacking.)

Switch off engine and away we go.

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Contrary to RYA training we tie the boom forward to one of the front ballards to avoid an inadvertent Jib.

Extra considerations:

Motorsailing: Into wind motoring can be done with the middle headsail up but hours of flapping(luffing) can cause damage to rigging or the sail. Vrouwe Antje's middle headsail is constructed extra heavy for this purpose. The middle headsail is constructed more like a storm jib.

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Draft: Vrouwe Antje is 1.3m draft but nearing 2m with the lee board down. We have managed to find a few sand banks! With a bit of swell the lee-board could have easily been broken. We were lucky!

Anchor: Its always good practice to make sure the Anchor is locked off with something other then its break as a backup measure just encase the break fails. Under sail if the anchor releases the boat would point down wind violently and the sails would probably push the boat over on its side. All that would be left to do is phone the insurance.

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Fuel and Water tanks: Check the fuel and water tank cross feeds are closed as whilst sailing fuel or water could transfer to the down side tank and over flow out the vents. The least that could happen is the weight would transfer to the very side you wouldn't want it for your point of sail. Been there, done that! 50 litres of fuel in the engine room bilge!  vrouwe_johanna_stro_aak.jpg (56668 bytes)
Engine or generator cooling:If healed over hard your water intake for cooling could be out of the water. On Vrouwe Antje if on a port tack healed over hard the engine and generator could overheat as the cooling water intake is on the port side. Its normally not a problem as when we are sailing we don't need the engine!;-)

Protecting the boom: We put the cradle up and lower the boom into the cradle when we are done using the mainsail. The topping lift or sail holds up the boom from the end and the main sheet sheets on Vrouwe Antje is 3m from the end and could break the boom if it were left to bounce from side to side held by its sheet. The boat originally had a sheet at the end of a shorter boom when it had two masts. Now we can't change the configuration due to the cockpit cover. We doubt this is as much of a problem on other barges.

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We hope you find this useful!

Jane and John Griffin

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