Haulout time – a bit of our history – good times to come!

Drifter ‘stripped down’ for hauling and blocking at Voyager boat yard

Our busy 2022 sailing season came to an end towards the end of September.  We then sailed Drifter east along the coast to the river Tamar for wintering. As we spend all summer in the Fal doing our trips, it is always a blast for us to get ‘outside’ and do a bit of sailing along the stunning coast of the southwest and on this occasion, we opted to stop for a couple of nights in the picturesque harbour at Mevagissey, which was still buzzing despite it being early October.  This is still very much a working fishing harbour and it was a joy to watch the boats going about their business from our comfortable cockpit.

Drifter at Mevagissey in October, onroute to Plymouth

We would normally place the barge on the quayside at Truro in the wintertime but as our 5-year survey was due we searched for a suitable place to be hauled out, but on finding all the boatyards around Falmouth full, we returned to a boatyard we had used on a previous occasion at Millbrook, near Plymouth. We were also hoping to sail in the lovely Tamar for a week or so before we were hauled but as we arrived in the Plymouth area the weather suddenly turned wet and windy so we decided to haul straight away. We were heartily welcomed back and once settled in we got to work on writing our winter work list. This is mostly painting and varnishing, some routine servicing or replacing of various bits of equipment, and a few small projects. Of course, we also had our surveys to organise.


We want to thank everybody who joined us onboard throughout our 2022 season, we do enjoy meeting you all and in some cases for a second or third time. Wind and tides on any particular day make every one of our trips a unique experience so our repeat passengers were always as equally surprised and delighted as they were on their previous trips.

Some of the fun we have onboard our sailing trips.

As a subject of this ‘winter‘ blog post we thought you would like to hear about our purchase of Drifter and why we choose to sail in the Fal estuary. Those who have sailed with us know how enthusiastic we are about this beautiful part of Cornwall and our passion for its nature and heritage.

Over the last 20 or so years. we have had the fortune to have worked on various charter boats in some very lovely places around the world but for us,  the Fal is without an equal and we have always felt quite at home here. The upper reaches of the Fal are especially beautiful, narrowing as they lead toward the city of Truro. The area is undisputedly a true sailor’s playground, with plenty of traditional ports and attractive harbours to visit as well as lots of beautiful anchorages, all sheltered by the expansive Lizard peninsula to the west.

So when we considered starting our own boat trips, the Fal was already the location of choice and a place we knew visitors and locals alike would love to experience from the water. Finding a suitable vessel for sailing in the narrow and shallow arms of the river was then our challenge.

In days past, local sailing barges were a common sight as they quietly carried cargos around the Fal. These were, of course, an ideal design born out of necessity, with their shallow draught and simple but efficient sailing gear but unfortunately, none of these remain today. Perhaps one day someone will build a replica but for now, we needed something equally suited.

A native river Fal barge sailing past King Harry Ferry (circa 1890)

While we were working in the Netherlands from 2014 to 2017, we often admired the native barges and their sailing abilities in the shallow and often narrow waterways. When we learned of our work there coming to an end, we decided that this would be an ideal vessel for sailing the Fal, and set about returning to our home with one of those beautiful and versatile vessels. In particular,  a type known as a Lemsteraak,  which as well as sailing extremely well on the narrow waterways of the Netherlands, was just as capable of coastal sailing as well. We focused on finding a barge big enough to carry just the right amount of people and which would also make a lovely home for the summer.

We made friends with a Broker in the Netherlands, who stuck with us in an 18-month search. He often called us up to take us here and there to look at a barge until just the right vessel was found. His name was Dirk Blom. Those of you who have sailed with us may have seen this name on a wooden plaque mounted in our seating area.  Our broker Dirk Blom (Jr) is the son of Dirk Blom (Snr) who built the barge in 1976 and whose name is carved into our plaque. So it was a very nice buying experience to be helped by his son to find our ideal barge, which on purchase we took to the yard where she was built to then meet the senior still keeping an eye on things. We stayed for a couple of months making some changes and preparing the vessel for coastal cruising and its new life. Previously it had spent most of its life being competitively raced, as well as for plenty of family cruising.

It was June 2017 when we left for the voyage back home, This initially took us through the Dutch inland waterways passing through Amsterdam, Harleem and down towards Vlissingen where we passed through the final ‘lock’ into the open sea to sail down the Belgium coast to Dunkerque and then Calais. It was then a cross-channel hop to Dover. Ports of call along the south coast included Eastbourne, Brighton, Portsmouth, Weymouth, Torquay, Dartmouth, Plymouth, and finally our destination at Falmouth. This took a while as there was a lot of bad weather during 2017 so more time was spent in ports than at sea, but at the end of September, we finally arrived at what was to become the future sailing grounds for our river trips, our much beloved Fal estuary.

At the beginning of 2018, we underwent surveys for our passenger carrying license which was not an easy task considering the very traditional nature of our vessel.  But after a bit of tweaking here and there and a surveyor who had lots of experience with this type of vessel we got all our paperwork in order just in time to offer our services as wedding transport from Mylor in  June 2018. The weather was absolutely perfect and the photographer took some beautiful pictures of this very special moment, both for them and for us.

Our first trip back in 2018 was as wedding transport from Mylor to Trelissick

What about those unusual leeboards? Well, we were already familiar with leeboard vessels having been crew on a Thames sailing barge for two years. A leeboard is essentially a form of pivoting keel and is surprisingly efficient. You will get to see how we work with them during our sailing trips. They allow us to sail effectively in very shallow water, in fact, we have often been skimming along in only 1m of water. As they can be lifted when not in use, the flat bottom of the barge can also sit comfortably on the mud when the tide goes out.

Since 2018 we have been actively offering our relaxed river trips from Malpas near Truro. It was not an easy time during the COVID years of 2020/21 but we bounced along and had a brilliant 2022 including meeting quite a few international visitors. We will of course be back in spring 2023.

See you soon!

We always welcome any queries about what we do and any questions about sailing a traditional sailing barge. We have already been helping a few others considering purchasing a similar vessel and it is surprising how many there already are around our British shores.