How to sail a Dutch barge – The Boom.


The boom is the long  spar that is hung from the bottom of the largest sail. It extends from the base of the mast to the stern and on a sailing barge, is typically made from solid wood.

Unlike a lightweight aluminum spar on a modern yacht, it is strategically designed to be heavy and robust.

A sailing barge is rigged in a traditional manner, commonly referred to as a gaff rig. The mainsail of a gaff rig is four cornered and resembles a square, unlike on a modern yacht which has three corners and is triangular shaped. The bottom of a gaff mainsail is attached at two points, one at the inner end of the boom secured to the base of the mast and the other at the outer end which sits over the stern. The top part the sail is secured in a similar way to a spar called the ‘gaff’.

Gaff mainsails are typically much larger than mainsails on modern yachts, this is because a barge is heavier and can carry more sail.  When the sail is raised and the barge is underway, the weight of the boom helps the sail to form and keep its shape.

There is no better sight than sitting in the barge and watching the boom lift and fall to the pressure of the wind. It is very graceful and is a desirable feature, as in any strong gusts of wind the boom lifts changing the shape of the sail and ‘spilling some of the wind’, so the barge does not heel excessively or become harder to steer.

The boom is secured to the back of the barge with some rigging known as a ‘main-sheet’. This allows the boom to be eased in and out depending on the winds direction. If the barge changes course then the boom will need to be adjusted, or even transferred from one side of the barge to the other. You should always watch you head as the boom passes over and the moment it is about happen is normally announced by the skipper who calls out ‘lee-ho’ or ‘gybe-ho’.

When the sail is not set, the boom is supported by a topping lift which is a line which runs from the top of the mast to the end of the boom. This stops the boom from dropping onto the deck. A barge also usually has a crutch at the back of the vessel for the boom to rest in when moored.

Sailing barge Drifter was built in 1976, as a Lemsteraak by the shipbuilder Blom. It is now used in the Falmouth area for short cruises and day sailing. For further information see the website