We are a social enterprise set up in 2018 by three friends (Matt, Rob and Gareth) with the plan to restore a 1920 Thames sailing barge, the Raybel. Between us we have many years experience of barge sailing, maintenance and restoration as well as fund raising, heritage research, community development, event organising and business management.
Here is Raybel, in the current berth, Heybridge Basin Essex, covered for the winter ... and at her launch, into Milton Creek, one hundred years ago.
Raybel is still in pretty sound order - but she needs some help getting back into sea worthy condition and to start sailing again.
Why do we want to do this? We're about THREE things ...
1. Sailing barge heritage
There was once a fleet of over 2,000 Thames sailing barges - now there's around 25, and only a dozen or so still sailing that are close to original. Raybel needs saving as one of the last and finest of this special maritime heritage.
Raybel is a magnificent sailing barge - one of the strongest ever built and still largely original. The iron and timber design resulted in a structure of greater strength and durability than had been achieved before. When rigged with bowsprit and lofty gear she has an appearance of both power and elegance. Some work to the hull and top sides is needed, which we'll do whilst paying careful attention to originality and detail.
The Raybel story is interwoven with the lives of individuals, families and communities. We know about the barge builders, Wills & Packham, and the owners, Sullys, who regarded Raybel as 'the pride of the fleet'. Raybel has appeared in books and films, been used as a location for photography, and even features in a Norman Parkinson Vogue shoot with Uma Thurman's mum....
The restoration will take place at Milton Creek, Sittingbourne, in north Kent - once a great centre for barge building and trading. We want to bring this sailing barge heritage back into the contemporary life of the town. We're providing chances for people to volunteer, creating employment and running training placements. We've got together with local organisations to put on arts events, community festivals and work experience for local young people - all connected with the arts, crafts and skills of shipbuilding, sail-making, sailing and seamanship.
After the restoration we'll carry on working with community groups in the Thames estuary, on environmental, education, skills and health projects. There is no other sailing barge in this type of dedicated community use on the Thames.
Sittingbourne docks as was ....
And now - Lloyd Wharf, where the Raybel restoration will return sailing barge industry back to the Creek ...
3. Sail cargo
We're part of the Sail Cargo Alliance, a pioneering, international band of merchants, brokers and ship owners showing how wind powered sail freight can be part of a new trading and transporting system.
Together, we're demonstrating how heritage and traditional ships can still be used to transport goods across oceans and along rivers. We're a DIY action movement - part business, part campaign, part arts project - raising awareness of sail cargo as a viable alternative to the environmental impacts of carbon intensive shipping.
Our unique role within the Sail Cargo Alliance is the access we provide to the London market. Sail cargo ships are already operating on routes between Amsterdam, Ostend, the Baltic ports, Portugal, France and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, Central America, Canada and the US. But no ship comes into London.
Our role will be to meet with other ships in the alliance, load on to Raybel and sail into the Thames estuary, calling at ports such as Queenborough, Chatham and Gravesend. In London we can enter Limehouse Basin, and connect to the inland waterways network, reaching Hackney, Walthamstow, Kings Cross and Little Venice. We will deliver cargo, hold dockside events and sell products from the barge, at each of the places we visit - marking each arrival as a homecoming.
What do people say about us?
"The Raybel will fill a gap in our network, allowing us to bring products into London, involving the people of the Thames Estuary in the sail cargo adventure, and helping to create a system of trade that is truly able to bring global consumption back to a human scale." Alex Geldenhuys, Sail Cargo Alliance.
"There are currently no Thames sailing barges in dedicated community use in Sittingbourne and the Thames estuary, and the Raybel has great potential to be a valued asset for local heritage-based volunteering, education and health activities. The focus on youth and those that fall outside of formal education systems is to be commended too. The project meets local need as a unique engagement tool providing opportunity to re-connect local residents of Sittingbourne with their proud heritage of barge-building and sailing." Lyn Newton, Swale Borough Council.
"I am in full support of this important project. Passion and dedication are vital to preserving the heritage of Thames sailing barges, and a restored Raybel would be both a fantastic boost for the people of Sittingbourne and other communities along the estuary" Rachel Lichtenstein - author 'Estuary: Out from London to the Sea'.
"Raybel is one of just a handful of sailing barges built between the wars, the last group of the genre, her construction more historically important than any of the others and predominantly still original." The Society for Sailing Barge Research.
What will we do with the money?
Most of the money for the restoration is coming from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (thanks, National Lottery players) but we need an extra £18,000 to go towards new topsail, foresail and mizzen sails (total cost £12,000). to replace the bowsprit and rigging (total cost £2,000) and to purchase vital safety equipment (total cost £4,000). By supporting our crowdfund you will also be showing the depth of support for the Raybel restoration, helping us to secure the backing of NLHF and other funders.
Why do we need to crowd fund?
Once the restoration project is done our Lottery funding will end. At that point we will rely on income from our charters, donations, volunteer support and small grants. We want to make sure we're ready for that future by building up a supporter base, so we can keep people informed and involved.
By pledging support now, you can become part of this story, with the chance to stay involved with the sail cargo journey as it unfolds into the future. Pledging your support will help us to show our other funders and partners how much interest and passion there is for creating a system of trade that works with the power of nature and sustains the planet.
We hope we've convinced you to support us, and to pledge whatever you can to help us with the restoration. Have a look at the rewards we have on offer - these are our way of involving you in the future, giving a big thank you for your pledge, and perhaps meeting you in the future.