‘The vigilant’ : The Restoration of a Thames Sailing Barge

'The vigilant' : The Restoration of a Thames Sailing Barge

Woodlands.co.uk is helping with the supply of some materials (wood, timber) for the restoration of a majestic Thames sailing barge.   The barge is “The Vigilant”, a 109 year old 'Edwardian Lady of the Thames.  It is undergoing a complete restoration at Topsham Quay in Devon.

The object of the project, (which will be seeking help from the Heritage Lottery Fund), is to return The Vigilant to sailing condition,  so that it serves as a living reminder of the part these trading vessels played in the building of Britain.  In its cargo carrying days, it could carry 120 tons.

The work being is being undertaken by local shipwright, Dave MacCabe, together with an army of volunteers from the community.  They have pitched in to try and prevent this beautiful craft deteriorating beyond economic repair, and being lost to the nation.   Time and tide have served to render much of Vigilant’s wooden frames and planking beyond salvation so much of the wood will have to be replaced with new. Woodlands.co.uk has offered to provide much needed wood stock to keep the shipwrights supplied with essential materials.

Stuart Brooking of Woodlands.co.uk said... “This is a fantastic project which has captured the public’s enthusiasm and has provided a much needed and appropriate focus for this former ship building town. We are delighted to be associated with Vigilant’s restoration. If we can help to make it a success then that will ensure this important part of our maritime heritage is enjoyed by future generations. I look forward to seeing her when she returns to sea.”

If you would like to learn more about The Vigilant or support this worthwhile project then email: info@vigilantbarge.com.  We hope to post more about the progress of the restoration.


I was priviledge to sail on Vigilant twice. Once in 1984 and again in 1985 when Vigilant was sponsored by Securicor, hence the cross keys, part of the Securicor Badge and motto “Vigilant and Valiant”.
The first trip was to get her from Maldon to St Katherine`s Dock over 2 days. We anchored of Southend Pier for the night and sailed, with permission, through the Thames Barrier,.
The 2nd trip was about 1 year later. We took part in the Blackwater Barge Match. the captain for that race was a friend of the owner and we had the fastest start, 6 seconds from the gun. The race started at 0645 it finished at about 1400 then it was sleep until the evenings presentation of prizes and dinner. Then very early in the morning we had to leave Maldon to go to St Katherine`s Dock as she was needed for a conference on the Monday. I still have all the photo slides that I took on those trips.
Even though it was 35 years ago it is still clear in my memory.

Good luck in the restoration.

Chris Wiabey

8 September, 2019

Excellent project,
I sail the River Blackwater area, and Vigilant was one of the first Spritsail barges I became aware of when we started sailing in the mid eighties, I have never sailed on her but she was still in the area ie the Cross Keys on her Topsail were still much in evidence in the Blackwater area.
Hope she will be back in commission soon as next year will be my eightieth year and I am still fit enough to enjoy a daysail on her, indeed I shall look forward to to it but dont leave it to long Im not getting any younger. Colin E Harris

PS crewed on a Pilot cutter earlier this year. C.E.H

Colin E Harris

13 August, 2016

excellent project, preserving our heritage is a very worthy cause. I saw this barge when I visited friends in Topsham in early August 2014, unfortunately there was no one working one her at the time to talk to about her.

Ken Byrom

19 August, 2014

I agree – a very good project and also wish I lived closer. I with it every success, and I do hope that once in sailing condition she will join her sisters in the Thames estuary and east Coast waters.

Bill Jones

5 November, 2013

This sounds like a wonderful project & I wish it every success. Shame I don’t live closer!


13 October, 2013

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