Thistle Thames Barge on Passage Harwich to Maldon – Project


Thistle Thames Sailing Barge on Passage from Harwich to Maldon


When I created the draft proposal for my final project Tilbury to Harwich I indicated that I wanted to explore the Essex Coast  from different perspective so that my work would be different from the work of photographers such as Jason Orton in the book ‘350 miles An Essex Journey’ where all of the images have been taken from the land and I wanted to discover how images taken from the sea or air might alter how we engage with the the coast which is an interface between land and sea that is never fix but constantly changing.

Equipment Used

Having not been on a barge before I decided to pack a wide range of lenses for the trip but was aware of the fact i would have to carry the equipment home as ther would be nobody to meet me in Maldon. I took two bodies the Canon 5D Mk3 and 5Ds plus 3 lenses the 16-35mm f2.8, 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 with a 2x extender as for part of the trip we would be a significant distance off the coast. 


The passage would include sailing at night and I had been told that to avoid affecting the crews night vision I could not use flash photography. That meant using wide high ISO, wide aperture and slow shutter speeds to get the dusk and night time images of the coast. I decided that I would also capture details of the different elements of the ship that allow the barge to be sailed with a crew of two skipper and mate. I also took a monopod to provide additional stability when shooting at longer focal length. I had decided against a tripod to ensure that I did not get in the way of the crew while taking pictures. I was able to create a stable platform by bracing myself and the monopod against different parts of the boat.


Thames Barge Thistle under sail, Simon Fremont, October 2017
Thistle Chandlery, Simon Fremont, June 2017

When reviewing the images from the passage I felt my strongest sets of images were those of the different details on the barge showing pulley, ropes, chain etc and a sequence of images showing the barge under sail. There are some good coastline images but I feel they will work better once they are paired with images taken from the land creating some interesting image pairs for the reader to consider.

Research References

Prior to the shoot I did some research about Thames sailing barges through a mixture of online material and books. Wikipedia was my initial source Thames Sailing Barges (Anon, 2017). Plus Workers on the’Silent Highway’ by J. Thomson and A. Smith that described the live of the barge men in the 1870s (Thomson and Smith, 1877). An article on Totally Thames provided further context of the barges their decline and current state of the fleet (Totally Thames, 2017)

Assessment of outcome

The passage on Thistle generated a number of useful sets of images the two show in this entry focus on the barge as a subject. There are images that capture the beauty of the barge under full and partial sale that remind me of a bird in flight or peacock displaying all is plumage in a ritual mating dance there is something special that is difficult to describe but when your are travel across the water under sail you know that life is some how different. your are transported back in time where movement over distance was controlled by elements outside of our control. In the modern world the amount of time we spent travelling from Harwich to Maldon would have been sufficient to see me board a plan and fly to places as faraway as Tokyo or Los Angles.

I really like the details of the rigging and other features required to safely sail the barge that have not changed since the barge was first built.

The shoot also generated images that I intend to pair with those captured from the coastline to provide the reader with multiple perspectives.


  • Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2017].
  • Thomson J. and Smith A., (1877), Workers on the ‘Silent Highway’.
  • Totally Thames. (2017). A Short History of Thames Barges. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2017].
Close Menu