Sailing Barge ENA – ‘The Last Barge of R&W Pauls’

Doug, one of our Window Wizards last year wrote his IMT Volunteer Story. In this post, Doug tells the story of the Sailing Barge ENA, that he skippered in the 1990s. Doug wrote this article for the Association of Bargemen (AOB) a few years ago but wanted to share it with you all.

Most members of the AOB will be aware that s/b ENA has gone to her last resting place, R.I.P.

Tony Finbow and I went to see her in January 2016 while she was still alongside the jetty at Whitton Marine, Hoo on the Medway and the sight of her brought me to tears.

ENA – January 2016 – Doug Nicholls Collection

 Why so?

 Well I was the last full time skipper employed by Paul’s to manage and sail ENA from spring 1996 to October 1998. She took over my life and I thought that I in turn would retire out of her. That was not to be. The take over of Paul’s Malt by a large conglomerate sealed her fate and she was put up for sale and eventually a year or so later was sold away to Kent.

ENA’s early life from building at Mclearons at Harwich alongside Thalatta in 1906 has been well documented in books such as A Cross in the Topsail and there are various accounts of her exploits as a Dunkirk Little Ship.

ENA on the Common Quay, Ipswich in 1957 – IMT Image Archive

 After a long career under sail and later as a motor barge she was of no further use to Paul’s but in 1973 they agreed that the Sports and Social Club could take her over, re-rig her and sail her for their benefit and to promote the Company to its suppliers and customers. Brian Pinner from the Grain Terminal at Ipswich was the main driving force behind the operation and it is largely due to his efforts that ENA stayed in commission so long.

I recently gained access to a private archive of photographs and correspondence from Kim Shaw an ex-employee of Paul’s at the time who, with her husband Peter, was an  active member of the team of volunteers who helped transform her back to sail under the guidance of Charlie Webb and Harold Smy. ENA took part in the 1974 Pin Mill Match newly rigged with her white sails under Captain Harold Smy. 1974 was the first year that barges raced in three classes at Pin Mill and Harold was very proud to come away with the Horlock Memorial Challenge Cup for the first barge round the outer mark in Class B and the Henry Filmer Challenge Cup for 2nd Barge home behind Kitty with Dawn in 3rd place. In 1984 under skipper Brian Pinner, Ena was first across the start line, first to the outer mark and first home in class C of the Pin Mill barge match.

In subsequent years Len Polley and later his brother Tom Polley took over as skipper. As well as her local charter work and attendance at the Barge Matches she voyaged further afield attending Dunkirk reunions and European Brewers Conventions in Amsterdam and Brussels, with Brian Pinner taking her to Copenhagen. In 1997 I took her across via Antwerp to Maastricht, but that’s a story for another time.

In 1995 Tom Polley with Brian Pinner and senior company employees and members of Paul’s Social and Leisure Club took ENA to the 55th Dunkirk Little Ships reunion. During the course of that visit and the difficulties encountered negotiating the dock system at Dunkirk it was realised that ENA was in need of some serious refurbishment of the hull planking. A schedule of work was agreed and after taking ENA to Maldon and handing her over to Rick and Noddy Cardy, Tom Polley retired and the post of Skipper became vacant.

 I was living at Hollesley on the Suffolk coast at the time, self employed, skippering the Barge Club barges and helping out on others, generally dodging about doing bits of boat repair work and building work at home. It wasn’t until November of 1995 when I was talking to David Westwood “Wes” then employed on Ipswich Dock and regular mate with Willy on Ardwina that I found out that Paul’s were trying to recruit a new skipper for ENA. The final date for applications was rapidly approaching and if I was interested a c.v. should be sent off, asap, to Brian Pinner who was in charge of all things associated with the barge. I spoke to Brian and quickly sent off my c.v. to the personnel department but it wasn’t until March 1996 that I was actually interviewed by the managing director, terms of employment agreed for the ’96 season and I finally got the chance to get  to work.

ENA was still on the blocks at Maldon with work progressing slowly on re-planking the port bow due to the cold weather and one plank breaking as it was pulled into place after steaming. Frank King had been mate with Tom Polley and had agreed to stay on as mate with me. He had been keeping an eye on things during the winter and trying to keep things tidy and the barge dry and aired down below. Many days were spent during March and April sorting through all the various lockers and glory holes, chucking out accumulated rubbish then overhauling as much of the standing and running rigging as we could before painting, dressing the sails and rigging out at the end of April. The engineer came down one weekend to service the Gardner and the generator and to go through the spares and various procedures with me.

 Many friends rallied round to help us at the time including Tony Finbow who would subsequently join me as mate, Terry O’Sullivan and Willy and Wes.

On Saturday 18th May 1996 at 12:55 Ricky towed us out into the stream for our return trip to Ipswich. With a N.E. breeze force 3-4 Frank set the tops’l, dropped out the main and set the fors’l.

With the wind freshening N.E. 5-6 as we approached the Bench Head we decided to run in to Brightlingsea for the night. As we came round into the Colne there was a crack and and the sprit jerked across. The bottom starboard vang block steel binding had flown apart but the sheaves were still trapped in the wooden shells and so we slowly stowed up as we made our way in to join Pudge and Centaur, Thalatta and Edme already at anchor at Bateman’s tower. By 03:00 on Sunday the wind had fined away to E2-3 so we got underway and had a fine sail through the Wallet making 6 knots between the piers before stowing up near the Stone Banks with the wind freshening SW 5-6. We anchored for breakfast at Clamp House at 08:00 to await the tide to level in to Ipswich Dock where we finally docked at 13:15 with the wind gusting SW 6-7 in the river and glad to be in with our first trip under our belts.

There was no time to rest though as one thing we quickly realised was that the decks were in a very poor state. We enlisted the help of some of Paul’s employees and set them to, applying mastic to the worst seams then priming and painting the decks while I set to hauling the mizzen mast head forward and re-securing the mizzen shrouds and fitting mizzen vangs. The engineer was aboard again as the engine was dropping out of gear and there were leaks from the generator cooling pipes. Meanwhile down below my wife, Janet, was giving the galley a deep clean ready for the first charterers. All this because we had committed to attend the first of the new series of Thames Matches on 25th May.

ENA at the 1996 Thames Match – A.R Lane

I wanted to be away on Wednesday the 22nd May on the afternoon tide so we could have a proper shakedown on the way to Gravesend.

We left the berth at 14:50. At that time the lock gates were only opened on a level which made our operations more difficult than today. Frank King’s log reads ,“ 15:40 Anchored Clamp House wind S gusting 5-6, steady rain, visibility approx. 2 miles. Barge still being organised after leaving shipyard at Maldon. As well as refinements to the rigging, major repairs and filling to the decks in order to keep a dry hold. Painting and cleaning work continues”.

We left the anchorage at 04:55 on Thursday 23rd motoring against a SW4 which increased to 5-6 as we rounded the Maplin but we lost the tide near the Mid-Blyth and punched the ebb up to Greenhithe, where we anchored in my favourite place on the Thames at 16:20. Work continued on the decks and rigging until nightfall. Friday was given over to getting the barge tidy for the charterers and we dropped down to Gravesend just after mid-day to await our guests and race crew in squally showers. Frank’s log says “ Heavy rain persists until 19:30. 10 barges moored to the camel.”

Saturday 25th May, Race Day. Charterers on board, Frank and me, Terry O Sullivan and Tony Finbow I think. The log says wind WNW 2-3. I don’t remember exactly but I know it was very light. We set the gear at the Ovens turned off the engine and tacked the barge for the first time since I’d taken her over. That seemed to work OK so we sailed across to the Essex side and crept down on the edge of the tide well behind all the other barges. I spoke to Mark Boyle later and he said he didn’t think we were going to enter the Match as we were so far behind. However we crept steadily on getting more and more anxious as we approached the start, 10 minute gun, 5 minute gun, were we too soon, should we take a turn out, but we held on, for the  08:30 start. I thought we were too early but a faint voice came across from the committee boat “Well done”, so I thought we must be OK. We rounded the outer mark, course shortened to the West Shoebury buoy, at 11:35, third round with five others in as hot a pursuit as possible in light airs. We turned slowly back up Sea Reach managing to catch, then overhaul Hydrogen while Cabby and Lady Daphne were ahead. At the Ovens Cabby’s bobstay broke allowing us to slip past and hold on to finish at 17:03, 3 minutes after the official finishing time for the Match.

At the presentation that evening we received the Blue Circle Cement Cup for second place in the Coasting Class, the first year the cup was awarded.

After  all the other trophies were awarded the winner of the cup for the fastest start of the day over all classes was announced. ENA, 22 seconds after the gun.

The cup that was awarded was the R D Duke Cup, awarded for the first time since 1963 by Richard Duke’s family and awarded by Alistair, Splodge, Duke. To receive that cup in the  first of the new series of Thames Matches in a barge that had not seriously contested the matches for several years was just the greatest experience and something I covet to this day. The rest of the evening passed in a blur of drink and congratulation. Somebody poured me back on board that night and somehow at 06:00 the next morning we were off to Ipswich again. We saved our tide and were back on the Albion berth at 18:06. Frank’s final comment in the log “A good trip, home just ahead of bad weather”.

We caught the opposition un-aware that year. In June at the Blackwater we won second place in our class and the Paddy Mulville Cup for the best rounding of the outer mark. At Pin Mill we won the fastest start in class, first round the outer mark and second home. At Southend we won the class and at the Colne we won the coveted Cock of the Colne for the fastest start.

Doug and Frank with the Trophies – Doug Nicholls Collection

I kept a daily record of all the work we did from 12th March 1996 to the last entry Nov 7th 1998 and reading back through it in preparation of this article I am astonished at all we accomplished. One other thing that very quickly became apparent was the affection held for ENA by everybody we dealt with at Paul’s. From the management and admin staff at the Grain Terminal and the Albion Maltings to the fitters and engineers and electricians who used to come over at my request to sort out things that I couldn’t deal with.

There were long faces all round when the news came that she was to be sold. Tony and I put together a business plan to take the barge over and run her as a charter business from Ipswich but of course, neither Paul’s nor the new owners were interested in that and we could not afford to take her on ourselves. Subsequently of course both Tops’l Charters and Victor have found that there is a market for barge trips from the dock. In our day we often had to go down one day to take the barge out onto Cliff Quay for a charter the next day or stay aboard after a charter to put her back alongside late at night, but some of the best memories were of Skipper and mate underway and on passage up the Wallet or Swin under sail if possible just like our forbears had done for years past.

 Next time I’ll tell the story of our voyage to Maastricht in 1997

Doug Nicholls

Barges are such an important part of the story of Maritime Ipswich, if barges interest you then please also find more information with the Thames Sailing Barge Trust and the Association of Bargemen or get involved with us and join our research or Window Museum volunteer teams. Thank you to Brian Pinner for more information about his time with Ena.

Reader Interactions


  1. David Polley says

    Thank you so much for recording this history it was lovely to read and proud to be a part of the barge family shame that the ena ended up the way she did

  2. Bowen Pete says

    I was mate on the Ena with Charlie Webb in the late 60s running back and forth to London before they put the gear back In her. Happy days

    • says

      Was that Charlie Webb who had the Barbara Jean? He was my great Uncle. My great grandfather was Captain Charlie Webb.

  3. Nick says

    Pants , I worked for them too . Paul’s were cool so was Tom , Harold Smy was the bo***cks . Pin Mill was great in its day . I sailed Ena for R And W Paul as there last skipper for a few days before she was sold to Kent and was sad to see her go . Nick

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