The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her spokes on the steering wheel.
This practice was a safety measure in a country of shallow waters because if you ran aground, the spinning spokes could injure the steersperson.
I first learnt the value of wheel spokes in 1955 in the steel sailing barge Will Everard. We were taking another 240 tons of wheat to the Co-Op Mills in the Old Harbour, Hull when it came on to blow hard. When the water crashed along the decks, we couldn’t go to the foredeck. The 18 year old mate, Cyril Wright, was on the windward side of the wheel and I was on the leeward side to give extra power. When the first cracks of daylight appeared across the sky, I realised that the wheel spokes had torn all the fastners off the front of my beloved blue duffle coat!
Our skipper was ‘Paddy’ Hugh O’Donnell, who had started as a fisherman in Northern Ireland, became a cook, third hand and mate before becoming skipper. All this had been with Captain Jim Uglow, a much-respected coasting barge master. The 97ft Will Everard was built in 1925 at Great Yarmouth to load 270tons; one of the largest barges ever built. To achieve this, the hull was far deeper than most of the barges. When she no longer carried cargoes, 100tons of ballast were put in to give her grip on the water. When the Everards sold her, they made the new owners change her name and she became the Will of Maldon. Now operated by Topsail Events, based at the West India Dock, she appears to be the only barge offering charter trips on the Thames this year.