Sudbury: Appeal for volunteers to skipper restored Stour barge named after John Constable

Griff Rhys Jones officially unveils the 160 year old restored lighter, the John Constable, on the Ri

Griff Rhys Jones officially unveils the 160 year old restored lighter, the John Constable, on the River Stour in Sudbury. - Credit: Archant

A river trust is looking for prospective skippers for its recently-restored 160-year-old barge.

The ancient craft, named John Constable, was relaunched on the Stour earlier this year by river campaigner Griff Rhys Jones following a two-year restoration programme costing £120,000.

The John Constable originally belonged to the River Stour Navigation Company but was scuttled in 1914 after it was feared lighters could be used by invading German troops.

The sunken barges were discovered by members of the River Stour Trust in 1976, and one of them was raised and repaired using money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

And now the trust is appealing for volunteers to join its elite team of skippers and crew who operate the restored lighter on its regular runs down the Stour. The trust is also on the lookout for people to help operate its fleet of electric launches, which carry visitors on trips from Flatford and Sudbury on weekends between April and October.

According to the trust, the 21ft launches are simple to drive, with smooth, quiet electric motors, and maximum speeds of 4mph.

A spokesman said: “Anyone who can handle a sailing boat or motorboat will be able to drive one, but if you have never driven a boat before, then full training and familiarisation with the river will be provided.

“The Stour is relatively peaceful, with just swans and the occasional rowing boat to negotiate, and you will find yourself drifting back 200 years to the days when it was a busy commercial waterway, with 50ft lighters towed in pairs by horses through 13 locks from the sea to Sudbury.”

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But he said those who opt to skipper the John Constable may face a bigger challenge, adding: “At 50ft long with two powerful electric drives, it is a test of skill to manoeuvre this 160-year-old craft through locks, with only inches to spare.”

The boats operate every weekend, and occasional weekdays, but volunteers can take on as many or few days as they wish. Volunteers are also needed to join the trust’s work parties, restoring locks and the navigation.

For more information email administrator@riverstourtrust.org, call 01787 313199 or visit www.riverstourtrust.org

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