For a newcomer to the barge holiday, all barges may look alike. However, there are numerous types of vessels with distinct differences in their histories as well as designs. These models evolved over 200 years, adapting to changing conditions and technology. In Europe, canals – the home of barges – link the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Here is a brief overview of the most common vessels you might come across on your barge holiday.
Tjalks and Klippers
The tradition of this barge can be traced back to the seventeenth century. Originally wind-powered Tjalks were built out of wood; in the nineteenth century, boat builders began to consider the possibilities of iron and in the twentieth century steel’s properties were harnessed by the industry. Therefore, modern versions of the Tjalk are built from iron or steel, but retain the curved stern of the wooden original.
Designed for the fast-flowing estuaries and rivers of Holland, the tough Klipper has always been constructed from iron or steel. The use of steel leads to a stronger vessel, though this introduces the danger of corrosion. The Klipper rudder sits below a rounded stern and is steered by wheel.
The Beurtmotor and the Luxemotor
The Beurtmotor was used for both passengers and cargo and often travelled to a reliable timetable, replacing steam-powered river ships. It became even more popular with the introduction of the diesel engine as their scheduling was more consistent than ever. Like all other barges, the Beurtmotor was constructed to navigate shallow waters – anywhere between 3 and around 10 feet of water. However this was not a limitation, as most inland waterways in western Europe conformed to these requirements.
The trailblazing Luxemotor was built at the beginning of the twentieth century and was the first barge to have its own engine. Riding on the success of the Beurtmotor, they were quite luxurious with plenty of room – including a kitchen and a toilet – as well as a pointed bow ideal for more exposed waters.
The Spitz has a long and varied history. They were built to the Freycinet standard imposed by Napoleon during a time of standardisation, and the vessel was first towed by hand (or horse). However, after the Second World War many of the Belgian Spitz vessels were kitted out with engines – often decommissioned tank engines. With a few adjustments at the stern to improve steering, this motorized version of the Spitz was designed for the canals of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
European Waterways: Our Fleet
The European Waterways fleet includes barges with a wealth of history behind them. A barge holiday suits both the history lover and the cruise enthusiast. For example, L’Art de Vivre – the oldest of the fleet – is an English model and was built in the First World War to supply allied troops in the Somme. The beautiful Rosa is a Dutch Klipper that carried various cargos in early twentieth-century Holland. Both are now enjoying retirement cruising the gorgeous waterways of France, lovingly restored in a way which celebrates their fascinating heritage.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holiday itineraries in France and other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.