Ena

Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Ena
Boat Type: 
Barge
Boat Length: 
88 ft 2 ins
Boat Beam: 
20 ft 6ins
Boat Draft: 
4 ft
Boat Displacement: 
90.48 tons
Boat Engine: 
6 cyl 80hp Diesel
Boat Construction: 
Pitch pine on oak
Boat Builder: 
McLearon, Navy Yard, Harwich
Boat Year: 
1906

Robert Paul started as a wharfinger in Ipswich during the eighteen forties. When he died in 1864 at the age of fifty-eight his sons, Robert aged nineteen and William aged fifteen, proved to be true Victorian entrepreneurs. During the next fifty years they expanded their trade in grain, malt, coal, manufac-tured goods and animal feed, between East Anglia and the Pool of London and built a fleet of coasting barges and tugs, lighters and steam-ships - many at their Dock End yard in Ipswich.

But the Ena was built by W. McLearon at the Navy Yard slip at Harwich in 1906 and Paul's bought her for ?875 and then spent another ?232 fitting her out. She was rigged as a 'mulie' - a compromise between a more substan-tial ketch and a spritsail barge. She was given a tall mizzen mast, with a large gaff sail, well forward of the wheel and a smaller spritsail.

In World War I the fleet of R & W Paul carried a whole range of supplies for our armies on the continent of Europe. Often there were l00 barges loading and unloading in Boulogne and Dieppe. Their small draft gave them access to shallow waters, they were less likely to be sunk by mines and German U-boats were often reluctant to disclose their presence, or even to waste a precious torpedo, attacking a mere sailing barge. Between the wars, barges like the Ena, largely escaped the ravages of the depression because Paul's own shipyard kept them in immaculate order, they had the company's own cargoes to carry and each skipper cherished his craft and spent much of his own time keeping hull, spars and canvas painstakingly maintained.

Twenty years later, the fleet of R & W Paul's barges was still intact, lightering on the river Orwell and trading with London docks. They avoided carrying brick rubble from London bombsites, for the building of East Anglian airfields, which destroyed the wooden linings of other barges. Sugar beet and maize were more popular cargoes.

No less than six of the sixteen barges which sailed to Dunkirk were owned by R & W Paul. The Ena survived the one-hundred mile outward journey across the English Channel which was strewn with mines. During their crossing they endured constant air attacks. Finally, Alfred Page, her skipper was ordered to beach her close to the smaller sand barge H.A.C. As the Germans closed in, the crews of both barges were ordered to abandon their ships and escape on a minesweeper to England.

There are two eye-witness accounts of what happened next. Alex Smith recalls how he, with 30 men of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment commanded by Captain David Strangeways their Adjutant, arrived on La Panne beach. They could not believe their luck when they saw two barges in seaworthy condition anchored and almost afloat. They took possession of the barge H.A.C. while Colonel McKay with his men of the 19th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery boarded the Ena which was beached not far away. Captain Atley of the East Yorks Regiment, also remembers the event. He was at the mole at Dunkirk and together with one of his men, made a raft. Using shovels, they rowed out to the Ena. They helped 36 other men on board including three wounded and by 0800 they were under sail.

Then, according to Alex Smith, the two ships got involved in one of the most remarkable barge races of all time. Under constant enemy bombardment and machine-gun fire, they crossed the Channel. Captain Atley recalls that by midnight they took a back-bearing on Dunkirk and found they had gone too far South-West. His only sailing experience had been on the Broads and he had forgotten to put the leeboards down. So they altered course to North-Northwest and finally sighted the North Goodwin buoy. They then had to tack again towards the South Goodwin lightship. Eventually, the Ena was picked up by a tug or fleet auxiliary and taken into Margate. Since the harbour was full, the empty barge was then towed out and left anchored off Deal.

The shipping manager of R & W Paul, who had presumed the Ena lost on the beaches of Dunkirk, was amazed when he was told and asked what he proposed to do about it. Alfred Page, her skipper, by then back in Ipswich, was sent to recover her. He found the Ena seaworthy but stripped of all her gear. "They had taken the sweeps, mooring lines, fenders and even my false teeth which I had left behind in a glass of water by my bunk!" he said, "you can't trust these men of Kent!" So he sailed her back to Ipswich. In 1974 the Ena was transferred to the Social and Sports Club of Paul's and she still competes in sailing barge races on the Thames, the Medway, Blackwater and Orwell keeping the great tradition of the spritsail barges alive.

Source: 1, 3, 4, 11 & 13

Updated: 26/07/99