Barges: Much More than Cargo Carriers

When people hear the word “barge,” they usually think of a cargo carrier, lazily snaking its way down a river.

However, barges are used for much more than hauling freight. Today, these vessels have been transformed into restaurants and even homes!

The History of Barges

By strict definition, a barge is simply a flat-bottomed boat. Barges can either be self-propelled or need to be pushed/pulled by another type of boat. When small barges are on shallower waterways, the crew can help navigate and guide the ship with long poles.  

Barges have a history dating back to ancient times. For the Egyptians, the Nile River served as a major highway. In many sections, the river was too wide for a bridge. Barges were necessary for both transportation and to carry goods. Archaeologists made an exciting discovery when they found a sunken barge off Egypt’s coast in 2000. The ancient barge was right around 90 feet long and is over 2,500 years old! Now dubbed “Ship 17,” the barge was likely involved in trade with Greece and Persia. The vessel would have carried imported and exported goods between the countries. 

Before the Industrial Revolution took hold in the U.S., barges were a necessary way to transport cargo. Barges are perfect for carrying large and heavy items. While travel on a barge is economical, it is also limited to locations where rivers flow. As railways and roads began crisscrossing the country, barges fell out of common use. Trains and vehicles provided more direct options for transporting cargo.  

Barges Today 

While barges may not be as popular as they once were, they are still very much in use. The Calumet River spans from Illinois to Indiana. This vital waterway connects Chicago to Gary, Indiana and barges still carry cargo between the two cities. Tugboat and towboat crews help barges on the Calumet River move along and get to their destination.

Because the Mississippi River spans the entire length of the U.S., it’s also still a vital barge transportation route. On the Mighty Mississippi, as many as 15 barges can be cabled together in what is called a “tow.” A tow of barges is about the size of three football fields! Gravel, salt, cement, and grains are just a few of the items transported by barges on the Mississippi. 

Barges in the City of Lights

Paris, France just might be the world headquarters for repurposed barges! This capital city is home to hundreds of barges that have been converted into everything from houseboats to cafes.

In Paris, rent for an apartment is sky high and real estate is at a premium. People who are looking to live in the city have become creative with housing. It’s not unheard of for barges to be converted into homes. Not only is the price right, but the scenery is beautiful. Word has spread about this more affordable living option. Due to the popularity of houseboats, it’s often difficult to find a mooring to rent. For those lucky enough to have a place to dock, living on the Seine is surely an unmatched experience.

In addition to houseboats, several Parisian restaurants now occupy barges. The upscale Cafe Barge Restaurant is just one such restaurant, located near Notre Dame Cathedral. What could be more quaint than enjoying a glass of wine and French cuisine while floating on the Seine? But these barge restaurants are a popular attraction, so if you’re visiting Paris, it’s best to make reservations so you don’t miss out.

The flexibility and adaptability of barges have helped them stand the test of time. The odds are good that wherever you live, you don’t have to go far to see a barge in action!

Surf’s Up: Freedom in the Water

Riding Free

Water sports are always sure to bring fun and enjoyment for all. But if there’s one watercraft that can allow for the greatest of freedom, it’s the surfboard.

Speeding over the curl of that perfect, cresting wave with a mist of blue water on your face is an experience beyond compare, and the surfboard is the instrument that makes it all possible.

peeding over the curl of that perfect, cresting wave with a mist of blue water on your face is an experience beyond compare, and the surfboard is the instrument that makes it all possible.

Like many sports, surfing can be practiced at virtually any age, but in order to excel, the water demands relentless discipline and athleticism. And it’s not without its share of danger. Ask any surfer, and they will say the risk is well worth the reward. This is a code shared among thrillseekers. Central to success is the surfboard itself, and it has quite a tale to tell. 

Surfboard Story

The surfboard is as an open vessel used for play and for sport on the ocean’s ever-changing current. But the roots of the craft have origins dating all the way back to Peruvian ancients, circa 3,000 BC. These early surf crafts were unearthed by archaeological digs in South America, proving that the prototypical surfboards were employed primarily as transportation modes across bodies of water. Civilizations past made use of the native totora reed (or Californian Bullrush) as the raw materials for their inventive floating devices. Imagine the thrill of that first successful float, heralding the expanse of possibilities for travel and trade. In early use, fishermen were likely to have laid prone atop the vessel. At other times, they are thought to have floated in a kneeling position while making use of a long stick of bamboo as a paddling device through the waters.

Around 300 AD, Polynesian settlers arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, and in tow came their rich he’e nalu culture. At this time, surfboards were quite large by today’s standards. They were essentially fashioned into solid, flat wood planks. Frequently used for fun, these early crafts also played a role in ceremony, training for rulers, and as a means to resolve disputes.

Over the next sixteen hundred years, the surfboard’s evolution reached profound advancements. In the early 20th century, surfing gained mass popularity following the annex of Hawaii by the U.S. government. This fostered an unprecedented growth in surfing culture, and it wouldn’t end there.

Tom Blake introduced the first hollow surfboard, rocking the scene in 1929. This design became the first mass-produced surfboard, and it was picked up by numerous companies. The development of plastics following WWII also changed the game on the open water. A streamlined, big-wave model was introduced to the market in 1950 by George Downing.

The year 1970 saw the advent of Lightning Bolt, whose refined surfboard included none other than a lightning bolt image on deck. This proved to be a stellar business move for the company, as everybody wants to surf in style. In the 90’s, the longboard experienced life anew as lighter, three-finned surfboards became available. 

Shortly after the world entered the 21st century, surfing manufacturers got “on board” with the growing green movement. Using revolutionized bio-friendly materials, these surfboards proved to be a hit among environmentally-savvy surfers. With their playground located within the majesty of the ocean, it’s only natural that surfers embrace this trend.

Daring to Dream

The surfboard’s evolution has allowed for greater and greater advancements in the sport. From humble beginnings as a simple raft to a vehicle for demonstrating incredible athleticism, one thing remains constant: rider, board, and ocean must merge into one. Surfing invites not only an appreciation and awe for the ocean, but for the technological beauty of the surfboard itself.