liens evitement

Réduire le texte Agrandir le texte Imprimer la page

The ’gabarres’

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

Societies of old were intimately linked to river life. The ’gabarres’ small wooden flat bottomed boats with small square sails played an important role in more than 2000 years of Albi’s economic development.

Rarely furnished with a deck, flat bottomed, with the prow and the stern raised and pointed like a weaver’s shuttle, the gabarres were 10 to 25 metres long, 2 to 5 metres wide and some had a draft of over a metre.

Made entirely of wood, except for the clench nails which seem to have been preferred to dowels, they were equipped with a very large stern rudder.

Equipped with rigging as sturdy as it was unsophisticated, by which the gabarre could be towed or, if the wind allowed, a sail could be used. The anchor was replaced by a rope attached to a pierced stone.

On board, the gabarres were equipped with little more than oars, barge poles, ropes... a very summary equipment demonstrating that these were not floating houses.

Only the Captain lived aboard the gabarre, with his equipment, between voyages he lived a sedentary life. Three to eight sailors constituted the crew for a voyage downstream.

For an upstream voyage more like eight or ten sailors were necessary, depending of the size of the load.

Their feet in the water or the mud, on tow paths made unstable by flooding, men often replaced the cows or horses which could not be used when the river banks were too narrow.

The height and steepness of the banks meant towing the gabarres could be a dangerous, and even fatal, exercise, the sailors often slipped on the clayey mud, became entangled in the tow rope and were drowned or broke bones on the rocks.

Comparable to the work of a galley slave, ill paid, a gabarre’s crew could expect to have their legs crushed by badly loaded wine barrels, their shoulders lacerated by the tow rope, and to freeze in the icy water in winter. These were amongst France’s poorest workers.

Menu | Top