KAHN – A SAILING BARGE
The name ‘Kahn’ is thought in some quarters to mean ‘boat’ or ‘ship.’ The fact that a kahn is, or was, a type of cargo barge is probably a coincidence, although the origins of the term in a marine context are obscure. The German for barge is ‘kahn.’
During the 19th and early 20th century, kahns were frequently seen sailing in the Baltic, especially on the rivers and estuaries of north Germany and Poland. They were sailing barges, well suited to the waters of long winding rivers and shallow seas close inshore.
Three types of kahn were built – koffenkahn, stevenkahn and mollenkahn. Typical dimensions were about 40 metres long by 6.5 metres beam and about 2 metres draft. They’d probably carry between 150 and 250 tonnes of heavy cargo. All types had three unstayed masts each with sails supported by sprits (long beams stretched at about 45 degrees between the foot of the mast and the opposite peak of the sail).
These were slow and boxy vessels, flat-bottomed, heavily built in the style of barges and with bluff bows and sterns Thus they were suitable for carrying relatively large loads of timber or barrels. To make passage in the often stormy Baltic Sea, kahns needed two sets of leeboards to avoid being blown off course.
As late as the 1930s, kahns were still in use.
Aside from this, the surname Kahn is probably a derivative of the more familiar Jewish name: Cohen.
NB: No analogy should be drawn between the characteristics of the Kahn family and those of the eponymous sailing craft. I’m afraid the author is far from flat-bottomed, although he has been known to be bluff and long-winded.
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