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In "Stolen Ingots" in Dr. Thorndyke's Case-Book by R. Austin Freeman, Mr. Badger was standing on a bridge watching a barge and brawley

“Yes. There’s a little ramshackle bawley from Leigh—but her crew of two ragamuffins are not Leigh men. And they’ve made a mess of their visit—got their craft on the mud on the top of the spring tide. There she is, on that spit; and there she’ll be till next spring tide. But I’ve been over her carefully and I’ll swear the stuff isn’t aboard her. I had all the ballast out and emptied the lazarette and the chain locker.”

“And what about the barge?”

“She’s a regular trader here. Her crew—the skipper and his son—are quite respectable men and they belong here. There they go in that boat; I expect they are off on this tide. But they seem to be making for the bawley.”

Actually these bolded parts are a bit obscure for me, but that's my guessing about them

  1. on the top of = drived by

  2. As for "there they go", I don't know why didn't he say "they do" directly, or does he mean "they usually go"?

  3. off on = not sailing during

Is that correct?

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‘On the top of the spring tide’ refers to the timing of when they got their boar stuck in the mud, which in turn affects where it got stuck.

A ‘Spring Tide’ is

A tide of maximum amplitude after new and full moon, when the forces of the sun and moon act in the same direction

i.e. it is one of the two highest tides in a month. To get stuck in the mud on the top of the spring tide means that they ran their boat into mud while the Spring Tide was at its peak. So immediately after they got stuck the water level started to drop away, leaving their boat stranded. When the tide drops the sea retracts from the shore leaving areas that were shallowly covered, exposed. The boat is stuck in mud above the water level.

There they go in that boat; I expect they are off on this tide.

I read this as the speaker indicating to their interlocutor that the people are leaving in the boat right now, as in ‘Look! There they go...’ ‘Off on this tide’ indicates that they are leaving (off) as the tide ebbs out.

A vessel can exploit the tides for getting in and out of harbour, rather than trying to go in the opposite direction from the tide, you have an easier time coming in on a rising tide and going out on an ebbing tide. It’s easier to ‘go with the flow’.

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  • Indeed, these ragamuffins have not only beached their boat, they've done it in worst possible way at among the highest of high tides. – Nuclear Hoagie Sep 17 at 17:29

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