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SB ‘Blue Mermaid’ visits the Tide Mill

Over 800 people visited the Thames Sailing Barge ‘Blue Mermaid’ at Woodbridge Tide Mill over the weekend 7 – 10 June, 2024. ‘Blue Mermaid’, owned and operated by Sea-Change Sailing Trust is undertaking a ten port tour of the English east coast supported by the Heritage Fund. The purpose of her port visits is to enable members of the public from waterside communities, where Thames sailing barges would have been a common sight, to re-connect with their maritime heritage. In each port the barge is open to members of the public to come aboard, have a look around, meet the crew.

There is a touring exhibition of Thames sailing barge heritage on display in the main hold. We teamed up with the makers of ‘Wind, Tide & Oar’, the nautical feature film about engineless sailing. There are screenings for members of the public in our ‘floating cinema’ in the fore-hold. After leaving the River Deben, ‘Blue Mermaid’ will be heading for Brightlingsea, Chatham, Ramsgate and St Katharine Docks. Free tickets are available to see ‘Wind, Tide & Oar’ at these ports plus a fully accessible screening at the RHYC, Woolverstone on the River Orwell. 

The voyages are crewed by young people, vulnerable adults or maritime heritage trainees on life-skills-building residential trips. ‘Blue Mermaid’ does not have an engine, making passage with just wind and tide visiting places still accessible to a 90’ sailing barge. Much has changed since the hey-day of the sailing barge fleet. Bringing an engineless vessel into places they once would have been commonplace and to sail to a fixed timetable is certainly a challenge in the modern era.

In times gone by barges would have arrived at the Tide Mill under sail but in those days the River Deben was not full of moorings. ‘Blue Mermaid’ was assisted on her passage upriver by local marine contractor Tam Grundy and his tug ‘Joanna’. ‘Blue Mermaid’ seemed to double in size as she approached the Tide Mill Quay at high water on Friday. There was just enough water for her 3’ draft on the top of the tide and she made a very fine sight indeed on a berth where many barges would once have laid to load and unload cargo.

To highlight the historical purpose of the Thames sailing barge and the Tide Mill Quay ‘Blue Mermaid’ delivered a sack of wheat grown in Kent, loaded at Gravesend. In return, Tide Mill supplied the barge with the equivalent weight in bagged flour for delivery to Brightlingsea. Once there, it will be rowed up St Osyth Creek by members of Brightlingsea Coastal Rowing Club, to the sailing barge ‘May’, home of the Bread and Roses Barge Bakery

Words: Judy Harrison, East Coast OGA member & Assistant Executive Officer, Sea-Change Sailing Trust