Blue Mermaid is a faithful replica of the original steel Blue Mermaid. She was one of the last Thames sailing barge built, in 1930, but lost during the war. She will discharge our current work with groups and their staff for which we currently charter a vessel, extending it by carrying cargo and trainees who will gain sea time learning traditional seamanship skills. She will do this with very low carbon emissions.
Our own sailing barge is designed to meet the needs of the Charity. The new vessel is comprised of a steel hull and deck and has all the traditional rigging and decking of a sea-going Thames barge, with basic facilities below. With our own barge so many more youngsters will have the opportunity for their own personal reassessment and development. A new range of courses will offer them the option to embark on a maritime career.
The project budget to build and commission Blue Mermaid has almost been reached, although we will continue to raise funds towards commissioning and future maintenance. The hull and deck were built by Polruan based boatyard C Toms and Son, a long established builder of steel vessels. She was launched on 29th May 2016 before being towed to Maldon for rigging and fitting out. Nearing completion, she will be sailing in 2019.
Other similar charities are owners of the vessels they operate. However, whilst they also work at sea with young people, Sea-Change is unique in its field in the UK because its approach concentrates on high quality personal support and training with on-going mentoring, entrenching the development of small groups of students for the long term rather than limiting the experience to time spent aboard. It enables support to be offered to participants once they have returned home from a programme and sustain them between programmes. As they are often from very disadvantaged backgrounds it is critical in encouraging lasting, positive outcomes that boost confidence and self-esteem. The charity’s bursary scheme ensures that no one is excluded on financial grounds.
As well as our existing portfolio of programmes our new barge will enable us to offer extended residential programmes through our Youth Sailing Scheme, engaging trainees with the genuine vocational objective of carrying cargo. In addition to defraying costs it will demonstrate purpose over that of sailing for its own sake, as admirably described here by Tom Cunliffe.
Blue Mermaid will also give us the opportunity to deliver our new Seamanship Scholarship, a unique range of programmes for young people offering a training progression path to their chosen maritime career. Clients can join a scheme at any point subject to their level of ability. The schemes are under constant development and, for example, will include cargo handling under sail in the lower Thames estuary.
With a functional fit-out, it is possible to do this for a fraction of what major renovations have cost other, similar bodies. Once commissioned our own vessel will make a substantial saving to our annual running costs but we are still fundraising to finish fitting out below. Also, and with an eye on the future we will also be establishing an ongoing maintenance fund.
Frank Carr, the first curator of the Greenwich Maritime Museum and the original saviour of the Cutty Sark for the nation, wrote in 1951 of the then diminishing fleet of trading barges that it might: “be possible to run a fleet of sail-training barges as a venture almost economically self-supporting, in which, under ordinary trading conditions, large numbers of apprentices could receive a short period of training in sail, counting for sea-time, in which they would receive a very valuable grounding in real seamanship of a kind which they could never gain in steam.” Our project shares this vision; please also read our important policy document: The Cargo Carrying Thames Barge Under Sail – Our Vision, Our Philosophy.
We differ from other organisations in similar charitable sectors and, uniquely, exist to offer those who sail with us the benefit of ongoing care for life-long gain. Our work benefits us all.
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