Blue Mermaid is on her mooring at around a week’s readiness to sail, in the expectation that it may be possible to do some sailing this year and with the intention of keeping costs down. The crew are furloughed where possible and Mate Oli is working as ship’s husband part-time as he could not be furloughed and this enables our Shipshape Heritage Training Partnership trainee Ben to keep involved in worthwhile activity. They are also spending time on other work like maintenance on SHTP partner Cutty Sark with TS Rigging.

We have applied where possible for emergency funding and have been successful with grants from ASTO, our umbrella trade body (the Association of Sail Training Organisations) and recently with the discretionary grant scheme from the government via local authorities. We are immensely grateful for this and the furlough scheme which together have meant we are still able to plan to restart sailing with groups when the restrictions allow for residential work. Having said that, although there is a small sum available to support this restart with bursaries, there is very little money available for core costs, which will increase as the furlough scheme winds down. We continue to seek emergency funding on this basis and to welcome any suggestions we may not have thought of.

Ben carving Blue Mermaid’s name on her steering box

The current restrictions allow residential sailing with members of two families or “outdoor” day trips for larger numbers with distancing and other safeguards. This does not allow us to restart any work in the normal way, even if we reduce the number of clients aboard with us. It seems likely there will be a further easing to enable residential work at some point, perhaps linked to the start of the next school term, but it is not clear yet when this will happen and how it will assist. Other sail training organisations near us have decided not to attempt to sail this year. We are also aware that when we do restart the experience will not be as before, with the need to reduce numbers and follow guidance. For example, it now looks as though it will be possible to sit together for a meal but with distancing based on the one meter plus mitigation (meaning care about how people face and the wearing of masks). One of the skipper’s favourite jobs of washing up with the help of young people looks likely to be impossible for the foreseeable future, much to his sorrow. Then there is the need for regular cleaning of hands and the boat.

Taken together, this all means the experience may not be as enjoyable or developmental as usual and this must also be borne in mind. Lastly, whatever may be possible afloat this autumn could well be the shape of next year as well, until or unless a vaccine is available.

None of this is very conclusive but it is the situation as I see it. I welcome views that will help us to decide what we should do if a restart looks possible. If restrictions allow, are you interested in sailing with us in the period from mid-August to the end of October this year? We hope this can be residential but with a small number, perhaps six or eight people in a group. If the only way to get afloat would be a succession of day trips, would this be of interest to you? For example, we might join at Heybridge and sail to Brightlingsea with another day from there and a return trip to complete a package. It would not be ideal but could work to some extent.

I am sure we are all challenged by the situation and am well aware our position is far better than some, so please accept heartfelt best wishes from all of us at Sea-Change.