Skipper Richard Titchener

Writing a year ago we were looking forward to the first full year of operation for Blue Mermaid and it promised to be busy and exciting, including a second dive to the wreck of the original barge.

Then Covid struck and the rest is history. If you have been following you will know we did not rig out in the spring and the barge was put on her mooring in April once as much maintenance as possible had been done. Later in the year as the first relaxation of restrictions and flexible furlough arrived, day sailing became possible, so we rigged and spent August to October doing some worthwhile training for our selves and other barge crews as well as saying thank you to some supporters. There was some limited work with young people, but it was not possible to have people stay overnight. At the time of writing, this continues to be the case, with the latest guidance saying this will be reviewed in February.

That we are still able to look forward to next year is because of the amazing help given by the Government through the furlough scheme and emergency funding for which we are very grateful, but I should also mention the exceptional way ASTO, our umbrella trade body the Association of Sail Training Organisations, responded to the crisis. They have made grants and advance payments of bursaries quickly and proactively; exactly what was needed and exactly when it was needed too. Other funders have been willing to help with core costs, and while many have understandably concentrated on supporting front line Covid-related activity, we are immensely grateful to those who have supported us through the continuing difficulties. As we contact clients in the new year once the future clarifies I am pleased to say there is every opportunity of 2021 being close to what 2020 was supposed to be.

It looks like there will be sailing barge matches again next year. Only the Colne Match happened in 2020 as Covid and bad weather stopped the others. We plan to enter as many as possible subject to being able to find some guests and funding to defray the cost. Please get in touch if you would like to join us. It looks like the Maritime Heritage Trust will be organising an event in Newham in May to promote London as a Heritage Harbour, joining Maldon and others already well on their way. This will be an ideal way to launch our cargo carrying into the capital. I have heard it said that King Charles II gave bargemen the Freedom of the City when they supplied food during the plague, so carrying something to the MHT event would be apt as we recover from Covid.

That will depend on the load line being awarded, of course, but it seems we are at the final hurdle with the exemption paperwork and survey awaited. The objective is for deliveries to be the reason for training voyages, thus combining our core charitable aims with ecologically sound low carbon transport. There is still a lot of work to be done to bring this vision to fruition. When the appeal started some years ago, green energy and transport seemed a distant prospect. It is fair to say these are now in the mainstream and look set to stay that way. At the time of writing, it is unclear if there will be a trade deal with the EU. Ironically, if there is not then there is a strong chance of a carbon tax being introduced as we leave the EU carbon trading scheme. This would eventually impact on the cost per mile of road transport compared to alternatives, and further encourage coastal transport. Even so, it looks like it would relate only to the emissions and not the true total carbon cost. Even an electric lorry with no emissions after its manufacture, will have a higher true carbon cost per mile than water transport, because it still needs new roads and the maintenance of existing infrastructure, not to mention the many ancillary costs road transport generates from hospitals and emergency services to lighting and health. It is rare for these costs to be factored in properly. You could say water transport needs infrastructure and of course it does, but nature provides the basic facilities.

Compliments of the season to you all!