C Toms & Son of Polruan, Cornwall have accepted the order to construct a new steel spritsail barge from Sea-Change, the sail training organisation for young people. The new barge will be on the lines of the Blue Mermaid.
Unlike the original riveted barge, the new barge will have plates cut by lasers and welded together at Polruan. This will save about a third of the cost of riveting. The barge will not have an engine and will be towed to Maldon to be fitted out for sailing. When cruising, a mini-van will be available to transport trainees between ports.
The original Blue Mermaid was launched 85 years ago at Mistley Shipyard, Essex, which is now a marina. Wooden vessels were built here between 1770 and 1861 and in 1919 Fred W Horlock re-opened the yard, with a railway siding down to it, to build small steamers and the last commercial sailing barges. Dent of Brentwood drew up plans of the new vessels and the last barges were just marked numbers 10 and 11. There has been some debate as to which full sized trading barge was the last built at Mistley. The 91ft Resourceful and the Blue Mermaid were built at the same time. The Resourceful was the last to be launched, but Blue Mermaid was the last registered.
During World War II, a mine near the Hook buoy blew up the Blue Mermaid and the Resourceful is a houseboat at Chiswick. These Horlock steel barges carried a lot of sail for two men to handle.
A barge in this series, still sailing, is the Adieu built in 1929. She became a motor barge in 1949 and then a ballast barge working in the River Stour. These barges used to wear their bottoms thin by scraping up the river to Mistley early on the flood tide. The Adieu had been laid up in 1967 and after this, was given a new bottom at James & Stone, Brightlingsea. She is now owned and sailed by Iolo Brooks.