After leaving school, I was determined to sail on barges trading under sail before that world was lost forever.
I became friendly with Gordon Hardy who was skipper of the George Smeed and he said that when he came to Ipswich I could join him. I never went to sea on the George Smeed, but I did go on the barge in the River Orwell. Francis & Gilders barges were on charter for lightering wheat from the big ship at Cliff Quay up to the mills at the head of the Ipswich Dock. Gordon took me on the short trip under tops’l only. The barge’s short spindle wheel aft intrigued me.
Later in 1955, I tried to track Gordon down again and learnt that Francis & Gilders of Colchester had sold their last ‘sailormen.’ The Mirosa, Centaur, Kitty and George Smeed all returned to Colchester and their sailing gear was stripped out and some had their cabins removed so that they just had one open hold for their new roles as timber lighters. In 1965, the lock at Heybridge Basin was widened so that the Baltic timber ships could get in there to discharge. The timber lighters were sold and Alan Walker bought the Mirosa and in 1968 Headley Farrington rigged her out for racing. The George Smeed became a houseboat until, Ken Greenhaigh started having the barge steadily rebuilt and rigged out over forty years ago.
Last winter, the traditional sail maker, Steve Hall of North Sea Sails completed four new sails that have been bent on the George Smeed. The shipwrights of Cook’s yard, Maldon have been making the final touches ready for her to sail again in the summer after sixty-two years.