Blue Mermaid delivers beer under sail.

Monday 3rd April saw the team gather at Hythe Quay for the arrival of a cargo of beer from the local Mighty Oak Brewery. Jim Dines had brought the barge down from his yard the previous day where she had been in refit. He used his red tug, almost identical to the one used when the previous owners of the yard, Dixon Kerley, had the contract to assist the ships bringing timber to Sadd’s or animal feeds to Sadler’s wharves. The smaller motor barges which supplied Green’s, now Carr’s, Mill until a few years ago were able to manage unaided. I recall going with Brian Kennell to Colliers Reach in the tug and taking a line from the bow of a timber ship as an insurance against her taking a sheer in shallow water and then assisting by pushing her alongside at the instructions of the pilot. He timed arrival for high water and went straight alongside head up. When leaving empty ships would spring their sterns into Heybridge Creek to turn again at slack water. If leaving it late the ebb would be running hard and ships of any size would need to put the power on smartly passing Hythe Quay to avoid being set into the barge yard at Cooks. Those days are gone and we are all the poorer for it. Maybe they will return in some small measure. After all Carr’s mill at Maldon is the only one of their three not supplied by water.


Hilary and Richard were already aboard. First to arrive were mate Oli and our main organiser Judy who came bearing banners and flags to publicise the excellent support for our sail cargo initiative from Essex County Council’s Climate Challenge Fund. Fourth hand and Youth Sailing Scheme volunteer Anna arrived with trainee Ben, with Eve and Ivy close astern. Dead on time the beer arrived with the team from Mighty Oak and eleven firkins with a smaller polypin were shipped in the hold and secured for what promised to be a good breeze easterly.


The tug arrived shortly before high water and with the still strong landwater from recent rain we were able to spring away head up and make a clean departure. It was by no means clear we would need the topsail at this stage so just the sheet was set and the tug let us go in the lee of the trees at Northey for us to get a tight mainsheet easily. The topsail was set at Hilly Pool. Near Osea the resplendently rebuilt Gladys passed on her way to London having visited Maldon to be rigged.


The first delivery was to Bradwell Quay Yacht Club whose members will enjoy their Maldon Gold. There was enough of a lee to anchor off the creek and do the drop by bargeboat but there was no harbour at West Mersea in a strong easterly for deliveries there so we pressed on to anchor in the lee of Colne Point. This gave a good jumping off point on Tuesday to head over the Rays’n to drop firkins of Jake the Snake and Georgeous George at the Royal Burnham Yacht Club before getting under way again at 1300 to head for Harwich. Still with a cold easterly but bright sunshine the barge made good progress and found a fetch and two jib breeze after the Spitway taking us to anchor on Harwich Shelf for supper.


Wednesday dawned bright and calm and we delivered three firkins of Oscar Wilde and a Doppelganger to the New Bell, situated but a few yards from the beach by the Haven Authority’s building. Welcomed in by landlord Kevin for tea and biscuits we were reminded what an excellent pub this is, last visited with a similar delivery we did with Cambria ten years ago. It must not be so long until the next visit.


Away again at the lunchtime high water, and almost perfectly wrong on tide, with ten tacks inshore to cheat the tide as far as the Stone Banks where the wind eastered enough for a fine fetch up the Wallet in glorious sunshine. Apart from one fishing boat we had the whole coast to ourselves. Cloud was gathering in the west as dusk approached and the jib topsail was handed off Jaywick as the wind increased. The trainees were busy buoy spotting in the gloaming and the Knoll remained unlit as we passed while the Eagle was flashing brightly. Evidently either timeswitches or light sensors are differently set and there was no need to report the situation as the Knoll blinked eventually a while later. Lights were set up and again we had the river to ourselves and the growing showers taking us to anchor at Weymarks at 2130.


By breakfast on Thursday the rain had passed and the F4 to 5 southwesterly was veering offering a good berth in Mersea Quarters for a delivery of Captain Bob, named for Bob Roberts of Cambria, to Tollesbury Sailing Club and four Georgeous Georges to the Coast Inn at West Mersea.


Apart from the excellent taste and unparalled service offered by Mighty Oak, they have a nice line in names for their beers as those delivered this week confirm. They even supplied Blue Mermaid bitter on the occasions of the launch at Polruan and commissioning party at Maldon.


Once back aboard Thursday after the deliveries, the jibs were cleared from the bowsprit and put in the dry below. Friday dawned bright with a F4 northwesterly and gave us a pleasant and fitting end to a successful week of deliveries.