Our young Legends crewed the Blue Mermaid Barge in an exciting five day summer experience...
Six young people from YLF’s Gravesham Legends youth groups – Finley, Jay-D, Yaalavan, Jim, Leo and Hamish – set sail on a four-night residential stay on a replica of a 1930’s Sailing Barge, sailing around rivers in Essex and Suffolk. This was all thanks to our funders and sponsers at EMR, the Sea Sailing Trust, Active Thames, Reconnect Kent, and Masonic Charitable Trust – a first for YLF and every one of the young people!
The main objectives were to learn to sail, maintain, cook and learn other important life skills during the stay – accompanied by Matthew, our YLF group leader and Jay, the volunteer support for the week (both of which know absolutely nothing about sailing!)
Here is the story of their epic adventure….
The first day we arrived after two loaded luggage trips on a the row boat and life jackets on, our team of keen to-be-sailors then hopped aboard the Blue Mermaid! We were shown our sleeping areas and given a tour of the boat as well as the important safety briefing.
After a short hour we were all on deck ready to start unwrapping the sails and begin our journey. After some pulling, untying and retying what seemed to be miles of different ropes, we’d begun to sail. With the wind behind us, we made some real fast progress down the river and were able to take a moment to enjoy the views, waves and other boats also travelling along the River Blackwater.
Richard, our captain, provided us with endless sailing knowledge and stories while we continued down the river. Soon it was time to split the group into two teams – one team on deck duty, the other below deck in charge of cooking and cleaning.
Matthew’s team of Jay-D, Finley and Yaalavan were on dinner duty first and took the opportunity to learn how to make a delicious Spaghetti Bolognese. The cooks clearly impressed! Finley said ‘the first thing I’m doing when I get home is cooking Bolognese!’
Much to the shock and displeasure of Matthew’s team. It was their turn to wash up and clean!
Eventually that night, everyone went to sleep after some games and fun.
It was an early start as we had progress to make down river. Now, if anyone ever tells you sailing is easy or there’s not much to it – they’re wrong! The first full day of sailing was a long one with some of the most mixed weather we could have asked for. We had sun, rain, storms, wind, no wind and a distant thunderstorm or two!
With almost everything on the boat manual and no easy ‘push here to raise the anchor’ button available – we had to work hard as a team to get the boat moving. This includes raising the anchor, unwrapping and raising the sails, coiling and knotting ropes and much more. Everyone had a go at almost everything and some fears were even conquered!
The teams changed roles during the day and the so Jay, Jim, Leo and Hamish were on dinner duty. Sausage, waffles and beans with fruit and cake for afters – nice!
More games and a bit of relaxing and it was off to sleep for everyone.
Day Three & Four
Although day three was more of the same, our end destination was one of the busiest cargo ports around – Port of Felixstowe. Some of the largest container ships in the world come and go from there. The team on deck had to put in an extra long shift so that we could make it to a safe place away from all of the port traffic. Unfortunately the weather took a large shift on day 3 and we had moments of also zero wind – which isn’t good news for a sailing boat with no engine!
Eventually after a very long evening, we were able to settle down to bed – but not before we got to see the most spectacular night sky we’d seen in a long while!
Day 4 – Now that we had made it to our destination we could enjoy a trip to the beach and some swimming! The boys needed some well earned rest and free time – especially after the long shift on the day before. We enjoyed some beach games, volleyball in the water and played tag in the rainstorm that sprung on us before the rowboat collected to begin the journey home on the boat.
Our teams were really starting to get the hang of sailing by now. We (mostly) knew what the Bow, Port and Starboard sides of the boat were. We could look at the Bob to see the wind direction and work at a team to move the sails when Jibing the boat. We knew our topsail to our mainsail as well as how to navigate in oilskins!
The Fifth and Final Day
On our final day of sailing we were able to squeeze in another visit to a small beach, a chip shop and some local shops for souvenirs.
After the trip to the shops we had an hour or so to spare and our captain shipped us to a remote island on the river only accessible by boat – here we played games, skimmed some stones across the water and relaxed a bit and enjoyed our last afternoon together as a sailing team.
Eventually the rowboat arrived to collect us and bring us back on board the barge one last time. We played some games and rested while we awaited the tide to move, then we set sail once more, back to where we started and after some goodbyes and certificates, we set off home.
“It was good but a lot more hard work than I expected. I feel a lot stronger in my arms now!” – Yaalavan
“The best bit was the beach trips and the swimming, the water was well warm and playing in the storm was fun too.” – Jay-D
“He hasn’t stopped talking about the trip since he came home, clearly had a great time!” – Parent
“He came back absolutely shattered but he enjoyed the experience and would definitely go with you again. He would not have experienced that adventure without YLF. What a great thing you do. Looking out for the boys and being part of something very special.” – Parent
“Watching the boys overcome challenges, working together to get things done and just simply spending positive time with them has made this voyage an amazing life-long memory for me. It’s been very hard work to say the least but an incredible all-round experience. Everyone has come home from the residential having learned something useful that they will keep with them forever.” – Matthew