Restoring Melissa to former glories

PUBLISHED: 05:03 10 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:17 24 February 2010

THE history of the majestic sailing barges which carried cargo between London and the East coast has often been a perilous one. None more so than for the iron barge Melissa.

THE history of the majestic sailing barges which carried cargo between London and the East coast has often been a perilous one. None more so than for the iron barge Melissa.

She started life in 1899 as part of the fleet of 20 made by Southampton company, Fay, for London-based E J and W Goldsmith.

When sail gave way to engines and the company disposed of its barges, Melissa, like many others, could have been cut up for scrap if Capt Les Osborne and Capt Richard Duke had not intervened.

Capt Osborne had worked for Goldsmiths and was asked by a friend in the 1970s if he was interested in the vessel's fate.

The barge was in a scrap yard at Rowhedge near Colchester and was due to be cut up and Capt Osborne and Capt Duke bought her for about £1,000.

Capt Osborne said: "She started up first swing. She was a lovely old girl"

Melissa was brought into Ipswich for minor repairs – new ropes, new hatch covers before being put to work.

For several years she carried cargoes of wheat from Tilbury to Maldon and Rochford before Capt Osborne bought out his partner's share.

He had a large chandlery business and for a time used her to hold ship's stores in Felixstowe.

But eventually repeated break-ins and vandalism forced him to sell her and the 90ft Melissa next became a houseboat at Ipswich docks before the dock owner sold out his share.

Now she is to take on a new lease of life after being bought by Webb's boat yard, Pin Mill, where Jonathan Webb and his brother and partner Richard are hard at work rebuilding her for a new incarnation – to be chartered for river cruises.

First step has been to rebuild her hull and create a well deck, open to the air and fitted with tiers of seats, where passengers will be able to sit enjoying the view.

The hold in front of the well deck will become a timber-lined function room with bar and disco for corporate or private parties. But from the outside, Melissa will look as near as the Webb brothers can make her to her original days as a sailing barge.

She will have a new mast and rigging installed and will be able to sail as well as having a back-up engine. All this is being done as the brothers go along, there are no drawings or written plans.

Mr Webb said: "We are trying to make her as traditional as we can. We're making the back into what she was when she was built but also taking into account that we are not going to do cargoes of bricks but of people so we have to cater for them."

The rest of this year will be spent completing the welding to make her watertight, then in the summer sandblasting and painting her outside.

By next winter they hope to be onto the interior fitting out to have her ready under sail for the summer of 2004.

He said: "It will be exactly 60 years from when the sailing gear was taken out to when we put it back in again. 1944 was the last time she sailed with mast and sail."

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