New book launched about growing up on a sailing barge


More than 60 yachtsmen raised a toast to the Health & Safety Executive on Saturday for not being around in the 1950s or 1960s. As the Thames sailing barge Hydrogen slipped away from Hyth Quay in Maldon, Essex, bound down river and also memory lane, the sailors heard how five of their company lived on board a sailing barge. John and Gwendoline Ardley raised four children aboard the May Flower. At the weekend the survivors gathered once more to celebrate a book on their life: May Flower, A Barging Chiildhood, by Nick Ardley, the second eldest child.
In the book Nick, aged eight, is pictured stowing the topsail, fifty feet above deck, without harness or lifejacket. The eldest son Graham Ardley, who flew in from Newfoundland for the occasion, recalled how he would scull the barge boat across a Kentish Creek to fill the barge’s fresh water tank from an artesian well (May Flower had no running water) and youngest son Andrew Ardley, now an architect, told how his first job when he came home from school in winter time was to clean, fill and light the paraffin lamps (May Flower had no electricity). Teresa Ardley, the only daughter, helped her mother Gwendoline hand stitching a new barge’s mainsail! All the family tarred round the 80ft hull each season before setting off on sailing holidays, in the engineless barge, around the East Coast.
For 27 years they lived like this. Andrew said: ‘In later years when I was confronted with a huge workload in the office I took it in my stride. I realised that nothing phased me.’ Graham said: ‘It was a tough life, but we didn’t know it was tough until we grew up.’ May Flower was broken up at Rochester in the 1990s.