Melissa set to sail again

THREE brothers today told of their pride after completing a painstaking refurbishment of a beautiful 19th century barge in memory of their late father.

THREE brothers today told of their pride after completing a painstaking refurbishment of a beautiful 19th century barge in memory of their late father.

Siblings Jonathan, Richard and David Webb spent more than a decade meticulously transforming the wreck-like shell of the 85ft Melissa into a magnificent sailing vessel.

Jonathan, 41, originally bought the dilapidated barge with dad Fred in 1994 and the pair immediately began the process of returning the craft to her former glory. But their dream was cruelly shattered in April 1996 when Fred died suddenly after suffering a heart attack.

However, in 2000, master mariners Jonathan and Richard, ably supported by electrician David, re-started the daunting project, hauling Melissa into the family boat yard at Pin Mill and beginning the lengthy task of completely refitting the steel barge.

Their job was made harder due to the brothers having day jobs, meaning work on Melissa was confined to their own spare time.

Jonathan said: “We managed to put a new bottom on it when my dad was alive, but after he passed away she sat for a year or two.

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“Richard and I decided to get it out of the water and get it into the boat yard in 2000 and we gradually started replacing what needed replacing.”

Month by month, year by year, Melissa's sweeping curves and contours began to emerge until on Monday she was ready to be refloated. The brothers launched the barge on the high tide at 3.30am.

“It was the first time she had sailed in 65 years,” said Jonathan. “We were confident she would float but it was still a nice feeling to get her going.”

Richard added: “She feels alive when she is on the water.”

The project has been a real family affair, with the brothers' late uncle Billy Webb, a welder by trade, also lending his help.

Jonathan said: “I suppose they (Fred and Billy) would have been proud of the work. We have certainly been committed to it.”

Melissa will see her first proper action on Saturday when she takes part in the 48th annual Pin Mill barge match but will eventually be used more regularly for corporate entertainment and river trips around the east coast.

What do you think of the brothers' efforts? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

BUILT in 1899, Melissa was one of 28 barges constructed in Southampton by boat company Fay for London-based EJ and W Goldsmith.

She was used to carry building materials between the south coast and London and would have been crewed by only two people.

The yard that built Melissa finished the entire fleet in two years - an average of one vessel every three-and-a-half weeks.

Twenty of those were the same tonnage size as Melissa but only one other barge still remains in use today, Decima, which will also be competing in the Pin Mill barge match on Saturday.

An engine was installed in 1944 and Melissa was used extensively for trading until the mid 70s, when she was brought to Suffolk and converted once again, this time into a house boat.

She came into her current ownership in 1994 when Fred and Jonathan Webb bought her and began to refurbish the vessel.