Royal sail of approval for Pearl

South Yorkshire charity, The Ethel Trust, had the pleasure of welcoming the royal family’s ‘trustiest anchor’ Princess Anne to officially launch their second barge, Pearl.

The Princess Royal had flown into Sheffield by helicopter to view the new state-of-the-art community barge that will be used by the Ethel Trust for day trips and residentials for disadvantaged groups in the region.

Having viewed the advanced technology on the 57-foot-long boat, including a hybrid engine assisted by solar panels, Princess Anne, an accomplished sailor, took over the steering from the skipper for the return trip into Victoria Quays.

“When we approached Princess Anne’s team to ask if she would like to have a go at steering, we thought she’d only do it for a few seconds. But she stayed at the helm for quite a while. It was only when a tight bridge was coming up that she thought it best she hand it back to the skipper.

“As the skipper was turning the boat around, Princess Anne was out front leaning over the edge to judge the turning distance. She was absolutely fantastic and such good fun; there was lots of laughter,” said David Tuck, a trustee at The Ethel Trust.

Princess Anne launching the new ‘Pearl’ barge for Ethel Trust

Back on shore, Princess Anne generously took time to talk to every one of the Trust’s volunteers individually, before officially naming the barge ‘Pearl’ by unveiling a commemorative plaque.

The Ethel Trust was established in 1988 to provide unique waterway experiences for a range of groups including school children with disabilities, young people with mental health issues, adults with additional needs and elderly people in residential care.

Since being built in 1993, their primary barge, Ethel, has done a sterling job of carrying passengers. However, plans for a second barge were announced in 2021 by the award-winning charity to expand their services to more people.

It was made possible through a very generous legacy from a grateful passenger who wanted to ensure many more could benefit from what she had experienced.

Pearl was designed and manufactured by Gary Cole of Warwickshire-based company, Colecraft Engineering.

“We drew up specifications based on our existing boat and thought we’d be getting Ethel mark two. But the input from Gary means that Pearl has a completely different layout which has proven much better for use as a residential boat.

“Ethel was never meant for overnight stays; the bunks were added in retrospect. But with Pearl, Gary started from scratch and has created a fantastic space that is completely accessible,” David said.

Pearl has a level floor that runs right throughout so users with wheelchairs or limited mobility don’t need a lift to access the front open deck area. Even in bad weather, passengers can still have great views of the water from inside the cabin thanks to French doors and large windows.

There is also a fully accessible bathroom big enough to accommodate a wheelchair-user and their carer and containing a full-size shower cubicle. Plus, a fully equipped kitchen, eight beds, plus a separate dorm for the crew.

The addition of Pearl means the Trust can now run trips throughout the year from their two docks: Victoria Quays on the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal, and Stanilands Marina in Thorne on the Stainforth & Keadby canal.

The service is run entirely by volunteers and the Trust are always looking for more people to join their team. They have seen an increase in people joining over the last year and now have a team of 40 people, a quarter of whom are women. They also have their first female skipper, Liz Cuckson, who started as a crew member then decided she wanted to do the practical training course to enable her to captain the barge.

“You don’t need any previous experience with boats as full training is provided. Our volunteers mainly support the mental and physical health of our passengers so it’s more important to be interested in working with people. What makes volunteering here so interesting is all the different people you get to meet.

“It’s really flexible and there are no set shifts. All we ask is that people spare two days a month. We publish a trips list and our volunteers let us know what days they can do around their other commitments,” David said.

For more information about how to get involved, visit