The Cathja herself
The Cathja is a 38 metre Dutch Barge. She was probably built in the 1930s and her working life would have been on the canals and rivers of Europe. She is not a sea going vessel although many of the inland seas in Holland are such that she had to be able to negotiate rougher conditions than the barges that traded on English canals.
Cathja would have been operated as a family business with a husband and wife team, possibly with their children, leading a somewhat itinerant life. It is likely that the name Cathja is derived from a combination of the names of the skipper and his wife. Living accommodation was minimal and restricted to the back cabin so that the maximum area was given over to the hold for carrying cargo. The sorts of cargo carried would have included grain, fertiliser, coffee beans etc.
The back cabin remains with many original features and currently provides the office space for the charity. The wheel house is a more recent addition and is the ‘tea room’ for the activity. As the barge is fully mobile, the tea room also accommodates the ships wheel and all the instrumentation. The wheelhouse is collapsible in order to negotiate the low bridges that are often found on the smaller waterways.
After being ‘decommissioned’ the Cathja had several short term owners, including a British gentleman who intended to convert her for use as a floating restaurant. This last project foundered as Cathja was damaged by rough seas in the Channel and was rescued and brought to a mooring on the Thames where she lay largely uncared for. She was purchased in an almost derelict state by the charity in 1996.
A mooring was found for her in Isleworth, being the historic wharf where coastal trade took place. The original crane used for unloading still stands as a monument to this phase of the area’s history.
The challenge of restoring and converting Cathja together with creating an accessible and safe mooring was immense. However, with a large amount of community support and help from the Arts Lottery the task was achieved. Cathja now is fully disabled friendly and benefits from all mains services including diesel fired central heating. The hold is now a superbly equipped workshop with a range of tools and equipment that meet Health and Safety standards.
Cathja has not entirely retired from her previous life as the charity has been determined from the outset to keep her fully mobile. She is therefore fully engined and regularly surveyed to ensure her seaworthiness. She has returned to her roots with excursions to Belgium and France as an ambassador of the innovative service she now offers. She also makes regular trips along the Thames. The role of Carl Kirby Turner, Project Director, is vital as he is an experienced skipper as well as a mental health practitioner.