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into the North

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Whitby is a delightful town, full of history and fish and chips. Very little of this fish is landed locally anymore and you have to search for any local produce. Fortunes in the Old Town produce the best kippers you will find anywhere on the east coast in a smoke house that has been running continuously for generations. The fishmongers there is good but pricy, not a patch on the fisherman’s co-op in Eastbourne. Still, we managed to get fish, provisions and enough fuel to tide us over and re-rig the mainsail.

We had a full compliment coming and they started to arrive the day before. My brother Nigel had booked on and stayed the night before with his wife. When it came for her to leave at low tide the next day the problems of a tidal quayside with a vertical ladder became apparent and we had to use the sling on the spreet to hoist her up onto the quayside.

The following day most of the guests arrived at fairly high tide and managed the ladder. Eventually we had all six onboard. A diverse mix of backgrounds and past careers those onboard included three architects, a senior accountant, a maker of precision pharmaceutical valves and his wife, a gestalt psychologist, and an airline pilot. There is a very complicated joke there which I may work out one day.

The weather forecast was a bit iffy for the second half of the leg so we decided to do a longer passage on the first day from Whitby to North Shields skipping Hartlepool. Leaving Whitby the view back to the abbey is spectacular. The sea was glassy calm and it took some hours of motoring before a breeze came in and we could get the sails set. The wind built and backed and five sails became four and so on until we were motoring head to wind again into North Shields and onto the Fish Quay. An amazing structure where at least four structures are layered one on top of the next.

The guests disembarked and headed off to sample the local hostelries while we prepared dinner. Fed and watered all had an early night ready for a 07:00 start via the fuelling berth at Royal Marina and out into the North Sea. We managed to get under full sail again for a few hours before the building wind made us reduce canvas the mizzen being brailed last as we rounded Coquet Island on our way into Amble. We were moored up on the Quayside by 13:20 and after a late lunch the guests set of to walk into the ancient town of Warkworth for some sightseeing ( and another hostelry!)

Amble is tide bound at low water so we were up and ready to leave by 06:30, pirouetting in the narrow channel with the NW wind and ebb tide and out into the north going tide and a strong head wind. The forecast was for this to build during the day to F6 occasionally F7 so we were keen to get to the anchorage at Lindisfarne as quickly as possible. We made good speed and arrived at the Farne Islands a couple of hours early slowing down inshore for a while, for a closer look at Bamburgh Castle and some performing kite surfers who raced out to Snark to demonstrate their prowess.

The tide runs fast up the unmarked channel into the anchorage and it is certainly not for the faint hearted. It took a while to get the anchor to hold in the 30 kn wind and we gave a sole yachtsman a scare as we settled down. He was swerving dramatically back and fore and riding his line as the wind and tide interacted, Snark on the other hand was lying solid and secure head to wind her flat bottom less influenced by the flood tide. A game of anchorage chicken ensued, there was little chance of a collision but as the wind died later in the day the yacht swung perilously close to Snark and he eventually hauled anchor and headed of to a more sheltered spot.

It had been the plan to run the guests ashore in the afternoon but the chop was too big for little Boo, so they had an enforced rest onboard. The morning dawned clear and bright the wind was gone and after demolishing Fortunes kippers and poached eggs they were ferried ashore to paddle up the foreshore on their way to visit the sites and walk the beaches of Holy Island. Q and I also managed a bit of a wander, we had both been there before so resisted the trip to the Lutyens castle, the stream of trippers heading that way indicated how busy it would be. The guests had lunch ashore, and we picked them up off the steps later to bring them back for dinner aboard. The evening was still except for the eerie sound of the seals on their beach and the call of oystercatchers chasing around the harbour.

Eyemouth was scheduled to be the next stop, but the HM had declined to provide a berth, welcome to Scotland! A case of more wind farm vessels cluttering a tiny harbour.. The winds where easterly meaning there were no viable anchorages before North Berwick. So, with some trepidation we set of at mid-day, across the Lindisfarne bar against the flooding tide. We motored up the coast the wind dropping to a gentle 2-3 SE the right direction but without the pressure to move us at more than 3 kn under sail. So, another motoring day up to Eyemouth Bay into what became a F4-5 NE. A sharp left turn, around some very jagged rocks brought us into a tiny anchorage and by expert judgement (!) we managed to drop the anchor in 8m right in the middle of the charted anchorage. Fortunately, it held first time and we swung head to wind, butting the waves entering the enclosed bay through the only opening! The evening was spent preparing a blow out curry interspersed with anxious anchor watch until the wind veered and eased and the falling tide exposed an excellent breakwater of ugly rocks.

The last day promised to be another slog to windward under motor and indeed the wind backed continuously as we followed the coast around into the Firth of Forth. But this didn’t trouble the guests, first we had the extraordinary fractured geology of the St Abbs Head and associated cliffs, seals and diving gannets then the spectacle of thousands of sea birds swirling around Bass Rock and finally a visit from a family of inquisitive dolphins who buzzed Snark as she passed through their feeding grounds.

We were instructed to lock into Leith Docks at 16:30, then 18:30, then 17:15 when finally with a spurt of tide and power we made it into a refill lift at 16:15 and drifted slowly across the outer basin to berth in front of Britannia in the shadow of the monstrous Ocean Terminal shopping mall.

Our first fully booked leg was over and though a little tiring the interactions of the diverse mixture of guests had been both stimulating and entertaining; controversial issues were skirted around, outrageous propositions laughed off and brushed aside or buried under gentle teasing. Life stories and hopes and fears were shared, jokes groaned at and many books consumed. Every one left having shared a great week; rested, stimulated, and reminded how much nature shapes our lives. The guests packed off to Waverley to catch their trains south, Q and I cleaned the boat and then headed off into Leith Old Town for an excellent curry at the Mint Leaf and back for an early night and a well deserved lie in the following morning.

All pictures courtesy of Alan, one of the guests.

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