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Whoever said the east coast was boring....

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

I am writing this sitting in Whitby having completed leg 4 which should have been a simple delivery trip from Lowestoft without passengers. But it was not without it’s own adventures and highlights.

Qiao and I departed Lowestoft early on the 29th and headed north, motor sailing against the remains of the flood close in around Great Yarmouth and Caister. The wind was a light southerly and not up to getting us the 50 miles to Wells in a day. So, we settled down for a gentle motor cruise slowly turning west as we rounded the long featureless coastline. The ebb running north proved much stronger than anticipated and we were in danger of arriving off Wells bar far too early, so we slowed right down and drifted the last six miles with the tide up past Blakeney and on to the Wells outer mark.

Here we radioed the harbour master as requested and we were asked to wait while the harbour launch came out to lead us in. With 2.5m under the bottom we followed them up the winding channel through sand banks, past beaches of summer bathers into the pretty harbour. After a handbrake turn at the end of the main channel we ferry glided onto the visitors pontoon. All executed without incident which was fortunate as we had a large crowd of spectators to impress.

What a difference from Lowestoft! Helpful harbour staff, decent rates, power and water on the pontoon, a pretty harbour and village with excellent shops selling local fish and veg. It was time for some R&R so we settled down for a couple of days, wandering, doing chores and finally glassing the leeboard we cracked in Shoreham. A trip to the local chandler resulted in a long conversation with the elderly owner about the Thames barges he had seen in harbour loading sugar beet for Tate and Lyle at Silvertown on the Thames and how over the years the fishing had also declined leaving a rump of boats and more leisure activity. More recently the offshore wind farm brought short lived prosperity to the sea going community with jobs on board and in support. But as quick as they came, they have departed leaving some useful infrastructure but no long term jobs.

Grimsby was our planned next stop. It took a considerable effort to persuade the port that we could be put in the fish dock with the fishing boats and offshore support vessels. We finally convinced them to let us in and on Sunday we set off across the Wash under full sail and hoping for a long but uneventful reach up through the sand banks and wind farms to the Humber.

But sailing never works out like that. As we approached the north side of the Wash an ominous bank of dark cloud was streaming along the north coast dumping heavy rain on the Skegness holiday makers and out across our route. We dropped the top sail and furled the top jib in anticipation of a squall. Then we started hearing the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 (the emergency channel) seeking assistance from a tug to rescue two children blown offshore in a toy dinghy. The drama played out and they were safely rescued only to be repeated but this time with two people inside a large inflated ball drifting fast through the wind farm close to our location.

Other boats were radioing in offering to help and the CG would be able to see us our AUIS location and ask us to help if needed. With a 27 m main mast we are not the best boat to go in amongst the wind turbine blades so we stood on and were soon furling all the sails as the wind hit 30 kns from dead ahead and the rain started down. Half an hour later and we had motored through the worst but looking back we could see the Humber lifeboat speeding fast back into port with the casualties. Thankfully everyone was saved but it does highlight the risks of playing in inflatables on the beach with an strong offshore wind blowing.

The wind had now veered to NW, on the nose, so we motored on up into the muddy bleak Humber and through the lock into the Fish Dock and straight onto a brand new finger pontoon well designed to take work boats, and Thames barges. A dock which once bustled with dozens of off-shore trawlers was now eerily quiet, just a few inshore fishing boats and off-shore support vessels. The splendid campanile that used to lead in the fishing fleets is still standing but much of the other infrastructure is unused.

Our next stop was due to be Bridlington but here we came across another intransigent Harbour Master who insisted we were too big for his harbour even though they have a local trip boat pretty much our size berthed there. Despite my best arguments I could not persuade him to change his mind. The forecast dictated that we were either going to have to stay in Grimsby for three days or we needed to dash up the coast for Whitby with an overnight stop at the anchorage at Filey. It may be unfair to say it but Grimsby is a bit grim so we chose the second option and set out early through the free flow lock to catch the full ebb tide up the coast.

We had a tidal gate to beat at Flamborough Head so we motor sailed into the WNW wind up the low lying and fast eroding West Yorkshire coast. After six hours of playing lobster pot slalom we made the Head, an hour before the tide turned against us. As we rounded into an early back eddy, we were confronted with an amazing sight of scores of gannets diving a shoal of fish in a positive feeding frenzy. They barely had time to fly up before diving back into the sea for another fish.

The cliffs at Flamborough are also home to thousands of guillemots, most of which seemed to be on the water in our path. For an hour there were little black and white birds scuttling across the waves avoiding this big intruder charging through their haven. The anchorage in Filey was perfect for the wind and by sun set the wind had dropped to a gentle breeze and we settled down for the night after a fish dinner, though not as fresh as the gannets enjoyed.

By morning the wind was NW 4, right on the nose again and we spent six hours motoring up to Whitby to make sure we were in harbour before the forecast force 7 winds set in. So here we are in this beautiful port, oozing with history and character. We are berthed on the fish quay surrounded by fishing vessels and tourist trip boats. We have already been warned by the local fisherman that you don’t get local fish at the endless fish and chip shops, they are all selling imported fish. The local boats mostly land lobster and these head straight to the better restaurants down south or in Europe.

Now we need to prepare for the next leg up the Northumberland coast and on to Edinburgh. We have six guests this time so will be busy both sailing and providing hospitality. Our first challenge will be getting them onboard as the access at our berth is via a vertical metal ladder, a challenging 15ft down at low tide. But we do have ways and means to address this of which more in the next blog.

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