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Brave's Blog 2013

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Saturday May 31: North Shields to Whitby
54.29.65N 00.36.78W
What a difference a day makes. Yesterday’s sun was forgotten as we woke to the sound of rain falling on the deck. The northerly breeze was so cold that our breath was condensing in steam clouds as we got the boat ready for departure. Once through the lock, the visibility was so poor, we put the lights on. The fog on the Tyne, and all that.
The one consolation of the decidedly grey and grotty weather was that it made us glad we were heading south, with the wind behind us. Going north into it, heading for Amble or Holy Island, as originally planned, would have been very miserable indeed!
We decided in view of the uninspiring conditions – a rolly sea and mist shrouding the coastline so that we could not enjoy the spectacular scenery, and cold so intense that several layers of fleece were required, even though it’s June tomorrow   to go only as far as Whitby, just over 40 miles away, which we would reach on a single fair tide.
The only snag was that we were not sure we would get there in time for the final opening of the swing bridge which controls access to the marina, and only operates for two hours each side of high water. Our calculations led us to expect that the final bridge would be at 12.30, and with luck we would just about make it.
But when we phoned to ask the watch-keeper about alternative arrangements, in case we missed it, he dismayed us completely by revealing that the last bridge would be at 12.15. We had no hope of being in time for that.
So we were more or less resigned to several hours on a waiting pontoon (again!). However, as we entered the harbour at 12.25, we could see that the bridge was still open, with a large racing fleet filing out of the marina. Richard gunned the engine, and we reached the bridge just as the last boat came through. The bridge-keeper came out to greet us with an ironic: “You were lucky!” as he swung the bridge shut behind us. It was 12.30.
A few minutes later we were moored in the marina – again with help from the harbour-master. And then the sun came out. After a run ashore to find the town absolutely heaving with holiday makers (it is Saturday after all) we enjoyed supper in the cockpit.
The forecast is for more sunshine and slightly warmer weather tomorrow, and the barometer is rising reassuringly, so we’re hoping to set out on the 150-mile overnight leg to Lowestoft when the bridge first opens at 10.00.
(Trip 38.9             Total 271.0)

Friday June 31: Newcastle to North Shields
55.00.89N 01.23.10W
Something came up yesterday which we have to go home to sort out. We agonised over whether to go home on the train, leaving the boat here for a couple of weeks, and then returning to continue the journey, or whether to take the boat home, and then start another adventure once the dust has settled.
In the end it was the weather that decided us, for two reasons. 1: It’s been so cold up here that we’re now tempted to spend the summer heading south, rather than north. 2: It looks as if the weather is pretty settled for the next few days, giving us an opportunity to get home without too much hassle.
So we decided to make the most of our very brief “holiday” in Newcastle. It really is a fabulous city, and yesterday evening we walked across the magnificent Millennium Bridge (the “eyelash”) and then into the Baltic contemporary art centre. This is housed in the gigantic redundant Rank flour mill on the quayside, adjacent to the eyelash.
To be honest, the sort of “art” displayed in its vast open spaces doesn’t do a lot for either of us, but the view from the top floor, where we enjoyed a rather special gin and tonic (only one, it was quite expensive!) was breathtaking.
By the time we were heading down the stairs, they were shutting the gallery floors for the night, so we were too late to take in the art anyway, but there is a wonderful “installation” in the stairwell. There are giant mirrors, top and bottom, so that when you peer down into the stairwell, it seems to carry on downwards to infinity. Probably best not to look if you suffer from vertigo!
We enjoyed an early supper at The Old Siam Thai restaurant before heading back to the boat on the bus, feeling very pleased with the day. It was the first evening  it has actually been warm enough to sit in the cockpit enjoying a night cap, rather than huddling below with the heater on (yes, the Eberspacher has been working hard this trip, even though it is nearly June!)
This morning dawned with blue skies and sunshine. We decided to award ourselves another day of lotus-eating before heading off on the slog south. But we thought we’d move from St Peter’s marina in the heart of the city to Royal Quays in North Shields, much closer to the sea and so a better jumping-off point for the voyage south tomorrow.
As with everywhere we have stayed in the north-east we were struck by the friendliness and helpfulness of the berthing master at the marina. He helped us refuel, saw us through the lock, and then was waiting on the finger of our designated berth to take our warps. We haven’t had to moor unaided on the entire trip. It’s going to come as a shock when we get home and are expected to fend for ourselves!
He also advised us to take “a 15-minute stroll” to the Fish Quay, the cultural centre of North Shields, and dine at Sambuca 1 – one of a row of three Italian restaurants of the same name, which are gradually colonising the area, they are so successful. He also warned us which of the four local pubs to avoid because “it is full of ladies of ill-repute and fishermen and there can be fisticuffs.”
It was a lovely sunny evening, but the “stroll” wasn’t particularly scenic. It followed high security fencing round a vast area where a complete shipyard is being reclaimed in preparation for housing development, and then took us through an industrial estate. But the Fish Quay area itself retains historic charm.
The restaurant was absolutely heaving. It’s one of those places so popular you have to queue inside the door for a vacant table. The queue was testimony to its quality. We dined extremely well and not very expensively on “specials” majoring heavily on seafood. And took a taxi back to the boat.
(Trip: 5.2              Total 232.1) 

Thursday May 30: Still in Newcastle
The weather remains cold, wet and windy. We’re glad we came to Newcastle, where there’s much of interest to do ashore, as going sailing really doesn’t seem a very good idea. Yesterday was always intended to be a rest day, after four days of relentless progress. But we’ve decided to stay today as well.
Yesterday we took the bus (free thanks to our senior passes) into the city centre and did some exploring and some shopping.  It’s a great place, with lots of magnificent architecture to wonder at, and a dazzling (to Ipswich eyes, anyway) shopping centre. R treated himself to a new fleece – a symptom of the “summer” we’re having. We also ventured into a dauntingly huge M and S food hall to do some reprovisioning.
No trip to the north-east would be complete without a visit to the cousins who live up here, so in the evening we took a train trip to Darlington for a family supper. The reunion was much enjoyed. So too the 30-minute  train journey, which gave us views of the Angel of the North and Durham’s spectacular hill-top cathedral, not to mention Newcastle’s epic Central Station. Unfortunately we suffered delay due to points failure on the way back, and the return journey took rather longer.
Otherwise our only complaint about Newcastle is that it is very cold here. The current conditions certainly don’t encourage further progress north, into the bitter northerly wind. Fortunately it is forecast to moderate at last.
So after another day of relaxing and sightseeing, we are hoping to move on tomorrow, in slightly more encouraging conditions. 

Tuesday May 28: Hartlepool to Newcastle
54.57.95N 01.34.37W
Today has been dominated by tide levels. It looks as if there may be a couple of days’ bad weather on the way, so we decided to head to Newcastle, a city we have never visited properly, where there should be plenty to interest us ashore.
On previous forays to this coast, we’ve overnighted in the big marina in North Shields, but got no further upriver. So this time we planned to stay in St Peter’s Marina, which is just a mile downstream from the Millennium Bridge.
First issue was getting out of Hartlepool, on a falling tide. The harbourmaster said our last chance would be leaving at 0900, but we wanted a bit of a margin, so we elected to go at 0800. We locked out with a couple of catamaran work boats, currently involved in the construction of a windfarm at the mouth of the Tees.
We were just in time to pick up the first of the north-going tidal stream. The snag was that it was raining, and the damp, misty atmosphere shrouded the spectacular coastal scenery.  Also there was no wind. Well, there was about five knots dead astern, but as we were motoring away from it at nearly six knots, the apparent wind was effectively zero. So we didn’t even bother with the sails.
We have a little custom that every time the log reaches a thousand-mile milestone, we have a toast to the boat. We reached 3,000 miles (since installing the new instruments a year ago, it’s more like 15,000 miles overall) just as we passed Sunderland. The sun came out just in time to smile on the celebration.
We’d put the Whitburn firing range buoys into the route as waypoints, to keep us a safe distance offshore, but when we reached their location, there was no sign of them. So no danger of getting shot at, presumably.
It was just before low water when we reached the imposing piers that mark the entrance to the Tyne. We were delighted to see people scouring the exposed rocks (presumably for shellfish) and digging for bait in the mud, reassuringly rural occupations amid scenes of industrial dereliction.
It’s a weird hybrid, this river. Part of it is still a thriving port – there was plenty of activity around the North Shields fish market, where a healthy-looking fishing fleet was moored, and there were numerous ships of all shapes and sizes on the quays further upriver.
However, there are also depressing signs of industrial decline. You can’t ignore the abandoned shipyards, although some of them have been imaginatively reclaimed and landscaped to provide green open spaces. It was also good to see at least one still in business, with a Japanese bulk carrier in dry dock, presumably for repairs.
You couldn’t call it scenic, exactly, but the eight-mile trip up river to St Peter’s Marina was absolutely packed with interest. We knew we’d have to wait on a pontoon outside the marina, which has a flapgate and cill to keep enough water in, until about half tide.
What we hadn’t expected was that, because this was an exceptionally low spring tide, there wouldn’t be enough water for us to reach the pontoon.
By now the tide was coming in, so we didn’t think it would be long before we could tie up. We carried on towards the city centre, to take some pictures of the iconic bridges – the new “eyelash” bridge, with behind it the Sydney Harbour-lookalike Tyne Bridge and further road and rail crossings beyond that.
But when we returned to the waiting pontoon, we slid to a graceful halt (fortunately in soft mud) about two metres off. So we gilled about in the river for another half hour (amusing ourselves by doing some tidying up) before we finally managed to reach the pontoon and start waiting!
By now the tide was coming in at a spectacular rate – you could watch it climbing the tide gauge outside the marina – and we barely had time for a belated lunch before we were being called in.
This is a sort of mini St Katharine’s Dock – a redundant commercial basin transformed with aspirational apartment developments all round. Unfortunately what was obviously planned as a shopping arcade has no shops – just  offices  - and when we visited the pub in the corner we found it was about to change hands and had only very limited food on offer.
Fortunately we still had plenty on board. We’re hoping for better things when we venture into the city centre tomorrow.
(Trip: 32.1 Running total:  226.9)

Sunday and Monday May 26 and 27: Lowestoft to Hartlepool
54.41.26N 01.11.90W
Stay or go? To make the most of the tide, heading north from Lowestoft, the right time to leave was 12.30pm. The problem was that the wind was still forecast to be blowing from the north – NW 5 to 6 in fact ­- a repeat of the wind-against-tide discomfort of the previous day.
On the other hand, it was forecast to drop away to nothing during the night, and then fill in from the south, which would be ideal for heading north. We could stay for a day, and wait for the wind to turn southerly, but that risked losing out on further progress, as the southerly window seemed likely to be short-lived.
We could have left at 0100, on the next tide, but that would mean missing two nights’ sleep, instead of one. In the end, we decided to go anyway, and motor until the wind turned out of the north (doing the purist thing and sailing would have meant a lot of extra miles, tacking across the wind, and on a long passage, extra miles are unwelcome).
So why make such a long passage? Heading north up the East Coast, there are initially few places to stop, for a boat of our draught (2.2m, in fully-laden cruising mode). Traditional ports like Wells and Kings Lynn comfortably only accommodate shallow-draught boats or those that can take the ground, which we can’t.
So the first accessible ports after Lowestoft are Hull and Grimsby on the Humber, and getting to either of these involves a big detour up the estuary, again adding unwelcome miles. After that, the next port we can get into is Whitby – a lovely place, but we have already visited it twice by boat, and spent a few days there weatherbound on our last round-Britain adventure, so we decided to give it a miss this time. Not least because we can only get in towards the top of the tide, and we estimated that we’d reach it at dead low water.
Our aim was to get as far up the coast as we reasonably could before stopping in late afternoon – at Hartlepool or Newcastle, probably.
As soon as we left Lowestoft, we wondered if we’d done the right thing. The wind outside the harbour was quite a lot stronger than we expected and the seas were bigger. Banging our way upwind under engine held very little pleasure. As often before, we turned to each other and asked: “And what do you do for fun?” But at least it was sunny.
And having spent the morning examining weather websites (Passage Weather and Windguru are our favourites) we were confident the discomfort wouldn’t last for very long, and it didn’t. By 1800 everything was calming down nicely.
The hours of darkness were spent motoring in no wind and a flat sea, with the autohelm steering, which makes life easy for the one on watch. (We do two hours on, two hours off, during the hours of darkness.)
If anything, the visibility was too good. Crossing from east  Norfolk to Flamborough Head, we were picking up the myriad gas platforms that inhabit this corner of the North Sea at about 20 miles, so there were lights all over the horizon.
The anchorage off the Humber, with about 20 ships lit up like Christmas trees, would have been another cause of confusion, without the help of AIS.
So it was an interesting , but not very taxing night, and by dawn there were tantalising signs of the promised southerly breeze filling in.
It was another beautiful sunny day – how rare is that for a Bank Holiday weekend? And soon we were sailing past imposing Flamborough Head, and closing with the magnificent Yorkshire coast.
Some people dismiss the east coast as the boring part of the Round-Britain adventure, the bit to be got out of the way before the real fun begins further west, but we think they’re missing the point.
This spectacular coastline of cliffs and castles is rich in wildlife. We were delighted to see strings of guillemots and gannets, our first puffins of the season, the odd razorbill… And as we approached Whitby, we once again oohed and aahed about the dramatic cliff-top Abbey ruins guarding the entrance. It was an hour before low water, so we couldn’t have got in, even if we’d wanted to.
By now we were enjoying fantastic sailing – roaring along on a free reach, the boat eating up the miles. But we were feeling the effects of our missed hours of sleep, and we decided to call a halt at Hartlepool, where we ran out of fair tide, at about 14.30.
The lock-keeper told us there wouldn’t be enough water in the channel for our draught for another 20 minutes, but that didn’t really matter. We used the time tidying the ship. And then we were efficiently helped through the lock – a man was waiting on the pontoon to take our warps. He then told us where to berth – and sprinted round to help us moor up, too.
Then it was a much-needed hot shower, supper on board, and an equally much-needed early night.
(Trip: 155.1 miles. Running total: 194.8)

Saturday May 25: Levington to Lowestoft
52.28.31N 01.45.39E
Haven Ports YC’s cruise in company to Lowestoft was perfectly timed for our departure heading northwards on our summer adventure. The only snag was that the wind was northerly, too.
But it was a lovely sunny morning and the forecast was for relatively light winds. It was going to be a run down the river to Harwich Harbour, a fetch up the coast to Orford Ness, and then a beat for the last 20 miles, but we’d have the tide with us by then, so no real problem, we thought.
Eight boats set out around 0900, aiming to start against the flood, reach Orford Ness at slack water, so avoiding the overfalls which develop off the headland in wind-against-tide conditions, and then take the ebb up to Lowestoft, arriving there about low water (1630) all being well.
The first part of the plan went very well. The wind angle (just west of north) sped us up the familiar stretch of coast, past the entrances to the Deben and Ore to the lighthouse at Orford Ness. We were making excellent progress, despite the adverse tide. So we were rather surprised when we reached the headland to find breaking water – overfalls – across our path. Brave tackled them without fuss, but it was the first hint of rougher things to come.
The sky was clouding over, the gusts were getting fiercer. A lumpy wind-over-tide sea was building up – and we couldn’t lay the course we wanted. One of our fellow cruisers had foreseen the problem and opted to spend the Bank Holiday weekend in on the Deben rather than headbanging all the way to Lowestoft. If we hadn’t been committed to heading north, we might have been tempted to join them.
The rest of the gang mostly opted to motor-sail, getting the suffering over as quickly as possible. Not us. Our boat goes brilliantly to windward and Richard gets great satisfaction from steering her on the wind, but even he confessed he was getting rather tired, struggling with the very confused seas, which were beyond the skills of the autopilot, by the time we reached the Newcombe Sand buoy that marks the beginning of the entrance channel to Lowestoft.
I was also rather tired. Because the weather has been so depressingly bad this spring, we’ve done very little sailing so far this year, and what with all the tacks, and putting in a couple of reefs, I discovered just how out of practice my winch-winding muscles have become. No doubt that will change in the days ahead.
As it was we were jolly glad to reach the flat waters of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk YC marina – right on schedule at 1630. One of the benefits of joining a club cruise is that it’s a great social occasion. We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks aboard the cruise leaders’ boat before heading into the RNSYC for a very good supper, as we have come to expect here.
Tomorrow the rest of the club cruisers will be heading south to Southwold, and then on to Levington. We’re not sure if we’ll be moving on or staying put. Our next leg will be an overnighter – to Whitby or beyond. And while heading north in a northerly was fine for 40 miles, we don’t really fancy it for 150 miles or more.
(Today’s miles 39.7)