Bullets, fire and fog - our "summer" cruise

By Mike Findeisen, SuperSeal 26 'Limmershin'

Back in the dark winter days we thought about where to cruise to this summer, and decided to go south from Blyth aiming at Whitby. We had tried this last year but cancelled due to continuing east winds being forecast and fled to the Med instead! Careful study of tide tables suggested that a start on 28 July would give us favourable tides both ways during our eight days cruise.

So it was on the morning of 28 July that my wife Jane and I, plus son Nick to provide the brawn to us geriatrics, set off. The wind was south easterly force 3 though forecast to go round to west in a few days, so we were able to sail close hauled for Sunderland, our first stop some 14 miles away.All went smoothly but we noted in the RNYC Sailing Directions a warning of possible firing on a rifle range when a red flag was showing. This of course cannot be seen until you are close to it but on previous visits we had never seen it flying. However these had been at weekends and today was Wednesday. Suddenly we heard gunfire, and then saw the red flag. We didn't actually see splashes in the water but decided to head out to sea very sharply! The safe distance is marked by yellow buoys some 2 miles out which we rounded and then headed for Sunderland.

As we approached the harbour entrance we were intercepted by the Harbourmaster's launch and warned to keep clear as a large ship was leaving. We then saw HMS OCEAN, the Navy's largest warship being towed by tugs very carefully through the narrow harbour entrance. After seeing her sail away we made our way into the harbour and entered the Marina in time for lunch.

After a pleasant evening with a few drinks at Sunderland Yacht Club's excellent clubhouse, we set off the following morning for Hartlepool. With a very light wind almost on the nose we motor sailed most of the way. Hartlepool still has a large commercial dock area and a separate former docks now forming the new marina.This is approached by a channel dredged to a low water depth of only 0.7 metres, barely enough for us even with keel fully raised. Fortunately the tide was well up when we arrived, so we had no difficulty in entering the lock providing access to the marina where we secured to a visitors' berth.

During the afternoon we visited HMS TRINCOMALEE, the oldest British warship afloat, built in 1817.She has been fully restored to her original state and was a sobering reminder of living conditions in those days. The marina has good facilities, and is within walking distance of large supermarkets, though the area seemed devoid of other shops. So having replenished our fresh provisions, we sailed the following morning. An early departure was necessary as low tide was at 09.00 . We transited the lock at 0700.

Wind was again very light, forcing us to motor to our next stop, Runswick Bay, a pleasant anchorage said to be safe except in strong south east winds. This gave us some concern as the previous south easterly had created quite a swell. We hoped this would subside.

Weather forecasts continued to promise a return to westerly winds, but so far they had not materialised. Our passage took us across the main shipping channel into the Tees, but as it was low tide we did not anticipate any close encounters. Several ships were anchored offshore but none moved. We reached Runswick Bay without incident and anchored in 3 metres of water with an expected high water level of 8 metres.As a precaution we let out all our 30 metres of chain. We then went ashore in the inflatable to explore the village, a delightful little place with old houses huddled together and only footpaths between them. Moving in must have been a problem! The swell rolled the boat quite heavily at her anchorage and we were looking forward to moving on the following day.

We were somewhat taken aback to wake up to thick fog, so thick that we could not see the shore some 200 yards away! Thoughts of moving on were abandoned, and when the fog lifted enough to see the shore we returned in our dinghy. It was Lifeboat Day in the village and much effort had been made to set up a number of stalls. Although well attended it was disappointing that the lifeboat rescue demonstrations in the Bay could hardly be seen..

As another night here seemed inevitable we surveyed the beach for a suitable spot to dry out as we wanted to avoid another rolling night. Having identified a stone free patch of sand we returned on board and moved Limmershin close inshore and anchored where we knew we would be aground for most of the tide. The lifeboat crew expressed some concern at our proximity to the shore, but we assured them that with our keel raised we would remain upright! We duly "landed" later in the evening and had at least half the night comfortably still. That evening we enjoyed an excellent fish and chip supper in the local pub.

The following morning was still misty but looked as though it would lift. We had to leave early to avoid going aground again, so sailed at 0700. The passage to Whitby was only 6 miles so we arrived at near low water and were unable to pass through the swing bridge until 2 hours before high water, at about 1530. We accordingly secured alongside the fish quay, which duly dried out. When we saw some of the debris on the mud around us we hoped we had not landed on anything nasty! However nothing poked through the hull and when we floated off to our relief no water came in. At around 1500 a passing boat told us that the bridge was about to open, so we hastily untied ourselves and proceeded up river.

Having passed through the bridge we secured at the visitors' end of the marina which consists of one long pontoon. It was Sunday, 1st August and Lifeboat Day at Whitby. The streets were crowded with holidaymakers and the whole town had a festive atmosphere. We climbed the 199 steps to the ruined abbey from which there is a fine view of this ancient town. Whitby is famous for its fish and chips so this was a must for our supper, eaten on a park seat watching a number of small boys fishing in the river. The evening was rounded off by the arrival of GRAND TURK, star of the TV Hornblower series, a three masted square rigger, with cannons firing as she came up river and berthed close to us.

This was the turning point of our cruise, so on Monday morning we were up and away early to catch the bridge on the morning high tide. Our original intention was to return via Runswick Bay, but our second night there had put us behind schedule, so we headed straight for Hartlepool, a distance of 23 miles. We had a light following wind and were able to sail most of the way. We needed to lose time as there would be too little water in the channel until about 1300. On arrival we entered slowly with keel half raised, and even then touched ground several times before we were able to enter the lock. With all this judging of tides and lock times we realised how fortunate we were at Blyth with no lock or tidal constraints.

During the afternoon we sampled Hartlepool's other attraction, the Heritage Quay, a row of replica 18th century houses containing nautical scenes from those times. It was very well done and worth a visit. The following morning we awoke to thick fog again, and as tides dictated an early start for our next planned leg to North Shields, Royal Quays Marina, this was abandoned for the day.Jane, who has a recurrent back problem was in considerable pain so it was decided to investigate her return home by train. Luckily Hartlepool Station is only a short walk from the marina and trains run to our home town, Hexham, every hour, so she decided to return the next day. It later poured with rain so we spent a rather miserable day sampling the other "delights" of Hartlepool..

The following morning, Wednesday 4th August, dawned with thick fog. While we were sitting in the cabin getting breakfast ready, there was a sudden hissing sound from the engine space accompanied by a cloud of acrid smoke. Suspecting an electrical short I immediately switched off the master switch and the hissing ceased and the smoke gradually cleared. We appeared to have avoided a major fire but were now without electrics. When the smoke had cleared Nick examined the engine wiring and found the supply lead from battery to main fusebox had almost burnt through. Further investigation revealed that the live terminal behind the fusebox had made contact with an earth, though how this had happened when no one was disturbing it remains a mystery. We fortunately had a quantity of spare wire on board but needed to buy some connectors. The marina's chandlery were unable to supply the right size but told us of a motor accessory shop a "short" walk away. This proved to be at least a mile, but was able to supply our needs.

Meanwhile Jane had left us for the station, and we spent the rest of the morning replacing the wiring and preventing a further occurrence. The experience highlights the need for an in line fuse in the main supply cable as the fuses only protected the wiring beyond the fusebox. The fog had by now lifted but visibility was still not good. We decided to leave on the afternoon tide and accordingly exited the lock at 1500. However soon after leaving we met a large fishing boat that had left with us, returning and indicating that the fog was thickening. We could see that visibility was worsening and as we had a fair way to go decided to return. So having spent about two hours negotiating the lock we found ourselves back at our berth!

Thursday morning began foggy again, but it did look as though it would soon lift, so we decided to go on the morning tide, having seen more than enough of Hartlepool! Outside the harbour the fog was patchy, sometimes visibility about two miles then suddenly down to less than 100 yards. I was thankful for GPS and plotted our position at 30 minute intervals. We had decided to make for Sunderland rather than Royal Quays as this would be only 16 miles. The wind was still south easterly but only force 1 - 2 so it was a case of motoring again. Fortunately we had plenty of diesel and Limmershin uses only a litre a hour. Nevertheless it was a worrying trip and we were glad to see Sunderland pier lighthouse loom out of the murk exactly as predicted.

We took the opportunity of visiting the National Glass Centre at Sunderland, a striking modern building and were able to watch some highly skilled glass blowers at work. Otherwise our stay was uneventful and the following morning, although there was still some fog, it soon lifted and enabled us to continue our way home to Blyth where we arrived at lunchtime. My carefully arranged passage plans hadn't exactly worked out as planned, but at least we had gained some useful experience in dealing with fog and other emergencies! Maybe we should have gone to the Med this year too!