‘Cherub’ sails via the Trent to avoid gales: 1895

In this second of three extracts from an article published in Yachting Monthly, 1908, Albert Strange decides to take his newly built, small single-hander, ‘Cherub II’ via the Humber and Trent to the Wash, avoiding the gales and squally weather at sea. Departing Grimsby to sail the tidal rivers and canals, the passage goes well until he finds a lock is closed for repairs. Determined not to turn back, we hear how he and his young crew-menber enlist the help of locals to drag ‘Cherub’ overland, passing the damaged lock to reach Boston on the Wash.

A fall of three-tenth in the barometer since the previous night almost decided me, as the morning wore on the wind hardened and kept backing, while the sun grew dull and watery. Long before low water the wind had risen to the force of a gale and the squalls were very heavy. In one of the worst a sloop, which was turning down over the last of the ebb, refused to stay and became completely unmanageable. She finished her career by getting athwart hawse of a barque, and the frenzied struggle to get her clear was a most interesting sight.

The general outlook being so unpromising, I decided to go round to the Wash by way of the Humber and the Trent, and, soon after the tide had begun to make, set off up river with two reefs and whole mizen, almost as much as she wanted, but, by keeping a weather shore aboard, got fairly smooth water, and we smoked along at something like ten knots over the ground. There was a nasty lop of sea in Hull roadsand all beyond, but long before high water we were save inside Ferriby Sluice in fresh still water, and alongside a grassy bank, a great contrast to my two previous day’s experiences. The weather continuing very bad, I stayed two or three day’s at Ferriby.

We left about half flood bound to Gainsborough. But a calm, accompanied by furious rain, only allowed us to get just below that most horrible bridge which spans the Trent above Keadby, and we had to spend the next nine hours at anchor, for the ebb runs that length of time in the Trent.

The next tide took us to Gainsborough, turning to windward all the way; and the next after a night’s stay at the interesting town, took us to Torksey, where fortunately I found a man with a horse going to Lincoln. We bargained, and I got the tow for three shillings, which, considering that there was a very light wind dead ahead, was a blessing without any disguise. We got to Lincoln about dusk and anchored in the middle of Brayford Water, surrounded by nothing more dangerous than pleasure boats and swans. Here we visited a good many people, who were interested to see a ‘sea going’ sort of boat so far from her proper element. But the next morning awful news awaited us. We were actually told that we could not go on, as Bardney Lock, below Lincoln, was under repair, and nothing – not even water – could get through! The gross impropriety of such an event was too terrible for words of much more than one syllable to express.

After having come all this way round inside, to have to go back again and round outside in such weather as we have been having was not to be accepted without a struggle, and I was determined to go on to Bardney and to get through somehow, even if I had to use dynamite. And so we went on, determined that nothing should send us back, saying the very hardest things we could think of about railway companies, for a railroad company owns the bridge at Keadby, which drowns on an average a man every year, and doubtless the same horrid company owned the lock at Bardney.

It is well to have a lowering mast if you wish to leave Lincoln via the Witham, for canalised stream burrows under the High Street and winds in a semi-subterranean manner through the suburbs for some distance before it reaches the open country. There are locks, too, to negotiate, and we found these, at any rate, in good order, and passed slowly along the steamy, grey, misty, rainy atmosphere. On the banks were many anglers, doubtless enjoying the weather as being the most propitious fort their gentle art, and far off awaited us the ruined lock at Bardney and the unsolved problem as to how to get through it. The very faintest of airs gave us bare steerage-way, and it was noon before we finally reached the problem which it was necessary to solve or else retrace our way to Grimsby.

Yes, alas, it was there, bolted and barred by big balks of timber! The lock-keeper came out and looked at us, shook his head, and said he thought we should have to go back. I had forgotten to purchase dynamite, and it really looked as if all progress was impossible. We made fast and a large Lincolnshire man strolled up. He heard our tale of woe, bit a large piece of tobacco of one of my plugs, and then said ‘Might pull her over if we’d some help’. Grand, nay, superbly magnificent idea! But where to get the help? For no houses were visible. Oh, he’d just look up some friends of his who would come along (it being Saturday) and give a hand if there was anything forthcoming for their trouble! Good heavens! I would give untold gold rather than go back, and speeded him on his way with large promises and a three-finger nip of whisky as an earnest of good things to come.

So off he went, and we began to strip the boat and carry the things beyond the lock. Presently he returned with four other men like unto himself in stature. The five then solemnly undertook to haul the ‘Cherub’ over the bank, along the lock side, and launch her again for the sum of two shillings each and a quart of beer apiece, and to exercise all due care in the operation. We had only the oars to roll her on and our own cables to haul with, but, after much pulling, splashing, and sweating, we succeeded in getting that 8 cwt. of bare boat out of the river, dragged her some hundred yards through nettles, weeds, and rushes, and launched her into her native element below the lock.

Never was a boat fitted out in so short a time. In half an hour or so we were being towed down the river to a little ‘pub’. That must have depended upon the beasts of the field and the birds of the air for its customers, for it stood quite alone, hiding behind the river-bank, and in its modest parlour I settled up with my helpers, the sum of 11s. 8d. Satisfying all their claims, and, to judge by their remarks, leaving them my debtors. A little breeze springing up, we went on our way, the five stalwarts lined up on the bank watching us disappear into the rain and mist, and the crew of the ‘Cherub’ certainly light-hearted.

We got to Boston next day in a howling gale, a wintry blast from the north lashing the river into wavelets. I returned on board after a tramp through the town, feeling that the gods were making sport of all sailors in sending such weather.

Albert Strange Association: Cherub II

‘A single-handed cruise in the North Sea’, Albert Strange
Published with permission: Yachting Monthly, May 1908