‘Cruises of the Joan’ by W E Sinclair is from a delightful series, published by the Lodestar Library. In this extract the skipper sails from Grimsby to Middlesborough with a stop at Whitby where he describes his welcome into the harbour amidst a regatta where he was ‘incommoding the competitors’. The series is published on ‘Sailing by’ with permission from the publisher, Lodestar Books.
The photograph illustrating this extract pre-dates Sinclair’s visit to Whitby in the ‘Joan’ by about 40 years and is from the Frank Meadow Sutcliffe Collection. Sutcliffe, active between 1875 and 1910 in Whitby, was probably one of the greatest photographers of his day. His large camera was made of mahogany with brass fittings and it took ‘whole plate’ glass negatives (6.5″x8.5″).
I stayed about a fortnight in Grimsby and on May 19th I went into Royal Dock to be ready for a start on Whit-Sunday. The dockmaster hustled me from one place to another and then charged me 12s. 6d., without being in the least affected by my remonstrances.
I was away by 9 a.m. The wind was offshore, good and steady, with a smooth sea; it was a sailing passage such as allowed you to keep the coffee-pot going all the time. During the night the comfort grew less; the wind rose and the sea put the coffee-pot out of action. By morning the wind had gone ahead and what with reefing and unreefing, losing the dinghy and catching it again, having the tide against me, finding false winds inshore and rough water right away, it took me till 2 p.m. to reach Whitby, twenty-nine hours in all.
I had to wait outside for three hours till the tide gave me enough water in. The afternoon was warm and sunny so that the hours passed pleasantly while I washed both the ship and myself. My entry resembled a triumph, for I was received by a pierful of holiday folk with great enthusiasm. After I had blushed and bowed and waved my recently washed hands, I discovered that there was a regatta and that I was in the middle of it incommoding the competitors. That, however, was the fault of the regatta. I profited in getting a berth allotted me at once.
The ‘Joan’ was placed against a quay wall where fenders required my constant attention while the boat was afloat, and that was for six hours out of every twelve. Many people showed interest in the ‘Joan’. Small boys shied bits of orange peel on her decks; youths dropped empty cigarette packets; their elders let fall their poor opinions while they examined her from twelve feet above. My life became a public one. All my actions were noted and described aloud. A small group came one night to see me clean my teeth before going to bed.
Getting out of Whitby was trying to temper and nerves. A light air in, altered to an unknown variable by the harbour walls; a slight tidal stream out; and a discouraging swell: these conditions make the motorless ‘Joan’ hate harbours. The swell turned her bow towards one of the piers, making it necessary to use a sweep in great haste; as soon as she pointed right again the swell put her over to the other pier: and so on.
After cleaning all the harbour dirt off and making all tidy, the sail was a thing to be enjoyed. The wind allowed me to reach Saltburn with very few tacks. Off this town I suddenly discovered I was heading for Salt Scars, a stretch of rocky shoals near the shore, and seeing there was no chance of getting to the Tees before night, I stayed where I was. Here I tried heaving to under foresail only, going towards the shore and away from it all through the night. With the wind northerly from the Scars and a poppling sea this plan saved much wear and chafe of the mainsail.
When I went into the Tees in the morning, the view was alarming, for buoys and beacons of all shapes and sizes lay scattered in quantities across the water. But they happily sorted themselves out as I came near. The channel, a cable and a half wide, is bordered by training walls, straight dykes built in the river; they are buoyed and marked profusely. For most of the six miles to Middlesbrough I had to turn in a light air. And the Tees is a really busy river.
I used to think the Thames was a tight place at times. You may concentrate the Thames into a short and narrow stream; multiply the smoke by a hundred; divide the small boat anchorages by infinity; and you will get some idea of the pleasure of sailing on the Tees. There was no sail but the ‘Joan’s to be seen; and the crews of all the steamers gazed in compassion at her. I grew depressed as I searched for a spot where I might bring up; it seemed as though I might sail on forever on this river without finding a temporary home. Circumstances at last obliged me do something. Above the transporter bridge the tide turned against me; I poked into a space where there was just room for a boat and there tied between a large buoy and a small floating dock. In this space the boat was safe, quiet and disgustingly dirty.
For a week the wind remained persistently north or thereabouts. You could not walk for rain; you could not sit still for cold; you could not sail for foul wind. The only thing to do was to write cheerful and untruthful letters to your friends.