‘Silver Cloud’ sails to Sunderland: 1876

Beautifully bound cover of first edition William Forwell, ‘A thousand miles cruise in the 'Silver Cloud': from Dundee to France and back, in a small boat’
Beautifully bound cover of first edition by William Forwell

William Forwell, clergyman of Dundee, had ‘Silver Cloud’ built for him by A. Burn, Montrose, in 1876.

Between 1876 and 1878, we find him sailing south down the east coasts of Scotland and England, thence from Dover to Calais, returning by roughly the same route accompanied by his 14-year old son.

In this extract he clearly enjoys the short passage from Warkworth to Sunderland where he’s agreed meet an old college friend and preach in his church on Sunday.

Saturday, 26th May, 2.30 a.m

Departing Warkworth on the next leg of his passage from Dundee to France (and back), William Forwell, clergyman of Dundee, accompanied by his 14-year old son, enjoys his passage along the rocky coast from Warkworth to Sunderland, where he stops to preach on Sunday morning.

Lo, the zephyrs fan the waters, a glorious westerly breeze. We leave the harbour by 3.30. Sunrise on a summer sea is simply indescribable. The grandest language, the most glowing metaphors, come short of the conception. Now on our port the Coquet Island raises its golden sites out of the blue deep; the chalk-white light-towers glisten on its crest; their lamps which sent their golden light over the dark waters, now, borrowing the eastern beam, sparkle with a blaze of crystal sheen, whilst beside them is a dark gesticulating figure. It is the keeper, who has spied us, and is waving adieu.

Hauxley Reefs, which a yacht struck last year and went suddenly down, and the Bondicar Bush, are the starboard dangers. From all such dangers, however, for the time being, the off-shore westerly wind has swept the sea smooth.

At a grand pace we speed along, the wind so fresh that the full sail is just sufficient. The Coquet, astern now, melts away in the morning gold. On our port beam the straight line which marks the meeting of the heavenly blue and the deeper blue of ocean is beautifully broken by ships under shining sails, pressing on in a line parallel to our own. Away in yonder, on the starboard bow, blithely sits the town of Blyth in the morning beams. Some fishers plying their unsteady calling dance across our bow, when a shout is exchanged.

Cheering on the wild waves is a shout from a human heart. Hartley, nestling behind the rocks and among the cliffs, next glides past. Right ahead now appears the high rocky promontory, crowned with the venerable ruins of the castle and ancient priory, which marks the mouth of the Tyne.

We are soon abreast of its far-reaching piers and bold cliffs, and the glittering terraces which Tynemouth has flung over her shoulder next the sea shine in all their morning grandeur.

Steamers are sailing out and in, leaving a silver thread behind them, like so many shuttles weaving the web of the nation’s wealth.

Why wonder that we long to leave ‘the dull unchanging shore?’

‘Give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest’s roar.’

Presently the waters begin to boil beneath us, indicating the crossing of the tides off the Tyne bar; but the bow of the ‘Silver Cloud’ is directed for Souter Point, and the Tyne, with tugs and sparkling terraced cliffs, dissolves behind.

Only 9 a.m, and we are twenty miles on our way. From Shields to Sunderland the rocks rise in piles along the shore, and present a fantastic front to the ocean. The deep caves dug by the lashing waves, the dark holes and jutting eminences, suggest the figure with the bare skull, deep eye-sockets, and crossed bones.

These rocks, raising their rough heads on high, are the eternal tombstones of hundreds that have gone down to the grave at their feet, by the natives unheard of and unknown.

Souter Point is past, Sunderland all in view, and only 10 a.m.

With that wind, and now the tide in our favour, for we have been stemming it since we started, how easy to add to the 26 already made, another 50 miles. But we have to see our old college friend, preach in his grand church, and spend the Sabbath here; and the ‘Silver Cloud’, in the slack of the tide and with good aim, runs into the port, which, after Newcastle, is the greatest for shipping coal in the world, and is resorted to by vessels of the largest tonnage from all the commercial countries on the globe.

We entered the port by the northern opening, that is, the one formed by the river Wear; spent three hours in search of a quiet place to lie; failed to find such, and moored among the cobles; changed our dress; said something about our boat to the keepers of the dock-gates; and then plunged into the smoke and density of a Saturday afternoon in a large town in search of a genial countenance which we had not seen for six years.

William Forwell, ‘A thousand miles cruise in the ‘Silver Cloud’: from Dundee to France and back, in a small boat’Blackie & Son, Glasgow, 1878

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