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An Ancient Mariner’s view of Northumberland

Solent Gaffer, John Lowrie, contributed this memory as the OGA50 Round Britain fleet rounded the north of Scotland in 2013.

My father’s first boat was a gaffer called ‘Viking’, in which he sailed up and down the Northumberland coast. As you may imagine, with a name like that, she was built in Norway to the traditions of Colin Archer. My earliest memory is sitting, not at my mother’s knee, but at her foot. She’d sit on the weather rail, with me baling out the clinker bilge using a wooden-handled galvanised scoop. In those days there was plenty of scope for water to pour down one’s neck between the sou’wester and the none-too waterproof waxed canvas coat. There was no shelter between safe ports on that bleak coast, exposed to everything between North and Southeast. There are few off-lying dangers, but rocky headlands separate the grand sweeping beaches. The absence of prominent landmarks makes progress along the coast difficult to follow.

Our home port was Blyth, in those days a coal exporting port which still had the overhead conveyers to prove it. The river ran black with the coal dust, and the bucket dredger ‘Cowpen’ had a full time job to keep the port from silting up. Our haven of peace was the Club Ship ‘Cretehatch’, home to the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club (RNYC). It was a former ferro-cement Admiralty tug put to good use in a busy commercial harbour, where dockside space was at a premium, giving access to deep water yacht moorings for members. I have memories of the panelled mahogany and polished brass interior and the Stateroom lined with copies of Lloyds Register of Yachts, where us children were not allowed! Sadly, the ‘Cretehatch’ was sunk in a storm in 1949, and the Club was confined to shore base for several years until she was replaced by a former wooden lightship, the oldest in existence, having last served on the Calshot Spit.

Under this guise the Club has thrived, and now offers safe haven and warm welcome to any of the Round Britain Challenge fleet who have time to kill before their rendezvous at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The RNYC is equipped with visitors’ pontoons alongside the clubship, and is manned seven days a week. As a complete contrast, if any of the fleet gets caught short on the tide in the vicinity of the Farne Islands, and wants to anchor for six hours or an overnight stop in fine weather, there is a secret secluded anchorage outside the Inner Farne Island called The Kettle. The secret is that it is one of only two anchorages in the UK administered by the National Trust. The anchorage is accessible from the North at all states of the tide, and from the South at two hours before high tide (which is when you will need to head South).

John Lowrie, OGA Solent Area

Royal Northumberland Yacht Club
National Trust: Farne Islands