Holland to Ardfern - bulletin four

Lowestoft to the River Humber and Hull.

Crew: Titsoot, Broontroosers and Princess Sha Sha.

Dear All,

Here is a tale of terror and adversity, just to prove that all is not cream puffs and genteel afternoon tea on the doughty ship 'Deneys Reitz'.

The Wash, that treacherous, shallow expanse of sea between Norfolk and God's own county, Lincolnshire, had established a terrible reputation even before it inundated King John and his retinue. Since that famous event, many a well-found craft has come to grief on its shifting sandbanks - in fact, the chart looks a bit like a marine graveyard in places. (It is, it is - Broontroosers).

Our mission was to traverse the Norfolk coast, which disappears gradually to the left, plod across the Wash, with no land visible, and eventually into the mighty treacherous and bleak River Humber - total trip, over 100 miles at 8 knots if the tides are kind. (There are no ports of refuge on the way and if you are captured we shall deny all knowledge of your existence).

This then was the first big test of our mighty quest to find the West - is that poetry? (No, piss-poor doggerel - Totty).

The appointed day dawned early (4am),hangover-free and not quite calm. Even at this hour, micro-wavelets disturbed the Lowestoft harbour waters. Don felt this to be a bad omen, but was overridden, and we started, weaving our way past wind farms and sandbanks off Great Yarmouth. As foretold (by some), the wind began to rise sharply from the West, thought to be a propitious direction, owing to the shelter provided. Alas! Account had not been taken (by some) of the increasing fetch caused by the Wash, a bloody great 30-mile coastal indentation, which fed a rapid and alarming increase in the size of short beam-on waves over the shallow waters.

BT's steaming - a sad malaise

At this stage, there is a need for a short explanatory digression. Don is by now well known in some quarters, particularly his own, as an excellent helmsman. But, when the waves increase in magnitude, his equilibrium becomes a little disturbed. Strangely, when the waves become really big, equilibrium is somewhat restored and he battles on, silently and heroically. This means that there is a 'Zone of Dis-equilibrium' somewhere between sea states Slight and Rough. 'Disequilibrium' in Broontrooser's case means a considerable rise in body temperature. An increase in body temperature means that he emits moisture - he literally steams. As the wheelhouse doors and windows are usually closed owing to spray flying all over the place, the windows become steamed up and the inmates can't see out. Whilst this can have its advantages, in balance it is felt desirable to be able to see rocks, other boats and all the other little obstacles and detritus floating about in the ocean. At the point that the noise of the demisters drives others to distraction it seems best for him to withdraw from the wheelhouse and steam elsewhere. Thus, on this trip, he withdrew for a period, leaving the steering to Sha Sha and Totty. This created an immediate solution, but a long term conundrum, as Sha Shas cannot be kept in cupboards always ready for instant use. Anyone got ideas for a solution?

By the time we were in striking distance of the wild and lonely waters of the mighty river Humber, Broontroosers returned to duty and it was clear that our original plan to anchor inside the mouth of the river at Spurn Point were well and truly snookered. ("On no account should small craft anchor inside Spurn Point in strong Westerly winds" - East Coast Pilot). A quick look through the binoculars at what looked like a mini-Maelstrom inside the anchorage quelled even the most bullish amongst the crew (Sha Sha and Totty). Our navigator had already established that the ports of Hull and Grimsby were unattainable due to limited tidal access and diminishing daylight. She identified the only other avaliable anchorage some way upriver, prettily situated near an oil refinery. A quick discussion with Humber Vessel Traffic System radio established that there was indeed an anchorage - although the man Don spoke to seemed to think we were barking mad messing about in this huge wild bleak river late in the evening. So up-river we flogged against a vigorous tide. The proceedings were enlivened by the weather forecast from redoubtable Met man Bartlett ("Ye shall surely perish"), which foretold further rising winds the next day. So we decided to anchor up between by Killingholme oil refinery and chemical complex and a Ro Ro berth, in a tidal current of 4 knots (quite a lot). The anchor went down easily, and we put out some 30 meters of chain.

All seemed well, and after spending half an hour anxiously gauging whether the anchor was dragging or not, Broontroosers was forcibly dragged into the cabin and given a glass of something red and comforting.

All remained well until 11pm, by which time the crew had retired. Suddenly Broontroosers shot bolt upright in his bunk, banging his head painfully. “What's that?” he hissed, “OW, bugger and blast”. Indeed there was a noise - rumble, rumble, rumble - from the bowels of the boat. Panicky investigations conducted in underpants eventually led to the engine room and the discovery that the tide was running so fast that it was turning the propellers, thus creating a mighty noise. No efforts to jam the shafts worked, so poor Broontroosers waited for what seemed (and was) hours until the tide turned and he was able to jam bits of wood into the gap twixt shaft and gearbox. He was then heard by totty sitting out on the deck, drinking port from the bottle and congratulating himself for his skill and heroism. (“Well, nobody else will” - BT).

Next morning, as the anchor had held, we consumed a leisurely breakfast, waiting for the tide to rise, so that we could lock in to Hull docks.

Come the appointed hour, with the wind rising noticeably, BT removed the wooden chocks and Sha and Charlotte assembled on the foredeck to oversee the hauling of the anchor. BT started the mighty engines, went ahead into the tide and Charlotte pressed the 'UP' switch. The winch groaned, started, raised about 10 meters of chain and stopped dead. Attempts to revive it were greeted by the whole system tripping out repeatedly. The winch had seized solid! The rubber hammer failed to revive it. Loud were the expletives - "Shit, bugger, groan! Pan Pan?? (BT). No, shut up and get pulling", (Totty and Sha). The anchor weighs 60 pounds, plus 20 meters of chain. The manual handle was fetched and the crew struggled to rotate the winch. Then began a titanic struggle, Charlotte hauled in chain over the bow, Sha Sha groaned over the winch handle, BT rushed between the wheelhouse and the foredeck to give a hand on the handle. In between, he manoeuvred the boat, guided by violent hand signals from the foredeck, Back! Forward! Right! Left!

A film of the proceedings - people hauling, winding, gesticulating violently, rushing in and out of the wheelhouse, falling to their knees and jumping up again would have looked to a casual watcher like the annual summer cruise of the St. Vitus's Dance Society. But the two doughty women prevailed, with a little help from BT, who had been attending the gym on a regular basis, and foot by foot, the chain came in, until the glorious moment when the anchor rose from the fast-flowing muddy waters of the Humber. What a feat of strength and fortitude - as nobody else was there to witness it in the middle of the Humber let it be recorded that Sha and Totty are a determined and muscular pair of old birds (Not so old in the case of Sha).

So, the old boat and its knackered crew crept up the river and into the Hull sea lock, a challenge in itself across a 4 knot tide. Was Hull to be the anticipated clapped out, poverty stricken ex-world's-largest-fishing-port-now- struck-low-into-desolation, poverty and decay by the death of the deep sea fishing industry? Would England win the World Cup?

Not on your Nelly in either case.

More anon.