Holland to Ardfern - bulletin five
Hull to Blyth, Northumbria.
Crew: Titsoot Tottie, Broontroosers and Princess Sha Sha.
The handsome ex-lifeboat 'Deneys Reitz' sits quietly in the muddy puddle that they call the Holding Basin for the Hull Dock marina, waiting for the lock gates to open. Just outside the turd-coloured, silt-laden waters of the Humber stream past at 4 knots.
Hull features in Don's spotty past and he falls into a reverie........
The year is 1956. The setting is the Lower Sixth classroom at the City School, Lincoln. The class is looking forward with thirsty anticipation to an educational visit to the Hull Brewery.
'Mouse' Craven, who hails from Yorkshire, raises his hand and enquires: "Please sir, when a' we goin' to 'Ull?"
'Soapy' Hudson, form master, is irritable: "Hull, boy, speak properly". Craven: "Aye, thass-wor-ah-sed, 'Ull".
Hudson: "Come out here, Craven".
Craven, "Ow! Ow! Wassatfor?"
The scene morphs to 1970 and Sincil Bank, the home of Lincoln City football club and science in soccer. The teams sprinting from the tunnel are Lincoln City and Hull City.
The Lincoln fans are in fine melodic form, bursting into traditional folk song: "Stuff them f......g haddocks up yer arse". The 'Ull fans are lightning fast with their repartee: "Sheeeepshaggers", they howl. Score at full time, Lincoln 5, Hull 1. Serve them bloody cod'eads right.
The year is 1963, month is December, the time 6 am - the place drear New Holland, Lincolnshire bank of the Humber. It is dark, the weather is cold and foggy. A paddle steamer named 'Tattersall Castle' waits; lights misty in the murk, steam hissing quietly, to transport a handful of hardy souls including Don across the Humber to Hull. Don is visiting the Birds Eye Foods Hull fish plant. He thinks, "Hope it runs aground again, and they open the bar like last time...."
Totty also has form, being descended from a great-grandfather who was a leather merchant in Hull and whose daughters, Charlotte and Mabel (later to become grandmother Mimi and Aunt Green) were the stylish but eccentric "Browne tarts" who took Birkdale in Lancashire by storm after the old boy died.
But, how has Hull coped with the fact that there are no haddocks left to stuff? Very well, is the appraisal of the 'Deneys Reitz' social economics team. The old docks have been well converted into marinas, entertainment, eating and residential venues, the town centre is full of handsome municipal buildings and the life of the city, past and present is brilliantly portrayed through a cluster of very well conceived museums. Good shops abound. Continuing regeneration is evident. Outside on the river, the docks buzz with passenger ferries to and from Holland, Norway and Germany and the banks are lined with oil refineries, chemical plants and ro-ro terminals. Huge tankers and container ships are at anchor, waiting for the tide. Hull seems to have coped quite well with drastic change. The world's largest fishing port is no more, but the city seems to be renewing itself vigorously.
Fortunately economic regeneration and social niceties have no obvious correlation. So as we sit in the dockland pub enjoying from a distance the goings-on of a group of customers dressed and behaving as the cast of the Rocky Horror Show, Charlotte exclaims "Wow! Look at that!" Outside, a pink stretch limo has drawn up and out has tumbled a bride and assorted bridesmaids all clearly having enjoyed several toasts to the Happy Couple. The bride and one of the more glamorous attendants dash for the public lavatory, only to find it locked for the night - swift reccy of pier head - find sheltered wall - bride spreads extensive skirt - bridesmaid disappears behind it - short pause - bridesmaid emerges looking triumphant, leaving strange damp patch on wall.
The intrepid crew, mindful of the words of met. ace Bartlett - "Ye shall surely perish in the oncoming Force 6/7 North Easterlies, stay in port" - hire a car and set off to stay with old friends Allen, Rozel and Mickle Harford in York, another place that continues to boom - where else but a place of assured affluence could an establishment like Betty's cake shop flourish with its dedication to delicacies that you absolutely don't need but really, really want? Allen keeps close watch on the weather forecasts and Roz and Mickle make sure that we are built up with good food and drink.
Meanwhile, a doughty engineer strips down the anchor winch, replaces the motor and re-builds the gearbox - all for a relatively paltry sum. Nothing wrong with the small independent craftsmen - its just the donkeys who lead us and the lack of replacements for the older generation of apprenticeship-trained people that is a worry.
So it is not until 4.30 am three days later that 'Deneys Reitz', helmed by a bleary Don, noses out of the dock and into the misty early morning river. Flags are drooping, the wind has dropped to nothing, exactly as predicted by Bartlett. The horrifyingly early start is to catch the tide and soon the old boat is bustling down river with four knots of tide behind her. The only sounds are the purposeful thrum of the mighty engines and Charlotte and Don bickering over whether we are about to run aground. We pass the anchorage at Spurn Point, now a millpond, and head out to sea, avoiding the mudbanks called The Binks that stretch several miles out from the mouth.
After three or four hours, a marvellous transformation - the sea turns from brown to blue and seabirds of all kinds appear in their thousands; puffins, razorbills, guillimots, gannets and terns. To port, three miles inshore are the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head. A big dorsal fin and sinuous back carve through the water: "Charlotte, a whale!" Bugger! She's on the toilet again. She thinks seeing whales is the first sign of delirium tremens.
The passing scene unfolds: Filey, Scarborough, Robin Hood's Bay and soon the cliffs and stark ruin of Whitby Abbey, home of Dracula, appear from round the corner. The harbour entrance is crammed with small yachts ("Get out of the bloody way"), large fishing boats ("After you, sir") and - the old Whitby lifeboat, slightly converted to take trippers out of the harbour and expose them to the habits of Watson lifeboats. Hear the screams as the punters get their knickers rolled off and spray flies over their heads! The old boats hoot respectfully to each other. A band plays on the pier head - specially for us?
The narrows of the harbour entrance are negotiated, the mooring slot we booked in advance, outside a fishing boat, available. Alas! BT goes to the wrong mooring, on the wrong side of the harbour. This is pointed out by a local, who puts us right and says that we have a berth on the council moorings. “But”, says our new friend, “I would stay here as the marina attendant won't be about - he has a cup of tea at this time”. “Aye”, he continues, “He's a bit like a Park Attendant, only not so swift!”
Eventually we are parked, and the crew, Sha, Charlotte and Don, stroll ashore past the pub where in 2000 Broontroosers and Pete Day celebrated our previous triumphant arrival for many hours. Fish and chips were our goal - and nothing but the best would do. The restaurant of the Champion Fish Fryer 2005 our destination, as the world's best fish and chips restaurant, 'The Magpie' had a thirty yard queue outside.
Replete with double haddock and chips, (chomped, not stuffed) we strolled round the old town, inspected the Whitby Jet shops and a consumed a final pint (Don) before the brave crew turned in early to bed to rest before the next taxing leg, 66 miles to Blyth in Northumbria, with an iffy forecast: "Watery grave distinct possibility, winds rising from North West Force Four to Five" - Bartlett.
Next morning, brave 'Deneys' and its crew of adventurers nose out of Whitby harbour. It's calm, no wind. Don sniffs for wavelets. What's this?? A considerable swell has erupted overnight from the North East. As there's little wind, it's no immediate problem, but mark my words, if Bartlett's forecast North-westerly wind gets up, we're in for a nasty ride.....
Three hours later...
Broontroosers has just been banished from the wheelhouse, as the rest of the crew (a majority of 2-1) can't stand the racket of the demister fans. He has been invited to go and steam elsewhere. Outside, it's foggy. No, it's not, get a cloth and clear the windows!
That's better, now we can see that the wind has risen to Force 5 NW and the resulting white-capped waves are colliding with the big NE swell, creating sea conditions that would, in Don's view, cause an iceberg to steam. The only people professing to enjoy themselves are Sha, Totty (maybe) and 'Deneys' (emphatically) - a majority of say, 2 1/2 to 1. The old boat is galumphing about, indulging in its favourite sport of head-butting waves (Bring 'em on, the bigger the better).
Down in the cabin, Don has abandoned reading about Shackleton's murderous privations in the Arctic ocean or somewhere equally dreadful and has repaired to the bunk at the back to practice being weightless. This is easy, as each big head-butt at the front causes a lurch at the back that throws bodies into the air. Nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Eventually, as we near Sunderland and Newcastle, he reappears and requests the wheel back, as this seems to him the least unpleasant option available. Sha has steered for 3 hours with every sign of enjoyment and has not emitted a puff of condensing moisture. We resist the siren call of South Shields, and head unerringly for our chosen destination, Blyth, Northhumbria, entering the harbour and blessed shelter from the battle with the billows at 4pm. Blyth may not be much of a town, but its harbour is perfectly sheltered and the ale at the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club pure nectar.
The lands of Danes, Geordies and the Scotti beckons - wonder if we will understand a word they say, Hull was bad enough......
Wey Hey, hinnies, wha' ya gangin' noo?....