In Tandem

Peter Nicholson

(original watercolours by the author)

During the long winter of 1996-97 Terry Taylor and I attended the Shore-based Ocean Yachtmaster Course at South Shields Marine Technical College, working together on the homework. In the same winter, the first of my retirement, I enjoyed a trip from Holland with Kevin MacFarlane in his new yacht Gemini, and enjoyed three ski trips to Switzerland. When relaxing over a pint, Terry and I decided to do some solo sailing in the 1997 season. This decision led to the idea of sailing in company down the North East coast to either the Humber or Lowestoft, and across the North Sea to Ijmuiden and up the Ijsselmeer to Den Helder and Texel and then back to Spurnhead and up the coast to Blyth. Terry borrowed copies of “North Sea Harbours” and I borrowed charts of the East Coast and the North Sea and Holland from John Barry, and the planning started.

Monday June 9th (High Water 0642 Low Water 1309)

Aquila at sea

Aquila at sea

After a couple of hours loading and fuelling, we set off from Blyth at 12.00 in a light southerly wind, using the first leg as a gentle shake-down cruise. Terry had fitted La Simpatia with a new G.P.S. with world chart facility and I was pleased with my new mainsail. We kept in visual contact, and reached Hartlepool at 1930, entering the Marina and tying up side by side. After a shower and clean up, we had some dinner and then joined some of the local fisherman in the nearby pub for a couple of jars. (Marina Fee £9. 10 for Aquila)

Tuesday June 10th (High Water 0 741 Low Water 1406)

We left Hartlepool at a comfortable 11.30 with wind Southerly 15kts. The weather was fair and we had an uneventful sail down to Whitby, arrived below the bridge at 1930 and followed another yacht to the visitors berths on the town pontoon. We moored up alongside each other and set off for the compulsory Fish and Chips, followed by a refreshing brew of ale. (Mooring Fee £11. 47 for Aquila)

Wednesday June IIth (High Water 0827 Low Water 1450)

La Simpatia

La Sympatia

We passed through the bridge at Whitby at 1030 and headed out into a big sea, with a Southerly wind. We had become familiar with holding our position within sight of each other and having a radio conversation every hour or so. Slowly the wind died and the sea flattened and we arrived off Scarborough at 1700, waited in the bay until 1830, and scraped over the shallow entrance into the old fish harbour. We met a Yacht Club member who invited us to the Club and showed us the new pontoons that the town was placing in the East Harbour, after dredging the old dock. We had a meal in the Club, enjoyed the fine view from the Clubhouse window and had a pleasant chat with some of the members. (Mooring fee £6.00 for Aquila)

Thursday 12th June (High Water 0950 Low Water 1600)

After purchasing some spares in the Chandlers and doing some minor repairs, followed by coffee and cakes at a local cafe, we left Scarborough in a light wind, which died on us as we came beam of Filey, and we motored to Bridlington and tied up to the fish key at 1830, after entering with barely any water beneath Terry’s keel. We were pleased to have a berth next to the fishing boats rather than on the cradles used by the local yachts. After a meal in town we visited the local yacht club and enjoyed a friendly evening with some of its members. (Mooring fee £5.20 for Aquila)

Friday 13th June (High Water 1201 Low Water 1830)

After a lazy breakfast and a stroll, we left Bridlington at 1230, and headed south in light winds; after a couple of hours a headwind developed, but we laboured south and looked in at the haven on the south of the Spurn Point. As the weather was not too good we decided to play safe and enter the Dock Isle Marina at Grimsby. It was 2100 when we arrived and we were met by a club member, given good pontoon berths and then we rushed up to the Club Bar for what we expected to be the last half hour – as it turned out we were invited to a ‘Lock-in’ and assisted their Club funding until 0300! (Marina Berth for Aquila £8.00)

Saturday 14th June (High Water 1305)

After buying additional fresh food at a Danish shop in Grimsby we motored into the outer harbour and hauled up the main in a fresh to strong wind. As we made for the entrance the Harbour Master told us we could not leave the harbour under sail, so we turned back, dropped the main and motored out into a big sea and a Force 7 wind. I was fascinated by a kittiwake which followed my boat for over 2 hours, landing on the rough sea ahead, and then allowing me to sail alongside, and then flying ahead. No doubt it wished I was a fishing trawler!

Our aim was to try for Wells, but the seas were big and the wind up to Force 8, and so we did not expect to get into the rather tricky sand-barred entrance. Squalls increased and in the dark and heavy seas Terry lost a jib sheet which eventually became fast between the rudder and keel – whilst he stood on the foredeck and tugged at the sheet I circled, convinced at one stage, in the poor light, that Terry had fallen overboard. Eventually he retrieved the sheet and in darkness, heavy sea a rain we pressed on south. We tried an approach to Wells, but with big surf foaming over the sand bars we retreated, and headed for Great Yarmouth.

Sunday 15th June

By 0900 the sea had settled and the wind died to a Force 2-3 off the stern, and we sailed those rather dour shores of Norfolk in improving conditions. By 1530 we were off Great Yarmouth, and entered the fast flowing Yar River and motored up to the Town Visitors Quay. Here we had difficulty tying to the quay with surging water making coming alongside and mooring rather tricky. We had spent 28 hours on the helm and were pretty tired but decided to go ashore for a couple of drinks. In the first pub we visited there was only one other customer. He was so drunk he forgot where he had left his pint, complained to the barmaid, and then assumed I had taken it, walked up behind me and thumped me on the back of the head! We moved to another pub, but finding it patronised by two alcoholics we decided to call it a day and return to the boats for some shut-eye. (Visitors Toll £10.00)

Monday 16th June (High Water 0715 Low Water 1857)

After tidying up and drying out, we went ashore for a shower and a meal. After that we went up to the Regional Office of the Coast Guard where we were given a friendly reception. After getting a copy of the Forecast, and registering our boats under the Yacht and Boat Safety Scheme, we spent a pleasant hour seeing some of their work. Before we left we informed them of our plans, and they asked us to contact the Dutch Coast Guard on arrival in Ijmuiden. After refuelling and taking on water at the Lifeboat Quay we left Great Yarmouth at 1800 with a choppy sea, and a Northerly wind of about 6 knots. Visibility was good, and the winds light and coming onto the nose, but the last 2 hours before we arrived at Ijmuiden the wind picked up to a fresh reach.

Tuesday 17th June

Ijmuiden sea lock

Ijmuiden sea lock

We waited outside the lock at Ijmuiden, with two new-looking tugs ahead of us. As the lock opened, a large barge, with considerable power from its two propellers, accelerated past the waiting tugs and entered the lock, going alongside the port side, without using lines. A tug followed in and took up lines below the lock gates on the starboard side, followed by Terry, who passed a line to a crewman on the tug’s stern, The second tug entered and tied up behind Terry; I was going to tie up to the stem of the tug, but a sail training ship entered and I was asked to tie alongside the second tug. This left about 2 meters between my boat and the barge. When the water had risen sufficiently, and the gates opened, the barge opened up and suddenly swung its stem to starboard, squeezing my boat between it and the tug, with cracking sounds which were heard up on the lock office. After much shouting and pushing, during which time the first tug, and Terry’s boat moved out into the canal, the barge moved out, and the lock keeper told me that he had telephoned for the Police, and the tug’s master suggested I tie alongside the barge and wait for the Police to arrive. The owner of the Training ship volunteered his name, and his crew’s names and telephone numbers and offered themselves as witnesses. Terry tied alongside the barge and I tied onto him. The time then was 2030 hrs and we waited until midnight before the Police arrived; they requested us to move to the other side of the canal where they were waiting in a car. When we were again tied alongside the barge, the Policemen boarded the barge and spent some 15 minutes chatting to the master before one of them boarded my boat. He asked for my name, port of origin and address. Then he asked if I had radar on board, after which he asked to see all my safety equipment. Fortunately I had a new Liferaft, new Lifejackets, flares, fire extinguisher, jack stays, etc.. After noting that, he asked for my Insurance Certificate, Passport and qualifications. Fortunately I had a Cruising Log with Insurance Certificate and photo-copies of my qualifications. Tongue-in-cheek, I showed him Certificates for Senior Instructor Dinghy, Day Skipper, Coastal Skipper/Yachtmaster, Diesel Engine Course, Radar Operator, Sea Survival, and First Aid. He noted each one! After that he said, in an off-hand manner, “Well, there seems to be no damage,” and started to leave. I called him back, asked if he was a qualified ships surveyor, and asked for his ‘Name, Rank and Number,’ and the name and Registration of the barge and its skipper. At that point I asked if he would inform the Coast Guard of our arrival, and also if he would, as it was then very dark, show us where we could moor for the remainder of the night. I also pointed out that we had not slept for 42 hours. He said he could not help, as he was busy because of an International Conference in Amsterdam, As soon as they left, the barge skipper opened up, and steamed off with Terry and I still tied alongside, in the dark. After some hassle to get free, we decided to ignore the No Mooring signs, and tie up there and then and get some sleep. During all this the skipper of the 850 ton barge had never spoken or attempted to speak to us!

Wednesday 18th June

In the morning we spent some time examining my boat above the waterline and set-too to tidy the boats, and then motored, in fine sunny weather, up to Amsterdam. Terry led, and guided us to Sixhaven Marina, which turned out to be a backwater of the main canal, and was attractively set among trees and screened from the canal and the city on the other side of the canal. We tied up next to a British owned yacht, and one of the crew, on hearing my story told me that he was a Yacht Surveyor, and asked if he could examine my boat. He kindly spent an hour examining my boat whilst his friends gave Terry and myself a cup of coffee. He told me that he thought that the cracking noise was caused by the movement of the hull upper and lower sections being fractionally flexed, causing the resin jointing to give, whilst being held strongly by the bolts on the joint. He could find no damage to the gell coat or to the bulkheads, but suggested that the rubbing strakes might need repair or replacement. The marina is only about 100 meters from a ferry landing, and the free ferry made the crossing to the Main Station of Amsterdam every 20 minutes. Terry and I had a walk around the City, changed some currency and had a pleasant meal in the old town, sitting out in warm sunshine.Still tired from our crossing and the late night with the barge incident, we turned in early. Marina Fee £6.00 for Aquila

Thursday 19th June

Another lovely morning and another stroll around Amsterdam, accompanied by the crew of the neighbouring yacht. After an interesting day, seeing the well chronicled sights of the City, we decided the next day we should head for the old Zuiderzee or Ijsselmeer, as it is now. In the evening we visited a local hostelry, and after a few beers, we became very friendly with the locals and the publican invited us to a ‘Lock-in’ and plied us with schnapps and other spirits. I swapped my RNYC cap for his brewery cap and we parted in the early hours.

Friday 20th June

We motored through the Durgerdam and set sail in a fresh reaching wind heading north up the inland sea, with hundreds of Dutch Leeboard boats, and yachts around us. We sailed up to what is almost halfway to the northern exit of the Ijsselmeer, passing through the locks at Lelystad. We then turned in to the twisting entrance of the harbour at Enkhuizen; The town was founded in the 11th Century, and its large 18th and 19th Century houses were built when the town rivalled Amsterdam, and was the home port for East and West India Company ships. It then became the most important fishing port on the Zuiderzee. Now it is a holiday town, and boasts fleets of Skutjesand other Dutch sailing craft, mostly used as training and cruise boats. Terry and I enjoyed shopping and walking in the old town, and we bad a fine meal overlooking the harbour. Mooring Fee £3.00 for Aquila

Saturday 21st June

The next morning was busy in the harbour as all the Dutch boats left with their customers. The wind was fresh so as soon as we negotiated the harbour we set sail for Medemblik at the head of the Ijsselmeer. This was one of the best day’s sailing and as we approached the port Terry, with his larger boat, La Simpatia, was able to point higher than mine. As I needed to use the engine to enter the Marina I decided to work my way higher by motor sailing. Soon after starting the engine the prop was fouled by rope and I called on the VHF for Terry to stand-by to tow me in. A couple of German yachts responded and came to offer help, but with a fresh wind I was able to reach Terry in minutes and picked up his line; I was towed in by the ever helpful and vigilant Terry. On entering the Marina I was surprised to find an athletic young woman waiting to take lines and assist in mooring both Terry and myself to the best mooring in the Marina. She then invited us up to her office for coffee and cake, and introduced us to her young son. The excellent reception was partly because she wanted the Red Ensign and the Blue Ensign on display, as she felt there were too many German Ensigns! After a meal Terry nearly froze to death half immersed in the water taking a nylon fishing line off my prop. The Marina had good facilities, and the town of Medemblik had some excellent cafes and bistros, as well as a fair shopping centre. We soon discovered that the town was socially split in two, with a rather antagonistic atmosphere in one half and a friendly and cheerful ambience in the other.

Sunday 22nd June

The weather remained wet and windy all day and we filled in time looking around Medemblik and getting to know Paul and Margriet.

Monday 23rd.June

The weather was wet and windy so we decided on another day in the Marina, and we found that the lady who helped us on arrival, called Margriet, and her husband Paul, ran the Marina on behalf of the Town Council, and that they owned a beautiful traditional Dutch Leeboard sailing craft, and that their son Max went to the local primary school, and had recently shaken hands with the Dutch Queen on a visit by her to the town. Margriet and Paul both sang and recorded folk music with different groups, and they gave us a CD and a tape to take home, That evening I rang Bracknell for a ‘Passage Forecast’ for the next day. Terry, unlike me, needed to get back to give us time to return to home waters as he had to be at work on the 30th June. The forecaster asked in a superb military voice, where I was; I replied that we were on the Dutch Coast near Amsterdam. “The beach or the rocks! ” he said. I replied that we were in a Marina near Amsterdam. “Go down to the red light area, get ‘Rat-arsed,’ sleep it off next morning, and you’ll have a Force 2-3 from the North-East,” he said.

Tuesday 24th June

Paul and Margriet invited us to breakfast with them and their son to save us the bother, and Paul very generously took us to a garage and bought us diesel, and gave us the fuel cans as a parting gift. We sailed of with a lump in our throat as they shouted for us to take care and ring them as soon as we arrived in the UK.

The winds were light and we soon left the Ijsselmeer and not long after arrived at Den Helder lock. We moored up to await the signal that the lock was opening. A local fisherman took my lines and asked where we were bound; I said to the Humber. His advice was to stay another day as the weather was spoiling, but, having unfounded faith in Bracknell, we pressed on.

As we passed along the sound off Texel, the wind increased and the sea became lumpy. I saw what I thought was a Cardinal Mark and headed for it only to discover that it was a partly submerged submarine – I got a salute and a dipped ensign!

Big seas and building winds

Big seas and building winds

Once we cleared the dangerous sandbars south of Texel, we found ourselves in a building sea with the wind increasing. Terry once again made sure that my slower boat was always in sight, and he became very adept at luffing, using a Fisherman’s Heave-too, and checking his navigation or getting some ’nosh’ whilst I caught up. My Autohelm gave up the ghost, and I found from a conversation that so had Terry’s.

During the night the sea grew bigger and the winds were squally and Force 7-8. As we approached a particularly black line squall I heard a thump, and there, on the cockpit floor sat a soaked and exhausted racing pigeon. As the boat rolled it skidded from side to side so I managed to grab a piece of dense foam from the locker and sat it there. Over the night it was too wild to grab any food, but the pigeon cast an incriminating eye on me, so I opened the hatch and closed it in the cabin. By early morning both of us were wet and weary, and whilst heave-too for a couple of minutes, I looked below to see how the pigeon was doing. It had vomited all over the port berth, so I swore at it and disinfected the berth. When I dashed up to adjust the helm, there it was again, on the foam.

Wednesday 25th June

We arrived, in poor visibility and failing light, off Great Yarmouth at 2030, and set off down the coast, with Terry, as ever, leading the way, and eventually entered the Yar at 2130, with a turbulent river mouth. During the crossing we had taken so many waves over the hull that the salt had crystallised behind my contact lens, and after 35 hours non-stop helming I could only barely see Terry’s mast-head light. As we turned a corner I saw something orange filling my vision. When it blared a siren I realised it was a Rig Support Ship and turned, in some embarrassment, to the starboard. When we eventually tied up I found weird patterns on everything and realised it was the effect of the crystal behind the lens.

Before turning in I put my pigeon with the resentful stare, into a side hatch in the cockpit, on an oilskin, with milk and broken biscuit.

Thursday 26th June

Next morning we put a lot of wet gear on the boom, and cooked a welcome breakfast. When I looked at the pigeon it jumped onto the coach roof all pristine and cocky, and, after a look of gratitude, it flew off – I was sorry to see it go! The Customs arrived and asked for names and passage details but did not come aboard – they said that most of the smuggling was done on fast RIBs. All day the rain hammered down, and the wind remained NNE force 7-8. We showered and lunched, then visited the Coast Guard to say thanks.

Friday 27th June

Another wet and windy day spent shopping and killing time.

Saturday 28th June

After checking with the Coast Guard, we left Yarmouth at 0930, and bunkered at the Lifeboat Quay. With the river in flood and the tide beginning to fall we set off up the coast in brilliant weather and reaching wind; over the shore large cumulus clouds added a touch to the beautiful sun and sky. The good weather continued until evening , then low cloud and drizzle reduced visibility until by 1100 the fog was quite thick. By 0200 the fog was so thick that I lost Terry’s Navigation lights, and at one stage a huge tanker appeared only metres away in the dense fog. We felt very vulnerable crossing the Humber entrance, for with only radar reflectors and tiny fog horns there was little protection.

Sunday 29th June

As the daylight increased the fog cleared leaving a grey and lumpy sea with a freshening wind. Terry needed to get home that evening and time seemed to crawl past as we picked out parts of the shoreline some 3 miles away. We both agreed that at night we would sail at least 3 miles offshore to avoid lobster pots and lines.

At 1530 we were off Bridlington, and entered the harbour with some relief, and tied up at the fish quay. Terry had become adept at putting a sling on his mast in drying harbours, and after tying up and reporting to the harbour office, we pumped the bilges and Terry prepared to leave his boat for a few days. Terry went off to check the train times, whilst I had a brew- up and squared up the cabin and berth. After 994 Nautical Miles Terry and I parted company and he went off , poor lad, to prepare for work on Monday and to arrange a return for the boat. That night it rained, and it felt strange to walk the town without company.

Monday 30th June



So much for sunny June – it poured stair rods all day, and I hopped from shop to cafe filling in time. In the evening I went to the Yacht Club but it was shut, and although Aquila was dry and none of my gear below deck was wet, the thought of another unheated night was unattractive – so, I decided to go B&B! I wandered in the rain until I saw a neat house in a quiet street with a Vacancy sign up. I rang the door bell and a pleasant faced woman invited me in out of the rain, told me to take my wet gear off, and made me a cup of excellent tea. The living room walls were covered with pictures of trawlers, and I asked her if her husband worked on a Trawler. She told me that they had lived in Hull and the drop in trade had forced her husband to move into another job. At that point he came in, and after chatting about the sea, I mentioned my incident entering the Yar when I nearly rammed a vessel. He rushed out the room and returned with a framed photograph of a Gas Platform Support Ship – yes, and guess what? He turned out to be the skipper who had blared at me, of all the bars in all the town I had picked his! The room, the bed and the food were paradise.

Tuesday 1st July

After a lazy morning of sitting watching the drizzle from a coffee shop, the skies cleared, and at 1600 I left Bridlington, and headed North. The winds were light but the visibility was improving and the sea was flattening. I enjoyed an easy sail, but with the darkness the wind totally dropped, and I switched on the engine.

Wednesday 2nd July

As I crossed the Tees at 0200 1 caught what turned out to be 18 feet of Corlene around the propeller, and the engine stopped, and there was no wind. To seaward I could see at least three vessels heading for Middlesbrough, and I was on the point of calling the Coast Guard to warn them that I was adrift in the fairway, when a zephyr of a breeze had me rushing to haul up the sails. I very slowly moved out the fairway and headed north.

By 1130 I was in a light breeze approaching Souter Light, and as I passed it the wind began to pick up, and at 1330 I arrived in Blyth. Off the Sluice I had called Lesley, my wife, via Cullercoats Radio and I told her I was due, without engine! When I arrived she had summoned the support of Tony Flisher. I beat up the harbour and came alongside the visitors’ pontoon, and after a short chat Tony sculled a dinghy with me in tow across to my berth.

After 1200 miles, apart from the scuffing on the rubbing strakes Aquila showed no sign of her journey, and at low water I managed to remove the yards of rope from the shaft. Terry went down to Bridlington a few days later and returned to Blyth, after a night in Runswick Bay. Thanks for the excellent company, Terry.