The Log of the Rowena: Oban to Blyth 1931

By Manus O’Donnell


Leaving home at Cullercoats on Friday morning 7th August 1931, for Newcastle where an hour was spent in attending to necessary business, a start was made for Carlisle.

Unfortunately our Armstrong Siddeley when a few miles on the way proclaimed the fact that she had a broken spring, which necessitated slow running to Carlisle, however, we managed to get a ’phone message through from Greenheads to our Car Agents in Carlisle, informing them of our trouble and asking them to have the New Spring in readiness for fitting when we arrived. They attended to us promptly enough, and we got away from Carlisle about 3.30 p.m. and had quite a good run through Glasgow on by Loch Lomond, and arrived in Oban after midnight.

The crew consisted of James Rush, with a knowledge of the sea from boyhood, whose forbears were long connected with the pilotage of the Port of Sunderland. He goes by the name of the ‘Commodore’ in his home town; he is no lightweight and scales 17 stone.

The new owner fond of the sea and boats that sail thereon, goes to business for a living; while not a lightweight he is a stone and a half less than the Commodore.

The crew were early astir on the 8th and proceeded by boat across to Ardentrieve to inspect our new purchase riding at her moorings in the Bay.

Rowena, built by Luke of Hamble, is a boat of 4 or 5 tons, 24 feet overall, 20 foot on the waterline, 7’9” Beam and about 4 feet draught. She is Sloop rigged with Roller reefing gear and has a little Dinghy.

After completing the purchase and taking the necessary stores aboard we get reefed main-sail and Jib from Monroe’s jetty at 1.10 p.m. towing the Dinghy. The tide was still running North but with a good Northerly wind we were soon through the Kerrera Sound. Running dead before the wind the Jib was more or less useless, we therefore rolled it up, afterwards running more comfortably. We got the turn of the tide about Sheep Island and the wind being still strong our speed increased, leaving Easdale Island to Port we soon had Fladda Lighthouse abeam, Scarba looming large ahead, Coriebhreacain Sound opened at 4 p.m. we had heard wonderful stories of the rapidity of the stream through this channel, but fortunately we were not affected by it.

We decided to sail down the passage between Ris an tru and Ris an vic Faden, continuing our course through Dorus More between Garraesar Island and Craignish Point where we had a strong tide rip to run through. We expected to ship some water here owing to the very steep seas encountered, but the Rowena only took spray aboard.

The wind continued steady and now being in smoother water we got comfortably into the Sea Loch at Crinan at 5.15 p.m.; not a bad run considering the small amount of canvas we had on. We were delighted with our first sail in the boat.

There was some little delay getting away from Crinan owing to a large fishing boat coming through from Ardrishaig, having to wait her arrival.

It was our intention to get into the Sea Loch at Ardrishaig before 10 p.m. if possible, so before leaving Oban we sent on the car to Crinan to make arrangements to hire a horse to tow us through the canal. We arrived at Ardrishaig ten minutes too late and consequently had to remain in the canal until Monday morning. The time in Ardrishaig however was not wasted, we got our stores etc. stowed away and made the small cabin as free from lumber as possible; we also gave our spinnaker and storm-sail an airing.

The Skipper had a hunt around on Sunday for some postcards but found all the shops shut; eventually supplies were obtained at the Chemists which opens between 12 and 1 o’clock. Ardrishaig is a ‘dry’ town on a Sunday but there are some kindly people in it. It was not necessary for the Commodore to go without his ‘Lemonade’ or the Skipper something stronger.

10/8/31. We turned out at 5 a.m. paid canal dues and obtained pass out at 6 a.m. we were towed out to the pier end by friendly East Coast Fishermen, who were on their way from Stornaway to Peel I.O.M. We had our sails set at 6.53 and found a nice Northerly wind and smooth sea until we got off Tarbert, when the wind dropped and a thick mist came down obscuring the Isle of Arran.

At 10.20 a light breeze from the East set in. We rounded Ardlamont Point at 11.37 and got the wash of a passenger steamer on her passage up Loch Fyne.

1 p.m. dead calm; a little wind came from the South-west later. We got into the Kyles of Bute rounded the point for Burnt Island at 3.00 Ardmeleigh Point at 5.25, Ardine Point at The tide was against us to Toward Point where we got into the main stream. The weather cleared up and we had a beautiful evening with strong sunshine for the remainder of the day. We noticed eight large vessels mostly passenger ships, laid up at Rothesay. Rounded Toward Point Black Buoy at 7.5. just drifting with the tide with the occasional puffs of wind, and eventually dropped our hook in the boat anchorage west of Dunoon at 11.30 p.m.; got into our bunks as quickly as possible, but could not get to sleep for some time owing to the wash from passing vessels.

11/8/31. The wash of passing steamers awoke us pretty early to reveal a perfect August morning, the gold of dawn being still in the sky. As we wished to take advantage of the tide we got away at 5.55 with just sufficient wind to give us steerage way. Off Greenock at 9.a.m. arriving at Bowling at noon. Got into the canal at 1.p.m. had difficulty in getting a horse, we were informed one would have to come down from Glasgow, however, a man at the canal entrance volunteered to get us through as quickly as any horse in Glasgow. He turned out to be Stephen Wood from Westport Quay, a man who knew how to handle boats. We engaged him with an assistant for some distance up the canal, he proved as good as his word.

At the Drumchapel Lock we had the misfortune to smash our Bowsprit owing to the sudden inrush of water when the lock was being filled. First bit of Bad Luck but there were compensations; the skipper’s old friends Mr. Hugh O’Neill and his Good Lady live at Drum Chapel and has he had had arranged to make a call in passing, having telephoned from Bowling, he had a real Irish welcome from Mrs. O’Neill and her sister Miss Beiller of Paris, who was on a visit. Mr. O’Neill unfortunately was away in Cumberland. After an enjoyable cup of tea, the skipper had a surprise to find that Mrs. O’Neill had a roast of beef ready cooked with supplies of fruit, vegetables, bread as well as cigarettes , which she insisted should be taken to the Rowena which she inspected and improved of.

Mrs. O’Neill has done a great deal of sailing with her husbands and knows something about boats, and she was very much impressed with the appearance of our new craft. As Mr. O’Neill returned home we proceeded on our journey arrived at Maryhill at 8 p.m. where we tied up for the night. We made enquiries for a potential supplier of a new Bowsprit and found him in the vicinity of the lock. The broken spar was replaced before midnight. After arriving at Maryhill the Commodore was not too pleased with the condition of the cabin, so he put it in order, as well as producing an excellent meal – the best we had had since leaving home.

12/8/31 Left Maryhill at 6.45 a.m. set the jib as there was a favourable wind which, however, did not last long. Woods got onto the bank and did a bit of towing. Woods is a powerfully built man and made light of the job. After leaving Maryhill the appearance of the country improves and it was quite pleasant until we got up to the lock at Grangemouth. The weather was fine with occasional bursts of real hot sunshine. A mile or so out of Maryhill we got a nice little breeze, put on our storm sail as well as the jib, and getting Woods aboard we sailed right to the end of the 16 mile stretch free of locks. At the approach of the Bridges we took off the sail to allow for bridge opening, the descent to Grangemouth began. It is much easier to control a boat descending than ascending, despite this we were heartily tired when we got to Grangemouth at 8.30 p.m. where we paid off Woods, adjourned to a local pub, then found the lock-keeper and paid canal dues, got our pass out ready for an early start in the morning, tumbled into our bunks by 10 p.m. and required no rocking to sleep.

The Commodore knows more about the art of ‘snoring’ than any man alive, but the skipper was proof against it all and must have been fast asleep one minute after getting into the blankets.

13/8/31. Turned out just before daybreak, passed out of the lock at 5 a.m. Tide in the Carron River on the ebb, dead calm. The Commodore got into the dingy accompanied by the bailer – the dingy leaks badly after being laid up for a couple of years – and towed us down to the open water.

We got canvas on at 6.15 just a suspicion of a breeze blowing right up the Firth of Forth. We have little more than steerage way on, however the wind begins to strengthen and we make headway, the tide assisting.

8.20 – the weather was not too cheerful, heavy drizzle and visibility very poor. So far we have not worked to any time schedule and have decided from now on to take regular turns at the Tiller. The skipper on duty from 8.30 to 11.15 when we drop our hook at Queensferry on the lea side of the Forth Bridge, awaiting the turn of the tide. The Skipper went ashore at Queensferry, purchased supplies and sent off some postcards, got the hook up and away at 2.30 p.m. Breeze had stiffened and still blowing up the Firth.

The Commodore took over at 3p.m., the breeze still strengthening which gave Rowena an opportunity of showing what she could do to windward. Wind against tide produced a lop and we had plenty of spray over our shoulders as we thrashed our way down to the open sea. We would have wished to put into Port Seaton for the night, but, as we had no plan of the harbour we pushed on until we dropped our anchor in Abberlady Bay near Ferryness point, close of the Earl of Wemyss’ Place, in about two fathoms of water. We shipped a fair amount of water on the way down and got the pump to clear it out before having a meal.

It would not be strictly accurate to say that our clothes were ‘dry’ or that we were not feeling tired; after a meal we got between the blankets and forgot all about the world until –

14.8.31 Soon after dawn we received a courtesy call from one of the fishing boats out of Port Seaton, and later in the morning from one of the smaller boats, a lobster man who advised us, in view of the conditions of the weather outside, to put into Port Seaton and lie there until the weather conditions improved. When the tide suited we took his advice and had no cause to forget it. The Commodore had developed a bad cold in the head and the Skipper was not entirely free from it. The Skipper doped the Commodore with some ‘Johnnie Walkers’ hot, but this did not stop his sneezing or his snoring. A visit was made to the chemist shop but the Commodore survived all the dope he had taken. The primus was kept going for a long time and this seemed to make things more cheerful as well as getting our clothes dried.

About mid- day the wind hardened and this put all thoughts of proceeding on our way out of the question. We weighed anchor and ran in under jib to Port Seaton, where we found about a score of efficient looking fishing boats, soon to be joined by a number of others.

We tied up in the inner harbour and was soon completely surrounded by returning boats, who as they delivered their catch, tied up in tiers of six abreast and looked very neat. They will lie in the harbour until daylight on Monday.

A visit was paid by the Harbour Master who wanted to know all about us, and for the sum of a nimble shilling we obtained from him the freedom of the harbour as well as an official receipt for that bob.

We also had visits from swarms of children belonging to the Port, boys and girls who claimed the privilege of coming aboard; this was arranged in relays. In return they performed many little services for us, such as bringing supplies of fresh water and running messages etc.

A visit was also paid by the Skipper to the butcher, baker, grocer and Post Office as well as to the chemist to obtain certain remedies for the Commodore’s cold. He was assured that when three doses of the dope was taken the patient would most assuredly recover. He was just beginning to doubt as the cold now had a firm grip, and thinks the recovery was due more to the Commodore’s naturally robust constitution than to artificial aid. Before turning in we had a visit from Peter Jarron, owner and Skipper of one of the largest boats who was well acquainted with our friend Copeland of the Cock- a-hoop. He asked us to convey greetings to that venerable sea-dog. Peter wished especially to mention their last meeting in Aberdeen Harbour when Mr. Copeland was there with his little yacht the ‘Brunette’. We turned in at 10. 30.

15/8/31. Pouring rain pattering on the cabin roof woke us at 7.30, this continued for several hours. After breakfast we returned to our bunks until mid-day. The first lazy spell we had since we took over the Rowena.

The Commodore’s cold does not seem much better although he protests that only the cough is troublesome.

The annual swimming gala had been fixed for this day and the Harbour had been roped off for the purpose. Some excellent exhibitions of swimming were given by both sexes. A large crowd assembled from the surrounding district and the evnt deserved better weather than that prevailing.

We had a visit from a deep sea trawler skipper in the evening, who stayed with us until 10.30 after which we turned in having decided to resume our passage in the morning if the weather was any way favourable.

16/8/31 We turned out at 4 a.m. had a wash at the Harbour pumps, filled the kettle, bailed out the dingy, set sail and passed out between the piers at 5 o’clock. The wind still from the East dropped during the night and the sea was smooth; we had the advantage of the ebb tide and left the Bass Rock with its swarms of gannet perched high up on its side and on the wing, on our starboard hand at 10. 30. The wind still keeping steady with now a rather choppy sea, we took a few ‘green ones’ over her port bow, some of which got through to the bed clothing. We carried on with an increasing wind and heavier sea with the intention of putting into Dunbar, but we were informed when off the Harbour, by a fishing boat, that it would be impossible for us to get in under sail alone. We decided to beat up to St. Abbs’ Harbour and did very well for a while until the seas got bigger and the wind dropped. It therefore took us many weary hours to round St. Abbs’ Head and when we did it was too dark to locate the entrance to the Harbour.

We cannot recall having sailed in a much heavier sea, the dingy completely filled and went right under, having turned turtle. The skipper intended to abandon it but the Commodore would not listen to the suggestion, pointing out that as we had brought her so far we would take her all the way. We both got out on the deck, got hold of the painter and hauled her half way aboard, getting rid of most of the water and resumed our course. Our lamp had now gone out. Our primus failed to function; furthermore the battery of our flashlamp became exhausted and in the dark we could not put our hands on the refills which were somewhere aboard. We therefore decided that our best policy would be to keep in view of St. Abbs’ light until dawn as we had no knowledge of the coast, and all access to the chart was cut off. We gradually worked off the land, and, with the return of the ebb tide, drifted back past St. Abbs’, however, a little wind came to our assistance, and at daylight we found ourselves well off Eyemouth Harbour.

Never did dawn seem to linger so long in coming, and, when it did arrive it was accompanied by a plentiful supply of rain. We made straight for Berwick and got into Tweedmouth Dock at 6.20 a.m. thoroughly soaked to the skin. We managed to get the primus going, and, after a cup of hot coffee, tumbled into our damp bunks, and needed no rocking to sleep.

17/8/31 Turned out at 1 p.m. had a meal, attended to our stays two of the rigging screws having stripped in the thrash up from Dunbar to St. Abbs’. Our mast being a stout one we felt that we could carry on, with a single stay each on port and starboard, until we got into harbour. We left the dock when the gates opened at 4.15, cleared Berwick Pier end at 4.45 for Holy Island. Berwick- got the mackerel line out and landed a mixed catch of about a dozen mackerel and Pollock before reaching Emmanuel Head. The tide was running very strong when we got round to the southern end of the Island, and after making a vain attempt to get to the anchorage, we dropped our hook in a bout four fathoms close to the red buoy. After hanging on there some time one of the local fishermen, Lawson, came out in his motor boat and towed us with some difficulty against the tide to the anchorage.

Lawson turned out to be a war time colleague of the Commodore, so that we found ourselves in good hands. Lawson took the Skipper ashore for a fresh supply of cigarettes, our stock having become exhausted. We called at the Crown and Anchor where supplies were available as well as ‘spiritual comforts’. Acquaintance was renewed with the daughter of the house whom the Skipper had met on a previous occasion; returned aboard about 10 o’clock, turned in soon after, and slept soundly until 8 o’clock next morning.

18/8/31 A good NW wind blowing, we had breakfast, reefed down the mainsail and a couple of rolls to nurse our gear. A strong ebb tide was running – got our anchor aboard at 9.30, passed Shorstone Buoy at 11.10 Bamburgh Castle standing out on the one hand and Farne Islands on the other. Crumstone Buoy at 11.30, North Newton Buoy at 12.15 p.m.

Off Newton Point the wind dropped and we unrolled the reef. Met the ‘Oregon’ going North off Beadnell, exchanged salutes, Dunstanburgh Castle abeam at 1 p.m. Ebb tide still running North – fairly strong off Craster 1.30- flat calm off Alnmouth – puff of wind from South East at 3 p.m. Wind came away from South West at 3.27. Amble pier ends open with Pan Bush Buoy in line at 4. Passed between Sand Spit Buoy and Coquet Island at 4.10, strong flood tide now running. Passed Hauxley Buoy at 4.22 between which and Bondicarr we met the ‘Brunette’ going North. We could not quite recognise her for some time, owing to the repair with new canvas of her mainsail. Druridge Bay was true to its reputation, it gave us a real stiff wind and made us somewhat anxious about our gear. It also proved that Rowena could carry her canvas if it stood in a stiff breeze.

Gable end of Newbiggin Church passed at 5.42, and Sow and Pigs Buoy to Port at 6.20, just under two hours from Hauxley.

Got alongside the clubhouse Yacht Tyne at Blyth before seven- 10 days 6 hours from Oban. We received a welcoming cheer from the club members, the most vociferous being from Ned Robertson our esteemed club secretary, and the venerable Whiskers Copeland.