The Log of the Iolanthe 1927

The Skipper: A Johnson
The crew: R Davy

The double-ended gaff sloop Iolanthe was built at Kolbjornsvik, Arendal in Norway in 1915. In 1927 her owner, Arthur Johnson, was a member of Tynemouth Sailing Club. He joined the Northumberland Yacht Club later. In common with other yachts of the time, Iolanthe was laid up in the winter on the public beach at Prior’s Haven, Tynemouth. Also mentioned in the text is E.F.”Ned” Robertson who was the Hon Secretary of NYC from 1909-1922 and 1924-1940. He lived aboard the House Yacht, Tyne II, the reinforced concrete Admiralty tug, Crete Hatch, moored in Blyth Harbour.


Sunday 10th July 1927

From South Shields towd. Bridlington. Course: S by ½ W or by the toss of a coin. Wind NE by N.

Distance run 22M. Port of call, Hartlepool 5pm under the impression it was Seaham. Hartlepool Dock dues 3s 3d Harbour entrance faces SE. Stand clear of breakwater ½ M and enter from SE. Follow the channel maked by conical and can buoys, and enter a dock on the stbd hand having passed a small pier with the beheaded pyramid lighthouse due North and a broken ended pier to the Southeast.

Places of Interest. St Hilda’s church, guides inside watergate seen just inside the pier beforementioned. There is a fine open air bath between the breakwater and the pier. Captain Perry of West Hartlepool in Church St will supply charts and instruments.

Teesmouth is easily visible from Hartlepool and is 2½ M distant SS½E. The buoys mark the channel. Take the North-most channel round a spit and then between two piers.

Monday 11th July

Took bus to Hartlepool to shop. Called at Captain Perry’s and purchased chart, books etc for the East Coast. Sailed for Teesmouth about 8.0 pm which with a following wind was reached in good time. Followed the river up to Middlesborough (as busy by night as by day) to just beyond the Transporter Bridge, and secured moorings alongside an old barge.

The distant din of furnaces etc kept the Captain awake but the creww slept soundly save for one untoward incident. It is with the greatest regret that we have to place on record the fact that the fore mooring rope, made fast by the Captain, came adrift in the night, but teh ship was saved by the prompt action of the crew, who dashed out and made a proper seaman’s knot which held fast till morning.

Tuesday 12th July

Iolanthe set sail at about 8am and passed under Middlesborough Transporter Bridge without incident to the mast. The glorious Dante-like inferno of the previous night had given place in the grey of a dull morning to the squalor and hideouness of a purely industrial view.

A Noreasterly wind and flood tide made the going slow and Iolanthe had to beat for four hours without even a favourable slant, arriving off the two buoys which mark the Tees Entrance at 2pm. During which there was nothing to relieve the monotony except an accidental grounding while the Skipper was at the helm.; but one incident caused the Skipper to bust all the buttons on his shirt with pride; i.e. a slendid Admiral hailed asking the name of the yacht, also that of the master and of the club. There were visions of reading in the shipping intelligence column that "The Yacht Iolanthe, Master A Johnson of the Tynemouth Sailing Club, bound for Bridlington left the river Tees this morning amidst much sounding of the trumpet".

On taking departure the wind did likewise, afterwards coming in faint puffs from the South and by 9pm Iolanthe found herself off Huntcliffe 8 miles south of Teesmouth stewering a South Easterly course. The wind, light before, now departed altogether, the boom slammed as the ship rolled in the slight oily swell, so the rifle was unearthed and all hands proceeded to miss cider bottles with skill. After all the bottles were finally accounted for, the crew having shown himself to be a better shot than the Skipper on this occasion which showed a lack of breeding on the crew’s part, chased a basket in the dinghy whilst the Skipper regarded these youthful frolics with tolerance subsequently making himself useful by preparing soup (a menial task not suited to the dignity of skippers and much more proper for the crew).

There now followed an argument about the apportionment of watches and it was decided that the Skipper should take the first watch from 11pm until 1am whereupon the Skipper donned all his heaviest clothes and the crew turned in having lit the sidelights, binnacle and riding light.

It was now quite dark and a red glare was visible ashore from the bast furnaces on the towering cliffs at Huntcliffe, the green of the starboard sidelight showed up ghostily on the mainsail, the cheerful glow of the cabin light escaped through the sliding hatch in the cockpit to give a mellowed sensation of homelyness that only a parafin lamp can give. Out at sea red and green lights of passing vessels winked knowingly whilst nearer at hand Northern lights flickered in the wake of our little ship as she glided slowly over the swell. The air was full of adventure, one’s own thoughts turned the old sea gods, to pirates, stately frigates and privateers and other associates of dreamland which one had imagined long since dead.

But towards the end of the Skipper’s watch these thoughts faded and a struggle began to keep awake, and then the cabin doors burst open and the crew appeared and remarked upon the fact that the blast furnaces of Huntcliffe were as near as ever whereupon the Skipper whose temper is not of the best at the end of a watch was undeerstood to mumble something about the crew’s and his intimacy with furnaces in afterlife.

The Skipper fell asleep but in a minute or two was alarmed by a horrible moaning from the cockpit and on dashing out of the cabin was informed by the crew that the crew was ‘singing’. The Skipper turned to go his bunk but was informed that it was now his watch. He glanced at the community watch and was horrified to find it was now 3am but as the crew but as he crew protested he had not altered the hands he consented to be clothed with the helmsman’s wrappers.

Dawn was breaking and with it came the cold clammyness which no amount of warm clothing will keep out. The helmsman sat huddled in the corner of the cockpit with tiller fixed under his armpit, his teeth chattering and a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach which no amount of chocolate would eliminate, now and then leaning forward to peer into the binnacle and thankful that Iolanthe sails herself to windward.

As the light becomes stronger the blast furnaces of Huntcliffe disappear and away to the southward there appears the tower of a large church. Can it be Whitby? If so, Staithes’ light is not very powerful for it was never seen.

Iolanthe stood into the bay and the Skipper became more and more assured that it was Whitby Abbey so the crew was hailed and although a Yorkshire tyke took just as long as the Skipper to make up his mind.

Breakfast was now prepared and the last of the water used to make tea, salt water being used to boil the eggs. The ebb tide kept the ship beating up and down with the usual light wind until noon when she was able to make Whitby, racing a coble in although the Skipper said the coble did not deserve to win because they used sweeps. The crew suggested the coble did not know they were racing. On making fast to a large motor coble the ship immediately received the attention of a beer swallower and after having stood him a pint was allowed by him to take on water.

After having showered and put on shore-going togs all hands went up the road to the Abbey passing en route stout persons of both sexes gasping like landed fish. The Skipper pointed out to the crew the various types of architecture and the crew, not pretending to know of these things, received the knowledge meekly.

At 10pm the Skipper and crew turned in.

Thursday 14th July

10am the Skipper rose and thumper the crew in the solar plexus, successfully waking that gentleman. The day was decidedly foggy so it was decided to go for a walk along the cliffs instead of setting forth and the crew showed his youth by scrambling down cliffs etc whilst the Skipper came much more slowly as became his dignity and age (the crew being nine months younger than the Skipper at least). Having washed themselves in the sea, one could not call it a bad day. They scrambled up the cluiffs again wherein the crew showed his natural instinct in inducing the Skipper to risk his valuable life mountaineering. Having done so they returned to the ship.

The dinghy was then provisioned and with jeers and catcalls from the stout ladies on the river bank set off upstream. It occured to them to take a collection for the amusement afforded but feared to be pounced upon by Churchill for entertainment tax. Finally they turned in at 11pm thinking it advisable to go to bed early because a watchman was to do the calling stunt at 2am.

Friday 15th July

2am grrrr. The crew went for water whilst the Skipper made ready for sea, sidelights, binnacle and riding lights. A terrific hulaballou was heard ashore and after a short while the crew returned with water, thankful to have a whole stern as he had wakened most of the animals in the neighbourhood.

Mainsail and foresail were set and the crew in the dinghy towed Iolanthe out, encouraged by the Skipper at the helm, for there was little wind. The flood tide was well away and swept round in the harbour entrance like a whirlpool and it took all the crew’s strength to tow clear.

On the advice of the locals, Iolanthe was set on a Southeasterly course in order to clear Whitby Rock on the inside channel. Fog came down as soon as the harbour was left behind and the crew turned in. It was quite light but white vapour closed everything from sight except the immediate surroundings. Iolanthe was in the track of steamers going up the coast and the Skipper strained his ears to catch the sound of thudding screws but heard nothing until the end of his watch. Having blown revielle, cookhouse and retreat, and incidentally been reviled by the crew, the Skipper turned in and attempted sleep. After two hours he rose. The topsail was set and the crew went below. Shortly afterwards the fog lifted and the wind veered Northeasterly.

A beautiful bay was disclosed with trees growing down to the water’s edge almost. Soon after a headland appeared which subsequently proved to be Scarborough, the crew recognising it by the cafe on the North Marine promenade. The tide had now turned and the boat made little headway whereupon the spinnaker was set, the wind being dead aft. A wonderful pulling sail, the spinnaker, and before long the Scarborough sailing cobles appeared. Finally, about noon, the harbour entrance was made. Soundings were taken, the hook dropped in two fathoms and the sails made up. Soap and Vim appeared and the Skipper scrubbed the topsides whilst the crew tacked the cabin top removing the coal dust of Hartlepool and Whitby. The Skipper went ashore, complete with seaboots, oilskin trousers, red rugby shirt and dirty panama. He was taken for a fisherman by a youthful warrior who commiserated with him upon his hard lot in life.

The Captain, then towed Iolanthe in the dinghy, and the crew incited the deputy harbourmater to caustic remarks, but informed the Skipper there was a telegram for him but the Coastguard had it and he dwelt on Castle Hill, or in the clouds or some such heights. Having polished his mugs, and donned a white-topped yachting cap, and a blue double-breasted jacket the Skipper then dragged the crew up the ladder showing him up in his magnificence and strutted along the pier in his pride, when the still small voice of a boatman said, "Boat Sir", at which the Skipper nearly had an attack of apoplexy and the crew delightedly crowed, "He takes you for a chaffeur!" Ignoring the crew’s giggles, the Skipper rushed up Castle Hill, confident that the telegram bore some good news of the examination he had recently sat, while the crew laboured behiund, saying things about exams, Coastguards, Skippers and hills, that would not look good in print.

Up and down in the old moat and several other places before the Coastguard station was discovered empty and the expedition returned to the harbour only to be told the Coastguard’s residence was halfway up the hill. To the crew’s disgust off the Skipper dashed off again, and at last the telegram was run to earth. The Skipper’s hilarious joy turned to despair for the telegarm only asked if Iolanthe had arrived. The Skipper set off in black despair for the Post Office up another hill followed wearily by the crew who was now talking to himself; the Skipper’s name and several worse ones were oft repeated, but having sent away a telegram to reassure the people at canny Shields, the Skipper’s mood did not improve and he refused to be comforted although the crew invented some choice adjectives.

Saturday 16th July

All hands were wakened at an early hour (10am) by several resounding crashes on deck and on putting his head out of the skylight, the Skipper discovered most of the fishermen of Scarborough clambering over the deck to their cobles. All sleep came to an end and having left the Harbour Master’s henchman in charge, the Skipper and crew set off for a scramble on the cliffs to the north of the harbour.

The Skipper was still in no holiday mood so some shopping was done and on return a telegram was found showing that the Skipper had passed his examination. His joy knew no bounds but the crew but the crew submitted to the overflow of spirits in good grace.

Preparations were made to sail, harbour dues were paid and water was got aboard and the Deputy Harbour Master consulted as the ways and means of reaching Bridlington which he said was six miles distant and should be reached in an hour’s sail. He said he would not take in any reefs in a fair wind etc.

The crew then appeared with waterr jars and an old school mate, Thackeray and his friend and after showing them the boat prepared to make sail but were deterred from accomplishing this by a member of the Scarborough Sailing Club warned that, in his opinion, there was too much sea to get round Flamborough Head, which he said could only be navigated in fair weather. In any case it would be dark when we arrived as it was about 20M distant. All the Scarborough Sailing Club races were cancelled because of the weather.

Iolanthe was honoured by a visit by divers members of the Scarborough Sailing Club and invited to the Club berths at the upper end of the harbour but as she had no legs was better berthed by the quay. The two hardy mariners then hied them to a restaurant, the Skipper still in his yachting regalia in spite of the crew’s protests against about "****** ***** chaffeurs". It became apparent that the waiter was of the crew’s opinion when the bill of fare was asked for, but his manner changed when the Skipper asked for the wine list and ordered a bottle of sparkling Neuchatel, the Skipper being desirous of celebrating his exam result. Having heard his father say that SN was a ladies’ wine it bethought him to save his head or his legs as the case may be, and although the crew maliciously agrees that the Skipper walked straight, he says no one but a drunkard would have taken him to such a putrid circus show as the one visited after dinner.

On return to the yacht the caretaker was encountered obviously in no condition to take care of anything. On being asked if he would look after the yacht while the crew went to Bridlington overland – the sea state had become very bad and there would be no chance of making the passage by sea the following day – he made such a song about it, saying he would only do it for one day and that he would not do it for nothing etc that we moved to christen him "The Old Sod", and so to bed.

Sunday 17th July

Up betimes and went to early service, nay running up that dreadful hill to be there on time. After breakfast a deputation of some fishermen who were overhauling their boat was received was heard. The dinghy had misbehaved itself and had nearly rubbed a hole in their boat. On the whole, they were quite decent about it and backsheesh soon put matters right. On hearing they would be at their boat all day we asked them to look after Iolanthe. Seeing the Old Sod approaching the Skipper gave the fishermen some money, but was very cold to the OS.

The Skipper and crew argued over whether it is better to give backsheesh a little and after or on leaving, set out for the bus for Bridlington and having lunched at Filey Brig which failed to excite the admiration of the Skipper as it did in the crew, possibly because he was more hunger stricken.

At Bridlington there was a yacht sailing in the bay, where the water was sheltered from the NE wind by Flamborough Head. She had on a storm trysail but there were other fine yachts in the harbour of the Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club. The Skipper soon made friends with one of the paid hands aboard one of the yachts and soon the expedition was seated in the cabin having tea and biscuits whilst the newfound friend recounted tales of the collier brigs in which he had served, also his experience of the Navy in which he had been a 2nd Lieutenant. The owner came aboard and it was seen that the paid hand was treated as a friend, as indeed he deserved to be for he was one of the old world sailors that seem to be waiting when Moby Dick shall take their ships in tow. On returning to the ship, the OS was discovered hovering. His cap touching was coldly received and it was learnt this was his first appearance of the day.Congratulations were exchanged that no tip had been given.

Monday 18th July

After two days in port, the expedition worked off its surplus energy by running up and down the paths and other horseplay, but it must be recorded (to the detriment of the crew) that his respect for the Skipper was not in evidence when he pushed the Skipper down a steep incline against his will. The Skipper, being smaller than the crew, treated this indignity as a joke, but took his revenge by neatly hooking the crew’s legs away as he was climbing a steep grassy bank. The crew bit the dust just as three fair ones hoved into view and the giggles thereof caused the Skipper that uplifting, higher-than-air emotion, not shared by the crew.

Having scrambled at pleasure until thoroughly tired and further progress being stopped by large notice boards showing dire penalties for trespass, the expedition cut over some more land that was without doubt equally subject to prohibition. A bus was caught for Scarborough again where some shopping was done and the pictures were again visited at night.

Tuesday 19th July

Still the great rollers outside but the swell has moderated. "Patience", says the fisherman, "tomorrow" – always tomorrow. Scarborough begins to pall, the bathing pool is visited but the cold wind and subterrenean tunnel before the bath did not tempt us to stay although the band did make most sweet musick and many fair maidens did disport themselves even as mermaids. Iolanthe’s crew represented the entire male population of the baths.

The Skipper swore a mighty oath to sail tomorrow and to Hell with the weather, but the Crew, who knew full well that if the weather hadn’t changed for the better the Skipper would do no such thing, did not demur. At noon the wind began to pipe up from the southward.

Wednesday 20th July

9 am anxious eyes were cast from the pier end and it was decided to sail, although the fishermen were rather luke warm. At 10.15 the Skipper towede out to the end of the pier and all plain sail was set. A course was shaped out of the bay and round the Castle Point where the Skipper blew a salute on the bugle, or rather, half a salute because his breath gave out. On rounding Castle Point, the topsail was sent up and shortly after an attempt was made to set the spinnaker but the boom only blew up under the force of the wind blowing a good breeze from the SE. It was not until a guy was made fast from the boom end to the chains would it consent to stay. During this operation the Skipper’s stream of language the crew declared made him blush, but the Skipper denies the allegation.

Iolanthe responded to the increased spread of sail like the little thoroughbred she is, leaping from wave to wave sending her white bow wavelets foaming away on each quarter, contrasting with the deep blue of the sea, the sea shore and the cliffs covered with trees which looked their best with the yellow sand at their foot and the breakers thundering upon it.

Such a day makes one feel that it is good to be alive.

The wind held until the pier at Saltburn was sighted. It then fell light and finally died away leaving the little ship rolling in the waves which, although moderated, were still high. Then a good breeze sprung up from the NW and the pier ends at Hartlepool were made. The community watch having been broken, and the new one bought at Scarborough having suffered a seizure, the time was ascertained from some people on the pier end who were evidently excited about something from the way they shouted and danced but ignorance is bliss and a course was shaped for Sunderland on learning it was only 4.45. The wind died away and fog hid the face of the earth. The crew trembled for the Skipper who said he was glad of the excuse to exercise himself on his bugle.

At 9pm Sunderland harbour was reached and by 9.30pm Iolanthe was safely moored after the most wonderful sail of the voyage. The Wear Boating Association took her in hand and a member of prodigious youth was commissioned to see to her wants.

Thursday 21st July

Sunderland is the home of hospitality and although a crowd watched our domestic movements very closely, we realised they were truely interested in the ship and it took more than tact to refuse a tow they wished to provide. At last the Skipper got exasperated and told them he had sailed in andd would sail out or not at all, but thanks to them all the same. Luckily for him the ebb tide helped although the wind was against him and he was not disgraced in the eyes of the audience.

On leaving Whitburn and Souter Point a course was set for Newbiggin and soon the Tyne was passed with every stitch of sail set before a SSE wind but nothing could be seen until Newbiggin church showed up through the fog when a course was set for the Bondicar Buoy at the entrance to Coquet Roads and in due course the buoy loomed up out of the fog and rain. Warkworth Harbour was made in blinding rain squalls which left the ship drifting up the harbour on the flood. The Skipper suddenly perceived to his horror that she would no longer answer the helm and was drifting into a steamer made fast alongside a jetty. Encumbered as he was with sea boots and oilskins before he could get up forward and fend off she drove into the steamer. There was a resounding crack and Iolanthe parted company with a badly sprung bowsprit. The crew blamed the Skipper for not calling him from the cabin but refrained from being faecetious and shared the Skipper’s wounded pride.

A visit was paid to the tug and all the Skipper’s old pals on her introduced to the crew and all the wet clothes dried in the stokehole.

Friday 22nd July

Was spent in showing the crew the Castle and beauties of the Coquet, but the day began in a rude fashion at about 8.00am when the Skipper was roused by the most beautiful flow of language ever heard this side of the Tweed. On putting his head through the skylight saw a sight that made him think of all his past sins. A huge shape loomed up through the fog an incredibly short distance away and made as if to squash Iolanthe. Dragging the sleepy crew out of his bunk, the Skipper rushed on deck and beheld a steam dredger about 20yds away the captain of which was calling on the Diety, swearing and telling the Skipper to consider himself lucky we were not squashed like an egg etc and between times bellowing for him to pull ahead and then astern. When at last Iolanthe was safely moved astern he never came any nearer but seemed to harrangue his crew frightfully, having them running to and fro all over the ship.

After a consultation with Bob on the tug it was decided to teach the Glassed Irishman, as Bob called him, a lesson by telling him we had reported his disgraceful conduct at the office. He was so abject in his apologies the Skipper had not the heart to do so. The afternoon was spent in a vain endeavour to provide dinner for the watchmen of the North Pier, but thay had all in their favour as a rifle was used.

Saturday 23rd July

The fog cleared and about 2pm, having lunched at Bob’s house, we set forth amidst a flourish of trumpets and the waving of kerchiefs from the pier as Bob and his family bid adieu. A light wind from the southeast caused many weary hours beating to windward until off Newbiggin even that deserted and left the boat rolling in the pouring rain. The Skipper and crew began to say the usual hard words of one another but it may no matter. It was 9pm when a glorious breeze from the NW came along driving away the rain, and driving the ship along at a good rate. All was merry and bright again, all the shanties and half shanties, bars and stanzas known to the Skipper and crew were warbled gleefully.

On entering the import dock at Blyth Harbour the Skipper developed a cautious mania and lowered away too soon but the crew, whose turn it was to tow, is convinced that he wished to make him work all the harder. Luckily some Sea Scouts saved him much labour by towing Iolanthe to a berth alongside an old drifter. Just as sails were being stowed, Ned Robertson, the secretary of the Northumberland Yacht Club put his head through the cabin skylight and invited the voyagers to have a nightcap. Although it was refused on the plea of extreme youth the crew was consumed with envy when, getting aboard the House Yacht Tyne, saw the religious care with which the nightcap was prepared. The rite made the crew’s mouth water.

Having heard the gramophone in Ned’s cabin, both crew and Skipper resolved to touch their fathers for one. Shortly after midnight the cabin light was extinguished.

Sunday 24th July

The last lap of the homeward bound passage. Sail was set about noon after wasting the morning in Blyth. A good northerly breeze drove the seaworn mariners homewards at a very good speed. Iolanthe was safely moored in Tynemouth Haven after an hour had been spent securing the after mooring which had parted the buoy rope.

So endeth the cruise of the Iolanthe 1927, a greater voyage than any recorded in the Traffiques and Discoueries of Richard Hakluyt or so think the Skipper and crew.