The Log of the Iolanthe 1928

The Skipper: A Johnson
1st Mate and Purser: R Davy
A.B.: L Davy
Cabin Boy: T Thackary

The gaff sloop Iolanthe was built at Kolbjornsvik, Arendal in Norway in 1915. In 1928 her owner, Arthur Johnson, was a member of Tynemouth Sailing Club. He joined the Northumberland Yacht Club later. This log recounts a cruise from the River Tyne towards Dunbar. Iolanthe visited several favourite harbours, including Warkworth Harbour (now more commonly called Amble), Eyemouth and North Sunderland, also called Seahouses.

Saturday 14 July

The good ship Iolanthe set sail with a flourish of trumpets about 10.30 with her company of adventurers, three in number. The Skipper, 1st Mate and Crew. With the wind from the westward she bowled along merrily but the Skipper gave orders for the topsail to be set. The order was not executed by the crew because the halyards were fouled.

Blyth was made about noon and a Pilot boat, laid up, proved to be a good place to make fast. Lunch was made off cold meat roll and tea, and by that time all the other yachts were up and doing. The wind had breezed up considerably coming in rather heavy squalls off the land. Nevertheless the Skipper gave orders for the topsail, which she stood well enough when the squalls were absent. Some vesssels had taken one reef in. A rather more severe squall laid her down until she shipped it green into the cockpit, whereupon the Skipper seeing that the Vice had struck his topsail, followed suit.

3.30, the time for the start passed and then the mark boat got into position. Iolanthe bore down on the mark boat and asked the time for the start. 4.30 was the reply, but the other boats said 4.15. A gun was fired at 4.15 and the fleet seemed to be crossing the line. Iolanthe crossed a good last but rapidly overhauled the other vessels, hoisting the topsail in the meanwhile. The race proved good fun but Iolanthe had too much ground to make up and was fourth acress the line. At the supper that night aboard the House Yacht Tyne it was rumoured that the skipper who claims to be 77 consumed six beers, and consequently all hands retired early. They had only been asleep awhile when the most unholy tramping was heard on deck which proved to be the owners of the yacht alongside returning after a riotous night ashore and in spite of the entreaties and blood curdling threats kept it up until well into the morning.

Sunday 15 July

Iolanthe Sunbathing

A fairly late start was made the following day because of the crew’s desire (let it be undisputed) of some of the Northumberland Yacht Club’s headed paper to write to his latest flame, for, as he remarked, it made him appear to be a millionaire. There was a beautiful following wind, SSW, and soon Iolanthe spread her wings i.e. spinnaker and topsail.

The Skipper and Mate thought it their duty to help the crew compose his letter d’amour, pouring scorn on all landlubbers and praising the hardy sons of the sea, and to emphasise the fact all hands took off their shirts and when clad in shorts only took pictures of one another. Old Sol was pleased to smile even more favourably and it became necessary to throw saltwater over one another to cool off. Photographs were taken from the dinghy to the delight and astonishment of all hands the gramophone was played with great success.

Light airs were the order of the day, but when Coquet LH was looming up close to the North, a fairly strong Westerly wind caused shirts and even sweaters to be donned. Warkworth Harbour was made in fine style. Bob and the other members of the crew of the tug, Ayr, were pleased to see us and we spent the rest of the evening yarning.

Monday 16 July

Oh what an awakening groan resounded in the cabin. The Skipper was the first to discover on awakening that the whole of his topsides from the waist up burned and smarted. On removing his pyjama jacket the whole of his body was covered with a maidenly blush as a result of courting Old Man Sol so assiduously yesterday. The mate and crew burst into rude guffaws at the Skipper’s misery, but soon these too were groaning for the exercise of laughing caused them to discover they too were in the same boat. A foy boatman would be green with envy at the way the mate and crew expressed their emotion. A chemist prescribed, but the cure was worse than the complaint.

The sails that morning did not get their usual boost-up and Iolanthe sailed that morning with a sorry crew on board who reviled all mankind. The Skipper went down with sun-stroke as soon as the harbour was cleared and lay down in the cabin on his stomach, it being too painful to lie on his back. The mate and crew, with their usual lack of sympathy chanted in unison to the Skipper’s groans, “I told you to put a hat on, it’s your own fault”, whereto the Skipper’s answer is not be printed.

North Sunderland Harbour

North Sunderland Harbour (Seahouses) was made at 8.0pm when it was dead low water and Iolanthe anchored in the roads. The Skipper and Mate went ashore in the dinghy for water to the indignation of the crew who alleged it was not water they went for. The Crew insisted in going ashore to post his letter to the fair one, so he said, but his brother, the Mate, suggested that he had gone to see how fair were the damsels of this place or to swank, saying, “Yea, I am from the ‘Yot'”. After waiting for the crew for some time, the Skipper and Mate fell upon the viands and tore them limb from limb, that is to say they proceeded to drink their soup. The Crew immediately hove in sight. “Naturally”, said the Mate with the jaundiced eye of a brother. The Crew had a very swollen head, having been mistaken for one of the Trinity Brethren’s people from their palatial steam yacht lying at anchor a couple of cables to the NW.

All hands prepared to turn in, at which point the Skipper became sure the anchor had no holding and forthwith ordered the Mate to lay away a kedge, much to that gentleman’s annoyance. All was now safe and all hands turned in, but not to sleep. Whereas before turning in the water was as smooth as glass, but as soon as heads touched pillow, the yacht began to pitch and roll frightfully.

Tuesday 17th July

6am The useless attempt at sleep was abandonned and the Skipper dragged his smarting body ashore for water and papers. On his return it was decided to get breakfast underway in order to carry the tide through the Farne Islands. A light NW wind was blowing faintly but the ebb tide was very strong and the ship soon picked up the Megstone Buoy, but it was too near to clear so it was necessary to bout ship and sail south against the ebb to clear. The crew, goaded by the base allegations of the Mate that he doubted the crew’s ability to cook water without burning it, started to prepare breakfast. To his increasing annoyance the Jumbles was entered (Tide Rip) and the crew upset his breakfast having supplied the Skipper and the Mate. Nor was he cheered by the coarse laughter of the Skipper and Mate.

St Cuthberts Church and Castle, Inner Farne

Soon after this happy incident, Emmanuel Head was discerned to the north. The Mate, who was studying the chart, wanted to know who Emmanuel was and why the more prominent headland on this coast of Holy Island was called “False Emmanuel”. It was close on midday when Berwick was seen about 4 M inshore and owing to lack of wind the entrance was made about 5.30 pm when about an hour’s ebb had gone. After some debate it was decided to try and enter because the wind was picking up (the topsail had to be lowered) and all hands were tired after their sleepless night off North Sunderland and the strain of the Jumbles, so with the Skipper at the helm and the Mate on the foredeck yelling when it shallowed, and the Crew on the sheets, Iolanthe was driven against wind and tide up the shallow waters of the Tweed, not without considerable doubt as to the meaning of the channel marker posts.

She was brought alongside a Buckie boat and the Mate was holding her whilst warps were being passed. Unfortunately he allowed her head to pay off and we shot downstream with all sail dowsed. The Skipper dropped the kedge and warp over the side but it did not hold her until it brought up on an obstruction. The Mate and Crew commandeered a salmon boat and towed Iolanthe alongside the Buckie boat again. That night, at the King’s Arms, the Mate stood a bottle of Graves to celebrate. The waiter, beholding our unshaven countenances told us they did not serve tea at 7 pm but graciously allowed us to remain when we said we wanted dinner, not tea.

Wednesday 18th July

Today was spent viewing Berwick upon Tweed with its quaint town walls and massive cannon. The walls of Edward I encompass a much greater area than the more modern walls and indeed an area greater than that occupied by the modern town. There is little to suggest the medieval, the modern Berwick seems to be entirely post Union with Scotland. It has the appearance of well preserved prosperity with its grass grown quays with cannon for bollards, topped by pleasant Queen Anne houses.

If one stands on the jolly old humpty backed bridge of the thirteenth century and gaze at the old Quays one can imagine bluff bowed ships with great grass hawsers made fast to the massive ring bolts. Gallant gentlemen with flowing skirted coats, periwegs, gracefully taking snuff whilst they discussed the goods from far off lands. Behind lies the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the Prophet namely the new concrete bridge with its equal arches smirking at the older bridge of James VI of Scotland and laughing at the innumerable arches getting larger and larger until at the Scots side there is the largest arch and the three smaller ones.

The Skipper stole a march on the maker of the famous Berwich Cockles, who having annoyed the crew by giving him a cockle because he was the youngest of the party, asked the Skipper if Iolanthe would stay until Monday for the feast. The Skipper asked if there would be pipes, and on being told there would be a contest for pipes said Iolanthe would stay at sea rather than submit to the sound of them. After another feed at the King’s Arms all hands turned in.

Thursday 19th July

Set sail at 9.30 and beat out of the harbour but now having the satisfaction of knowing the marks. A fresh NW wind with a lumpy sea greeted her outside and the good ship went jumping and punching through it first on one tack and then on the other. The ebb helped and it was not long before St Abbs was made. The strong wind down the Forth without the shelter of the land made a big sea and for three hours Iolanthe pounded manfully with only a mile to her credit. The tide turned and it became obvious she would not make Dunbar that day. The harbour at St Abbs could not be seen so the order was given to bout ship and run for Eyemouth.

On looking at the chart for Eyemouth harbour it was decided to slow her by putting two reefs in. This did not slow her sufficiently so the sea anchor was got over and towed by the trip line but it was discovered she would only hold her course with the helm hard over so the sea anchor was shipped. By this time the ship was off the entrance. Eyemouth harbour is a river which flows into a square in the rocky coastline. To the NW there is a tall cliff called Fort Cliff. On the seaward side is a reef of rocks called the Hurcar. This leaves a channel to the harbour mouth. It was decided to enter the channel. Accordingly, the Mate took stand on the foredeck to give warning of the depths. The Skipper thought the ship was setting down onto the rocks, but the Mate said No, but on looking again after adjusting the sheets, the Skipper had to put the helm down and try to put her about. There was a lull in the wind and she refused, so the anchor was let go. It went straight down but at last brought her up about 50 yards off the reef.

The Skipper hastily got the kedge and warp into the dinghy and rowed out with the intention of laying it but had to pull himself back to the yacht with the warp because the current was too strong to row against in the dinghy . The mainsail had been lowered but the jib was backed to try to drive her to seaward. The Skipper was by now sure the ship was lost and was for shaking out the reefs before cutting the anchor cable and trying to sail her out. The Mate suggested that that he had been watching a mark ashore and the position had not altered for half an hour so she would hang on until the tide turned.

So the anchor cable was cut away below, and all was ready to slip with buoy and line on the cable. There was nothing to do but wait. A motor boat was seen approaching. The Skipper put the situation to the Mate and Crew that if they asked the motor boat for a tow it would mean a salvage claim. On the other hand, if they hit the rocks there was a possibility of being drowned if they did not get away in the dinghy. The decision was they would not ask for a tow, but if the motor boat man asked if they wanted a tow they should agree a price.

Motor Boat Man: “There’s a reef astern of you.”

Skipper: “I can see that.”

MBM: “All right then. Goodbye.”

With sinking hearts all hands watched the departure of the motor boat. They waited two more hours and smoked innumerable cigarettes and wondering what to do when she struck. High water came without any slackening of the current but this was thought natural. It was afterwards discovered that a current always sets in from the N round the Hurcars and out by the southerly channel. At this time a screaming squall greeted them sending clouds of white water over her from the now wildy pounding bows. Two reefs had to be taken in the mainsail and it was seen from the marks ashore that the anchor was dragging. It could be heard rumbling over the rocks below.

The jib was set and backed and the mainsail hoisted close hauled in order to drive her out broadside whilst the anchor and cable were got aboard. The Mate and Crew toiled manfully being able to do no more than haul in the slack as her bows dipped. All the while the rocks were getting closer foot by foot and the little ship lay down with her lee decks awash. At last the anchor was got on deck and by this time she had driven clear to seaward past the rocks. The Mate and Crew fell into the cockpit exhausted. The Skipper, of course had to be at the helm at all times. She was sailed up north and put about. She came foaming down, the Skipper putting her so close to the foot of Fort Cliff that one might have jumped ashore on the rocks at the bottom. The sail was doused with unusual smartness and she shot out of the tumult into the quiet of the harbour. Some youngsters took a rope and towed her to a berth at the top of the harbour.

The Harbour Master boarded us and told us the people of Eyemouth were fiends incarnate who would steal your breath if they got the chance. He told the Skipper to appoint some old pirate to look after the boat whilst no one was aboard, for if not, the local kids, who were children of Satan, would break her up for firewood. The Skipper, who had promised a tremendous feed to celebrate, was delighted to find the place destitute of hotels and restaurants. Eyemouth is second only to one other place, Hell. To add to the general discomfort a piper marched the hills behind the village to a late hour, and while the Skipper (a Tynesider) was sufficiently barbarous to profess ‘sang froid’ the more civilised Yorkshiremen in the crew were almost driven to seek the offender with the ship’s rifle.

Friday 20th July

After a conference with the Harbour Master who declared the sea off St Abbs was always rough, but the big seas of yesterday were the result of a tide rip and if Iolanthe get close inshore she should be able to round the headland easily and there was a good wholesail breeze. The fact that it was from the NW, right from Dunbar, the destination, he made light of. The Skipper did not like the look of things at all and while he trusted the Harbour Master’s greater experience, thought that two reefs should go in for safety, knowing they could easily be shaken out.

Outside she lay down on her beam ends until the cabin coaming was awash. Knowing that even with a third reef she would be hard pressed, and that by virtue of her topsail, Iolanthe can stand wholesail even when other yachts in the club need two reefs, the Skipper decided to put about and return to Eyemouth. All hands went for a walk towards St Abbs, but not the Skipper who secretly hates to have returned, who stayed on board pleading sleepiness. He met a small boy (a visitor) gazing down on the boat with envy so he invited him aboard much to the youth’s delight.

After tidying up the cabin, the Skipper and the new cabin boy washed the topsides with hot water and soda, washed the dinghy, and cleaned up generally. The new cabin boy’s parents came and tried to persuade him to go to tea, looking at the Skipper as a hard-bitten Shanghaier of innocent youth. When the Mate and Crew returned and discovered the Skipper had forgotten to get his dinner or tea, they said some unkind things about leaving the Skipper without his nurse etc. A telegram had been sent to Tod to come to Eyemouth so all hands prepared for a long sleep next morning.

Saturday 21st July

The Skipper woke at the sound of shouting and jumping up stood on the Mate’s face (whose turn it was for the floor) then gave him the points of the cabin door. Not being able to get him up, the Skipper eventually got out through the forehatch and found the ship drifting down the harbour. A fishing boat who wanted to be at the top end of the harbour had just let go Iolanthe‘s warps in order to take her place. Some foreigners from Berwick took a rope and found her a place alongside the quay so that no vessel could fall against her when the tide turned.

When the tide left her, the keel began to slide outwards down a slope in the mud made by one of the Buckie boat’s keel and there was a danger of her mast being snapped against the quay. The crew left her and went for a bath but the Skipper stayed on board on the grounds that his skin in its present state (it was now peeling in large patches) should not be seen in public.

On returning from the bath, Tod’s luxurious car was on the other side of the harbour so all hailed togther and shot round to meet him. The Mate told him he had sent all the tips up 50% by coming in a travelling palace with a chaffeur. His mother was surprised by the diminutive yacht, but Tod assured her pleasantly she had got rid of him at last as he was sure to drowned. The Crew departed with Tod’s mother and Tod was signed on as the cabin boy.

It was decided to take the bus to St Abbs village for dinner. After dinner the wretched Mate dragged the Skipper and the Cabin Boy up St Abbs headland and was well cursed for it, the Skipper complaining bitterly all the while until he saw a topsail schooner sailing by and he climbed up the jolly old hill in record time leaving the Mate and Cabin Boy to follow at their leisure. When St Abbs Harbour was visited the Skipper was annoyed that while Eyemouth had been endured, St Abbs would have been enjoyed. It was decided to bring Iolanthe up to St Abbs so all hands ran all the way back by way of the cliffs four miles in the boiling sun, but the thirst produced was worth it for the Mate who, though he denies it, downed a pint in one gulp.

Beer was taken aboard, sail was set and soon Eyemouth and its flaming Hurcars were left behind. St Abbs is a beautiful natural harbour, that is pieces of pier have been built between the islets and the harbour so formed. It is entered from the North down a narrow channel with rocks each side in an avenue right under the promontory of St Abbs Head. From seaward nothing that suggests a harbour can be seen. There are two harbours, inner and outer, and in the outer it is possible for small yachts to lie afloat at all states of the tide. Clear water enables one to see the bottom and all is clean. The houses are built in some cases partly of living rock. The people are delightful, independent but friendly. Old Allan, the Harbour Master, is a wonderful old gentleman who refused a tip (which speaks volumes). And so to bed.

Sunday 22nd July

After a swim in the harbour the dinghy was provisioned and an expedition made to the headland where thousands of seabirds wheel and scream and the rocks are white with bird lime. Dinner was taken ashore and all hands returned to the boat for a gramophone concert. Soon thirty or forty canny Scots visitors were on the quay above listening until about 11.30.

Monday 23rd July

Today the homeward journey started, so at 9.30 the Mate commenced to tow Iolanthe out of the harbour in the dinghy. Once clear of the rocks the Skipper took a hand and pulled out of the lee of the land where a pleasant little breeze on the beam sprang up. Eyemouth was soon abeam and to the disgust of the Mate the Skipper blew one or two pleasant calls on his bugle for the benefit of the small boy who had helped clean the yacht. Iolanthe pottered slowly southward close under the tall cliffs until the spires of Berwick were seen. The breeze piped up making it advisable to lower the topsail.

Entering Berwick this time was much easier for although the wind was unfavourable the tide was flooding and one could stand much closer to the marks, and she was laid alongside the quay with great ease. After a snack and a shave it was decided to go up to Tweed Dock as Iolanthe would be staying for a few days. A friendly motor boat towed her up there and at about 6.0 the dock gates opened and the lockmen took her in.

Once more the King’s Arms provided a good meal and the Skipper, to celebrate deliverance from the Hurcars, stood a bottle of Sauterne. After going to the pictures a visit was made to the Joiners Arms. The Cabin Boy, not content with honest beer, asked for a Gin and It (Double) and was given neat gin with a shot of vermouth and having swiped this became very argumentative (which he denies), had difficulty getting down the ladder into the dinghy and still more difficulty getting out of the dinghy back on board.

Tuesday 24th July

The bus was taken to Dunbar and all felt sorry they had not got so far north. Dunbar is best entered from the north west between two iron beacons standing on rocks visible at three quarters tide until the harbour opens up in a narrow slit between high cliffs crowned by the castle. There is another entrance to the N but the channel calls for great skill in pilotage and one slip will probably lose the ship on the jagged rocks. The harbour is divided into two separate ones by a drawbridge and it is possible to lie afloat in the harbour nearest the castle in certain places. A large sandbank occupies the centre of the harbour. Grassgrown quays and disused century old warehouses predominate. Dunbar is delightfully quaint and old world. The old house facing the quay is supposed to have been occupied by Cromwell and the whole town nearer the harbour is delightfully tumbledown.

When the Mate and the Cabin Boy managed to tear the Skipper away from the harbour and its battery, they went from the sublime to the ridiculous, namely to the new bathing pool and other tawdriness which mars most of our old world beauty spots. Truely this generation has much to answer for; the Victorians will be considered connoisseurs of beauty by comparison to us.

On return to Berwick the feast was visited and coconuts fell rapidly much to the delight of the numerous virgins present. The Skipper was very indignant when he shot four bulls but discovered he had to hit the white spot in the centre of the bull to win a prize.

Wednesday 25th July

Warkworth Harbour Pier

The dock opened at 9.30 and Iolanthe flew down the river under big jib alone and out to sea. The Skipper rove the third reef, because the second reef had torn out. By the time it was done Iolanthe had reached Holy Island under big jib alone with the Westerly wind on the beam. At Holy Island the tripled reefed main was hoisted. The wind lulled and whole sail was set. Seahouses was soon passed and the wind began to pipe up so hard that the cabin coaming was awash and spilling became necessary more frequently. One reef was pulled down with great difficulty owing to the thickness of the reefing pennant.

Iolanthe flew down the coast, leaping and plunging through the seas sending up clouds of spray. It became necessary to spill wind quite frequently but it was too much trouble to reef again, so she was kept going as close to the land as possible. Soon Amble hove in sight and Iolanthe drove across the bay with all the wind she could stand, shipping it green. The Skipper took over to enter and soon she was laid gently alongside Vadne, Professor Meeks’ motor cruiser. What a glorious feeling of well-being there is when one enters harbour after a stiff sail with the salt encrusted on one’s face and a glowing feeling of health and strength. When one goes below and has tea with the cabin lamp burning how cosy everything is.

Bob from the tug, Ayr, came across and saw all the improvements made since last year. The evening was ended yarning on the tug.

Thursday 26th July

An expedition was made in the dinghy to Warkworth where there is a magnificent castle of the Percy’s. It was built when castles were residences. Percy was said to have spent £50,000 on escorting Margaret, the daughter of Henry VII to wed King James IV of Scotland.

The dinghy was rowed up against the tide and the Skipper stayed in it while the Mate and Cabin Boy guided it over the shallows on the plea of being the lightest but soon he, too, had to get out and push. Lunch was obtained at the Sun Hotel and afterwards a visit was paid to Bertram’s hermitage. Bertram (as the Northumbrian ballad calls him) was a goodly knight whose fair lady was My Lady Widdrington. She was taken by the Scots and Lord Widdrington and Sir Bertram set out to find her. Lord Widdrington, dressed as a minstrel, succeeded in escaping with her, but Bertram met them and thinking Widdrington was a Scot, couched his lance and rushed at him. Lady Widdrington, to save her brother, placed herself in front of him and the lance transfixed them both.

Overcome with grief, Sir Bertram became a hermit for forty five years. He hewed a cave in the form of a double chapel from the living rock. It is hardly believable that one man did so much work. The roof is groined as in a built chapel and there is an effigy of My Lady Widdrington with Sir Bertram at her feet.

The Mate and Cabin Boy were annoyed when the dinghy came to the rapids. They were told to walk down and the Skipper enjoyed himself shooting the rapids. When the dinghy came across some large moss covered boulders the Skipper had to get out onto them and slipped between them up to his waist. The crew visited the local picture house where many mighty deeds were witnessed of redskins and hardy settlers. On turning out, it was raining heavily and the crew hurried aboard, arriving soaked.

Friday 27th July

Raining all day. All hands visited Cambria a converted oyster smack but a really great job. Tea was taken with Bob. A gramophone concert was given on the tug until 3.0 pm and having finished all the records the tug’s crew would have given them another spin, but it was decided against.

Saturday 28th July

The Skipper and Mate towed Iolanthe through the Coquet Roads in the dinghy owing to a complete absence of wind. When the wind came from the SW she slowly beat down the coast. The rain came in hourly bursts until off Newbiggin when it poured in solid sheets of rain. Brunette was spotted in a rift in the curtain of rain. After a considerable time Blyth was made.

The evening was spent at the one and only hotel where a meal could be obtained and so back to the boat in the rain to discover those leaks in the deck and cabin top which had not been effectively stopped.

Sunday 29th July

Blyth was left about 11 and the Tyne was made about 12.30 but it was 2.30 before she turned up against the tide.

So ended the second famous voyage of the Iolanthe sloop.