The Log of the Iolanthe 1930

The Skipper: A Johnson
Crewed by Geoffrey and Robin

The gaff sloop Iolanthe was a double-ender built at Kolbjornsvik, Arendal in Norway in 1915. This, the third of Arthur Johnson’s logs, and his last on board Iolanthe, recounts a cruise in company with Brunette from the River Tyne towards Aberdeen.



Iolanthe took her departure from the Tyne at 10.30 am, Geoffrey sailing as her crew. Blyth was reached at 12 noon where Brunette was found stowing her stores. We watered ship and when Brunette’s skipper arrived we set sail and took our departure at 2.00 pm.

A NNW wind caused us to beat but soon it fell away to nothing and we were both left rolling in the swell. After about 1½ hours the wind drew round to the NW and we could just lay Coquet Island. Brunette drew well ahead but waited off the Bondicar Buoy for Iolanthe to close up so we could decide whether to anchor in Coquet Roads or try to make Amble.

As the tide had turned the decision was to anchor in the roads and at 7.20 pm we let go in about 4 fathoms near the Sand Spit. To achieve this involved some grand evolutions in which Iolanthe’s bowsprit was kept almost touching Brunette’s dinghy. It was necessary to beat on rounding the Hauxley and Iolanthe reached the anchorage first.

Dinner was cooked and eaten aboard Brunette. Iolanthe’s Skipper was greatly astonished at the luxurious meal it was possible to cook on a small boat. After the meal both dinghies made an expedition to the Island and after many strandings at last made a landing. Having encompassed the Island all hands returned to the yachts and turned in.


0930 am. Took our departure, Iolanthe being first away but Brunette was not long in overtaking us. The wind being southerly the spinnakers were set and Iolanthe soon took the lead. We passed to the eastward of the Megstone and Geoffrey complained bitterly of the smell of the cormorants. The Skipper had a cold and so was not bothered by it. Off Goswick Iolanthe handed her spinnaker and hove-to waiting for Brunette. Before she get under way again, Brunette got a good lead but lost it all trying to set the spinnaker as a reaching jib. Eventually both boats met in the narrow channel beating into St Abbs, the wind having gone round to the westward and blowing rather fresh. It was very exciting beating up the narrow channel neck and neck and it looked at one time as if there would be a collision but by dint of skilful fending off we got clear and gathered weigh just in time to avoid the dreaded Bus which is in the centre of the channel.

Brunette got in just before us at 1930 but Iolanthe’s gaff jambed and we went charging about with the skipper up the mast vainly trying to bring the gaff down. At length however we were successful and went alongside Brunette which had made fast to Bonaventure, which was lying there with a troop of sea scouts aboard. After dinner and a walk ashore, we had a hot rum on board Iolanthe with Bonaventure’s skipper as guest.

Fishing boats going out, St Abbs


We lost the tide off St Abbs and had to wait for water to cross the bar, so we went for a stroll with SD Newton, Bonaventure’s skipper, to the cliffs north of the harbour. After a gin and bitters and lunch we set sail and on clearing St Abbs Head found a good NW wind blowing which of course was the direction of Dunbar, our next port of call. Iolanthe worked out a good lead for herself and by 6 pm we were only about three miles north of Fast Castle.

Grey Goose, a converted 28ft Scotch keel was returning home to Dunbar so she took Brunette in tow. After some pretty evolutions on Iolanthe’s part a tow rope was secured by floating it down on a buoy.

It was found however that Grey Goose, despite her powerful motor, could make little headway so we hoisted our mainsail and sailed, tacking in succession and finally arrived at Dunbar at 2130, much to the admiration of a spectator who thought we were sailing line ahead. We had dinner and repaired aboard Grey Goose. She is a converted Scotch keel and very comfortable. The owner himself did the work and it is quite the best work I have seen for an amateur. The crew consisted of the owner’s wife, two girls, and a paid hand. After much talk we turned in at 1150.

Harbour and castle, Dunbar


Towed out of Dunbar harbour at 1300 with two reefs in and made slow work against a NW wind which was really too light for two reefs. A green black cloud to the NW made us keep the reefs in and soon we found ourselves justified as a very heavy squall struck us. After beating to and fro against this for a while it eased and we were able to shake out the reefs and lay the Bass Rock. Iolanthe was just unable to lay the Bass, and had to tack which allowed Brunette to come up. Having cleared the Bass we laid a course NW for Elie. At 1900 we found ourselves by a fix four miles due south of Elie. The wind fell and we kept trimming the sails for each puff which came from all points of the compass. At length about 2130 we worked into Elie Bay and, taking the advice of a fisherman, Iolanthe grounded near the so-called pier. Luckily we refloated and went off into the Bay again, and anchored. After dinner we turned in.

Elie in the harbour


Woke about 06.00 by being flung onto the floor, Iolanthe rolling horribly because of a SW wind blowing into the Bay. Further sleep being useless rose and dressed and made breakfast which was consumed on Iolanthe. It was most uncomfortable, being impossible to balance oneself unless seated. Went ashore and shopped and at 1030 set sail for Fifeness. We were able to set the spinnaker and had a glorious sail to Fifeness when Brunette’s Skipper set out in the dinghy to bring the camera to Iolanthe by being passed on a line. Unfortunately Geoff let go the line and Iolanthe just managed to grab the dinghy. On rounding Fifeness Beacon Iolanthe managed to establish a good lead.

Soon a rain squall came down upon us and Iolanthe thought Brunette was heading for the Tay and she was put about to see why. Brunette bore away again and it became clear she was heading for Arbroath. Brunette increased the lead she had gained by this manoeuvre and soon was a good two miles ahead. Iolanthe was compelled to hand the topsail which had split (it being ripe with age).

Brunette appeared to be safely in the harbour but a fishing boat came out and said she had run aground and asked for the loan of the dinghy. Iolanthe, profiting from Brunette’s mishap, sailed round to the right entrance and entered in safely. By the time all was made fast Brunette was seen coming in under tow from a fishing boat. It seems she had mistaken the entrance owing to the breakwater being left in an unfinished state. The pilot boat that had tried to tow her off had pulled all the cleats off her stern and broken the tiller. Moreover it had turned her round until she stoved her bilge in on a rock.

John knocked the plank out again and put canvas into the hole to keep the water out until Brunette was fetched into the harbour. Iolanthe’s crew went along to help bale her out and this caused the folks of Arbroath great entertainment. A boat  builder promised to repair Brunette and Robin and Geoff went to a hotel and all the rest turned in on Iolanthe.

The Watchtower, Arbroath


Mr Russell, the boatbuilder, repaired Brunette at low water and made a very good job of it. He has a yacht of his own and has built them on the Clyde. All hands went to the Public Baths and had hot baths. Robin seemed to make a great hit with the young females.

The south cone was hoisted all day but the amount of wind did not seem to justify it. The local paper had an article about the wreck of a yacht, but, as usual, it was all rot and no real bearing on the case at all.


Still at Arbroath as there was still work to be done on Brunette and the parcel from home had just come. Went for a walk up the coast.


Iolanthe and Brunette departed at 0830 towards Aberdeen with a light variable wind which soon fell away to nothing so all hands went for a swim. Shortly afterwards a southerly air helped us steadily north and Robin came across in the dinghy with a macaroni cheese.

Brunette established a good lead and off Stonehaven hove to and waited until Iolanthe caught up to discuss going into Stonehaven, but because there was still a good breeze it was decided to carry on. Shortly after the wind fell and Iolanthe drifted rapidly with the tide and soon was two miles ahead of Brunette. Fortunately a light westerly enabled her to sail back. It was agreed that as there was virtually no wind to make Brunette fast with a line to Iolanthe and all come aboard, so that Brunette’s crew could return aboard her as they finished their watch. Brunette lowered her sails and the scheme was put into operation.


During the last night watch a fresh SW wind sprang up and Iolanthe’s Skipper was called to hand the topsail which he did with much cursing. We had to get both boats under control, so Brunette’s Skipper went back on board. It was necessary to take in two reefs as the crews of both ships were not feeling their best at this hour of the morning. Iolanthe’s Skipper hove to and cooked breakfast but still Brunette did not come up. Iolanthe’s crew could only nibble at breakfast because it was too early and too much sleep had been lost.

Scurdyness Lighthouse, Montrose

Brunette shook out her reefs and came past. Iolanthe followed suit but could not catch up until off Tod Head, when Iolanthe kept the wind but Brunette lost it enabling Iolanthe to catch up. Iolanthe then lost the wind and lay rolling in a nasty sea whilst Brunette sailed away to look at Johnshaven and back again by which time Iolanthe had got the wind again. Both ships sailed across the bay to Montrose, Iolanthe just ahead and Brunette coming up and falling away again. On reaching Scurdyness Lighthouse we were greatly puzzled at the absence of Annat Bank Buoy (red conical) and Scalp Buoy (black can) but by following the Sailing Directions (keep the lighthouse due west until the leading marks are in line) we entered in great style with a four knot tide under our keels and made fast to a buoy. We were much amused at the Harbour Master‘s deputy who required manifold particulars written for him in a book.


Rose at 0900 – raining heavily – went shopping until 1300 and Iolanthe’s Skipper tried to purchase a clipper model which was going to rot above a shop but it belonged to the landlord who was in Glasgow so the model was left to rot. We went out in a motor boat to see what the weather was like. Although the ancient mariner rambled on about bad weather and talk of shipwreck and whined generally, we decided to try for Arbroath. While we were casting off it came on the rain heavily with poor visibility so we decided to wait to see what tomorrow would bring.


At 0630 we started to beat down channel against the flood but could make no progress so had to return, have breakfast, and finally got under way at 0900 on the first of the ebb. The wind veered to the NW and Brunette tried to set her spinnaker but it just blew up into the air, so Iolanthe stowed hers. The wind blew fresher than ever but as we were running we hung on to the canvas we were carrying. At 1330, one mile west of the Bell Rock the wind came in a sudden squall from the SW and Iolanthe was thrown down on her beam ends. The Skipper let go the jib and as soon as the halyard was let go it burned his hand. The fall ran up the mast out of reach but there was no time to bother about it. Next, the mainsail was lowered, and after a few minutes of strenuous fighting to get the sail secured, it was at last made fast. The storm trysail, double reefed, was set for the first time.

Iolanthe was tearing through the seas even with the small sail she was carrying. The Skipper went forward to secure the jib which had split in the squall. The seas were very big by this time and the boat shipped a big one just as he was trying to get the jib off the outhaul. It was all he could do to cling on to the samson post. Soon after the anchor on the foredeck got adrift and knocked a cleat off the mast. The Skipper dashed forward and dropped it down the forehatch.

It then became apparent the dinghy was doomed. The oars floated out followed by the bottom boards. It was decided to cut it adrift as it was waterlogged and its drag was preventing Iolanthe from getting her head to the seas.  Even if we had managed to bale her out she would only have filled again in a minute or two. It would have difficult to bale as we had no sail to balance the trysail and hence it was impossible to heave to. Once rid of the dinghy, Iolanthe shipped very little green water and the Skipper persuaded the crew (Robin and Geoff) to go below.

The Protection Wall, Arbroath

At about 1730 the wind moderated a little and the clouds broke up. It was possible to see where we were. We were able to shake out the reefs in the storm trysail. Later we hoisted the whole mainsail and the storm jib and drove her through it as hard as we could, making for Arbroath which we entered at about 1930. No sign had been seen of Brunette but on arriving we walked along the pier we soon saw her coming. She arrived about 45minutes later.

She had been more fortunate having a small jib to balance her treble reefed mainsail and had been able to heave to. Her dinghy had much more freeboard and had not filled with water and what there was they had been able to bale out when the wind moderated. Brunette had lost an oar, but found that her sea anchor (a Board of Trade one) was useless. Also she was wetter than Iolanthe in the cabin. Complete chaos reigned in the cabin and the gramophone which had been stowed in a locker in the foc’s’le had found its way into the after part of the cabin.

The result of this stern test was to give the skippers greater confidence than ever in the two boats. After trying to dry things up a little, we turned in tired out.


All day was spent drying out at Arbroath. The loss of the dinghy was reported to the Receiver of Wrecks who made a report which might quite easily have been appropriate for the Mauretania. His respect for Iolanthe’s Skipper increased when asking him if he had any certificates for navigation and he answered “Sub-Lieutenant RNVR”.

The sea was still bad, we made good use of the time in harbour by attending the public baths again. We were invited to go on a fishing expedition in Ben Venito so at 2300 we turned in all standing.


Rose at 0100 and attired ourselves with all the clothes we could comfortably carry and went to Ben Venito’s cabin to wait for her crew. We lighted her stove and turned into her various bunks and dozed fitfully until 0600. Still no crew, so finding their bunks hard we rose and retired to our own ships woefully disappointed. The seas were thundering on the piers, the wind having turned easterly and we wished we had seen what the fishing boats could stand.

At 0800 we heard a hail and Iolanthe’s Skipper went to see the Floreat come in. She was the only boat that had ventured out that night. He climbed up onto the roof of a shed and there flattened against the roof he watched a wonderful sight. The Floreat was storming along, scooting over the tops of the waves, first on the crest of a breaker and then lost to sight apart from her masthead. She was reeling from side to side like a drunkard as the waves playfully pitched her stern around.

A gasp of relief came from the watchers as she pitched into the safety of the harbour. We gave them a bottle of whisky which we had got them as a present for drying out our clothes. It was a welcome gift. Ben Venito’s skipper said it was a fool’s trick to go out in such weather but we were sorry we had turned down Floreat’s offer, and accepted Ben Venito’s instead, because the experience was a pity to miss.

While in Arbroath we had made it a practice to go each morning to the Public Baths, but the Scots attendant was horrified at our extravagance for she exclaimed, “Ye canna be dirty. Ye was here only yesterday”.


Iolanthe’s Skipper and Brunette’s first mate returned home by train to take part in the Tyne RNVR Regatta.


Iolanthe’s dinghy was recovered in Lunan Bay brought to Arbroath on a lorry.


John arrived back and we set sail at 1130 and with a NW wind went by the N Carr Lightship, May Island to Coldingham.


1200 reached St Abbs, left 1300, and reached Berwick. Iolanthe collided with a fishing boat and smashed her samson post.


Repaired samson post.


SW wind. Came out of the dock at 0545 and sailed to the Kettle at Inner Farne.


Reached Amble.


Reached Blyth at 1830 after a terrible thunderstorm.


Arrived at Iolanthe’s mooring on the Tyne.