Log of Bolivar 1979 – Holy Island Weekend

13th – 13th July

The Holy Island weekend seems fated! Again it was organized for big spring tides which would be foul through the Farnes from 03.00 Saturday for going North and 10.00 Sunday for coming South! It also was arranged only one week before the Holland Race. There was the usuall small fleet: Bolivar, Goddess Freya, Ladybird, Popgun, Caticus, Extro Special and Sunmaid. The start was at 20.00. There had been attempts to postpone it to 21.00, but that would have left even less time before the morning’s foul tide through the Farnes.

Bill Armstrong as Race Officer had laid a North-South start-line for a South-North start, which meant that everyone barged, but nobody, fortunately took it seriously. The very light North Easterly wind dropped off to a virtual glassy calm with many boats losing steerage way as they all lay scattered to the South of the Sow and Pigs Buoy. All the time there was a vigorous westerly showing on the chimneys around Ashington and Newbiggin. For 1½ hours we all waited frustrated, knowing that as the time passed there was more chance of losing the tide through the Farnes, and then the wind filled in and freshened from the West and all the fleet were away at 4 or 5 knots on a good reach.

It turned out a fine night’s sail – a force 3 Westerly, veering North West at times. A large moon rose at 23.30 and we were off Coquet by 00.15. Susan, after putting the baby down, had a three hour sleep and then came up at 01.10 off Boulmer. I brewed up Bovril and then turned in to be woken at 03.00 just South of North Sunderland Buoy. It was just getting light and to match the tide which was turning, the wind also went a little lighter. Very quickly the tide was sluicing against us and we did a board to close the coast ½ mile North of Seahouses piers to dodge close in, inshore of the Shoreston Rocks where there is some water even at low water, up to the Isleston Rocks. The wind got steadily lighter and we had trouble finishing, which we did by 05 54. We actually then proceeded to cross the line backwards. Black Rock Light was still lit despite it being a fine sunny morning.

This difficulty of finishing was running much to Bolivar’s form in Holy Island Races. The year before we had, like this year, been right in sight of all the boats in the race up to Beadnell/North Sunderland, and then the wind had dropped so we made second place on corrected time. This year of course the tide turned and we were very lucky to scrape a third place. The penalty of being last boat!

Typically within a couple of minutes of starting the engine, the wind freshened to West 4/6 and we were immediately onto our beam ends. We sailed into the Island and while preparing the ground gear (no easy task in Bolivar heeled well over and the foredeck very wet) discovered I had left all the tools at home! Being just short of high water I decided to sail onto the Steel End Pier and get all the gear organized at leisure, by which time the tide would be ebbing through the moorings which would facilitate the laying of the large Fisherman and chain to the West.

We laid the mooring with anchors to the West and East tied off below the bow just to the West of the Gunners Hole and very close into the shelf. Just below low water spring mark the Island shore is a steep slope to about 2 fathoms. In order to avoid the worst of the tide it is necessary to lie as close in as possible, which means ignoring full swinging room. If the wind comes away from the South the shelf is fairly soft and it is not unknown for boats to touch! The advantages in avoiding the worst tide, both for conform and for ease of dinghy use, are considerable.

We turned in at 07.10 to sleep, but Susan was back up at 08.00 to feed the baby, who really didn’t understand the need to fit in with ship¬board routine! On looking out she announced that Goddess Freya had dragged from lying up tide, to the west, to being astern of us. She was only lying to one anchor and must have cleared us by inches. I thought that she had fouled our kedge, which turned out to be so. We also noticed that her anchor was not buoyed – in keeping with all the other boats except Popgun. Several boats were lying to single anchors and in the fast tide were moving large distances. Caticus, when we anchored appealed to be well offshore, but when the tide turned, was very close to us, and we had laid our main anchor very close to her unbuoyed anchor! In addition very few yachts had a sheer on the tiller which ensures the boat lying the same way all the time. There are many lessons to be learned the hard way.

I was awake again late morning and went ashore to return shortly to collect Susan and the baby as the Crown and Anchor offered accommodation. Back on board for a jovial afternoon with Jim Clark, Dave Johnson, brother Quent, Brian Cook and a research student (female) who we met ashore. Caticus with Lew Scaife and Jim Swanston provided mid-afternoon entertainment as they sailed off the moorings bound back for Newton.

At low water Bolivar lay in 9 feet of water and about 20 feet from the shore. We dined on mince and tatties and, leaving Susan and the baby on board, I rowed ashore at 20.00, returning after a pleasant evening at 00.30. I set the alarm for 04.30 as the tide served through the Farnes from 04.00.

On Sunday we were up at 04.50, but were frustrated in heaving up the kedge as it was foul of Goddess Freya’s anchor (as suspected). After a long and fruitless struggle, we had to rouse them (not a pretty sight as there appeared to be considerable sickness on board which considering the flat water was remarkable) and we did not clear the Castle Point until 06.45 We sailed out through the Hole Mouth which is often shorter even when going South and has much slacker tides than the main channel. There was still a strong flood and Freya who left shortly afterwards found the light Westerly wind insufficient to buck the tide even with their spinnaker. We gained a couple of miles on them.

The wind gradually lightened. Freya passed us approaching North Sunderland as we ghosted by the Buoy with the last of the flood. I turned in for 1½ hours (very welcome) and during this time Popgun motored past. We gave up sailing off Dunstanburgh at 13.30 and started the engine, picking up Goddess Freya whose engine (as usual) was inoperative. Freya soon had to lend us a pair of mole grips as Bolivar’s engine bearer bolts were slack.

Off Coquet at 16.15 the wind filled in from the South East force 2 and Freya cast off the tow. Although the tide had now gone slack and would turn in our favour, we thought it best to avoid a long beat, so we motored all the way, arriving at Blyth at 19.15.

It was rather a dull passage back which did not match the excellent outward trip.