We leave Amble at around midday to catch high water. Getting out is certainly easier than getting in – there is little wind to speak of, so Ruby Tuesday goes where we point her this time. We take a north route around Coquet Island to avoid the shallows between it and the mainland, and set a course southwards.
The First Mate takes the opportunity to do some exercises.
The conversations with David, the ponytailed sailor in Eyemouth, have got me thinking. The current system is not sustainable, it can’t carry on the way it is. But what to replace it with? My mind goes back to a book I was reading over the winter – Prosperity without Growth, by Tim Jackson.
Jackson makes the point that we are all familiar with, that the present western lifestyle is not sustainable, that we are consuming more and more than the finite earth can provide in the long run. We are only able to do this at the moment because of the availability of cheap energy from fossil fuels. Encouraged by advertising and fuelled by cheap debt funded by the emerging economies such as China, we convince ourselves that we need to purchase more material goods than our basic needs in order to lead fulfilled lives. We use our material goods as a way of communicating our worth in society, and are conditioned to have a constant fear of being left behind and missing out in comparison to others. The problem is that satisfaction does not increase linearly with possession of material goods – beyond a certain point it levels off. It all sounds a bit like a lose-lose situation – we consume more material goods to try and make ourselves happy, which they don’t, but by consuming so much we not only deplete the world’s resources but also pollute the natural environment.
The problem is that it is difficult for the current system to throttle back and remain static – it can either grow or collapse. Growth occurs because new ideas make the production of things more efficient, which puts people out of jobs. But new ideas lead to new products, which hopefully employs those people. It all keeps growing because people are conditioned into buying cheaper and newer products. Trying to reduce consumption would lead to less demand, less production, more unemployment, which in turn would lead to less demand, less production, more unemployment, in an ever-increasing and unstable downward spiral.
All this is hardly new, but as the solution, Jackson proposes that we shift the economy from less one of production and consumption of material goods to more one of production and consumption of care, craft and cultural services. To some extent this is what is happens to economies anyway – a gradual move from agriculture to heavy manufacturing to services. We need some material goods for prosperity, he says, but something more is needed – a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging and trust by the community.
We are passing Hartlepool, where a lot of gas tankers are anchored in the shallow water outside the harbour, all bringing fossil fuel to feed our demand. The irony is not lost. I shelve my musings until another time as we need to concentrate on avoiding the ships coming out of the harbour. The AIS has gone into overdrive in calculating potential collisions with us even though most of the protagonists are safely behind the harbour wall – it has no way of knowing there is an obstacle in between us. We don’t mind it making a few ‘false positive’ errors -it’s the ‘false-negatives’ that keep us awake at night!
We eventually reach Whitby and enter the outer harbour. On the pier above us anglers are casting their lines. Although there is a sign saying that fishing is only permitted on the seaward side, there are several lines dropping into the water on the harbour side. We hope that none get caught on our propeller. Suddenly there is a shout and one of the fishing lines goes taut. We are caught! I wrench the gear lever into neutral, but Ruby Tuesday continues on under her own momentum. The line disappears and we don’t see it again – I suspect that it has snagged on the keel but has slipped off. At least the propeller is still working, and we see no fisherman dragged off the pier!
We continue up the river and come to the swing bridge which we need to pass through to get to the marina. We call the bridge control to let them know that we are there, and are told to wait for a few minutes. The street above us seems to be the main centre of activity in the town – a garish mix of game arcades, neon lights, and fish and chip shops. Crowds of people throng it – social distancing seems to be an unheard of concept. It all seems rather tawdry after a day at sea when the only noise is the swish of water as the boat cuts through the waves, or the cry of seagulls as they fly overhead.
We hear a buzzer, traffic lights go red, the cars and pedestrians stop. One half of the bridge swings open, and we are given the go-ahead. We inch our way through the gap, only a few centimetres on each side to spare, conscious that we are the centre of attention of the waiting crowd. We had better not mess up!
We make it, and are directed to a berth on the end of a pontoon. It is perfect – we are in the centre of town, and yet can sit in the cockpit, enjoy the peace and quiet, and watch the world go by from a discrete distance. Who could wish for more?
Later we stroll into town, stopping for fish-and-chips on the way. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I think. We have to queue outside a window of the shop with the only means of communication through a microphone and speaker system. When the order is ready, we collect it from another small shutter window that can be opened by the girl to leave the bag and closed when we pick it up. No one bats an eyelid, but I think how bizarre it is that this new normal has been accepted so quickly. Will we ever go back to the old normal?
It turns out that our fish-and-chip shop is one of many – I don’t think I have ever seen so many per square mile. How do they all stay in business?
Our appetites sated, we wander through the quaint little streets of Whitby. Away from the brash flashing neon lights of the entertainment area, there is a certain old-world charm to the place, albeit catering mainly for tourists.
We end up at the bottom of a long flight of stairs up to the abbey ruins on the hill to the south of the town. It is a steep climb, but we manage it, and are rewarded by a spectacular sunset over the bay.
Behind us, the abbey ruins are bathed in the warm golden glow of the setting sun. It’s magical. Bram Stoker was supposed to have sat somewhere around here and got the inspiration for Dracula, but with this beautiful coast in front of us, it is difficult to see why he was inspired to write of blood-sucking vampires from Transylvania, and not some nice romance. Perhaps it was all the gravestones in front of the abbey. This is the second place we have encountered the grisly Count on this trip – the first in Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire – is it turning into a theme?
The next day, I decide to go and visit the Captain Cook Memorial Museum while the First Mate has a look around Whitby. Because of the social distancing rules, I have to book online for an hour slot starting every 15 minutes. The idea is that there are four floors to the museum and you are allowed 15 minutes on each one before moving to the next one. A fresh intake of visitors come in at the bottom 15 minutes later while the ones on the top floor leave.
I have a particular interest in Captain Cook as he circumnavigated New Zealand, my country of birth, in the 1800s, leading to its colonisation by people from Britain, some of whom were my forebears. And here are we now, nearly finished a circumnavigation of the land of his birth! Cook was born in one of the villages near Whitby, and served his apprenticeship with the shipowner who had once owned the house where the museum is now located. Although he moved away from Whitby when he joined the Royal Navy, the ships that he had sailed in, Endeavour, Adventure, Discovery and Resolution, were all built in Whitby.
As I explore the museum, my admiration for sailors of that era is renewed. Not only did they have no electronic technology to help with navigation and warn of dangers or engines to push them along, but their ships also could hardly sail into the wind, meaning that they had to spend much more time waiting for favourable winds than we do now. And yet they somehow managed to explore and map much of the globe, often with intricate detail.
On the top floor, I am welcomed by a white-haired attendant. After exchanging pleasantries, he asks me where we are staying. Probably to surprise him a little, I point out of the window to the marina below.
“We’re staying in the marina”, I say. “Look there – that’s our boat on the end there”, pointing to Ruby Tuesday below.
An instant bond is formed. He is also a sailor, and has three boats – a yacht, a motor cruiser, and a racing dinghy. He keeps his yacht further up the coast at Sunderland, not Whitby, as it is too expensive here. Most of his sailing he has done on the east and south coasts, and he now teaches sailing to the boy scouts. He is impressed at our project to circumnavigate Britain.
“It’s something I have always wanted to do”, he says. “I have sailed as far as Falmouth, but never had the opportunity to go further. But your accent – do you mind asking what it is? Australian, New Zealand, South African?”
“New Zealand”, I say. “But I have lived in the UK for most of my life.”
“Ah, New Zealand”, he says wistfully. “Beautiful country. My daughter lives out there. We visited her a couple of years ago.”
Realising I have only fifteen minutes on this floor before the bell rings, I politely try to draw the conversation to a close and absorb myself in the display on Joseph Banks’ botanical expedition with Cook. When I was growing up, we used to look out every day to Banks’ Peninsula near Christchurch, which is named after Joseph Banks. But the white-haired attendant has the bit between his teeth.
“We hired a camper van and did both islands …”, he starts. The bell rings, and I have to move on. The exploits of Joseph Banks and the camper van will have to wait for another day. I bid him farewell and wish him the best with his sailing.
We hear on the news that night that Aberdeen is in lockdown again – there has been a cluster of cases centred on specific pubs. It seems that we escaped just in time.