At the best of times, I rarely sleep well when I know that I have to get up early in the morning. Today we have planned to leave at dawn when the swing bridge opens at 0530, and the cacophony of the seagulls that has gone on most of the night has added to my sleeplessness. As I lie awake, I recall a programme on the radio a few days ago about how seagulls are in serious decline, but at the moment I feel the sooner the better. Apparently our poor management of the seas and copious rubbish on land is attracting them more and more to urban areas where there is food for them. They find places to live and breed on top of buildings, get going in the day around three or four in the morning, and generally make a nuisance of themselves, at least as far as humans are concerned. Apparently it was quite difficult for them during the coronavirus lockdown as people weren’t out and about leaving their rubbish for them to feed on. Poor things, I think grumpily.
The alarm goes off at 0500, I get up and wake the sleeping First Mate, and make cups of tea and coffee for us both. We rig the slip lines, warm up the engine, disconnect the shore power cable, turn on all the instruments, set the GPS to record, call the Bridge Control to let them know our intentions, and do all the other little things that need to be done before we get going. I fleetingly contemplate what Captain Cook would have made of all this.
We slip the lines just before 0530 and wait in the fairway for the bridge to swing open. The First Mate takes the wheel and we glide through. As we look back at the town, the sun just rising above the horizon catches the houses and bathes their red bricks in a golden glow, the odd window catching the light full on and reflecting it with a bright flash. Somehow we liked Whitby, with its curious mix of brash modern tourism – entertainments, thronging crowds, harbour tour boats, a replica of Cook’s Endeavour, trips around the bay in tacky pirate ships – and a quieter, more reflective side – its history of the abbey, Cook and Dracula, its shipbuilding, and its quaint little lanes, nooks and crannies.
We pass out through the harbour entrance and set a course south for Scarborough. The wind is variable – rising at times to a credible 10-12 knots, then dying away to almost nothing. The engine goes off and on again with monotonous regularity. “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”, we sing raucously and out-of-tune in between. It is just as well we are out to sea and out of earshot.
By 1030, we are nearing Scarborough. We have been in contact with the harbourmaster by VHF and have been promised a berth in the small marina. It is a working harbour, and leisure craft such as ours jostle with fishing boats, tour boats, pirate craft and kayaks. Like Whitby, the promenade is a riot of entertainment – game arcades, funfair (it had to be here), the ubiquitous fish and chip shops, and masses of people casting social distancing to the winds.
And then we see them. At least, we hear them first of all. Just as we are settling down for a nice relaxing cuppa, there is a tremendous roar outside. We rush out and spy two large speedboats with unsilenced V8 engines tying up to the slipway a few metres away from us. People are starting to line up on the slipway. It dawns on us that these two monsters are getting ready to take them on trips around the bay. With generous blips on the throttles to keep the engines from stalling, the first of the drivers loads in his passengers and sets off out of the harbour. Once past the entrance, he opens it up wide, gets up on the plane, and sets off around the bay. The air vibrates, any peace is completely destroyed, and we look at each other with disbelief. Five minutes later the procedure is repeated by the second boat. Each trip lasts nine minutes, with one minute back for change over of passengers. We are not to know it at the time, but this will carry on all day without respite until 1930 in the evening!
For a few days, we have been having problems with water leaking into the bilge. The first test was to check if it was salty – if so the problem is serious as it means that seawater is somehow coming through the hull – not good news! Luckily it is not salty, so we can discount a breech of the hull, which is a relief. But where it is coming from has proved to be a puzzle. I had checked all the freshwater hoses to and from the galley sink unit, the bathroom basin and shower, the hot water cylinder, and all had seemed fine – no sign of a leak. There was too much water for condensation from the fridge, so that was also unlikely.
Then in the night the answer had occurred to me. The only hoses I hadn’t checked were those to the cockpit shower on the transom – in fact, I had forgotten we had one as we rarely use it. In the morning, I prise open the little hatch at the back of the rear cabin, and sure enough, there is a steady drip-drip-drip from one of the hoses. Spot on! Further tracking shows that the source of the problem is the little tap that turns the shower on and off – somehow it must have been joggled, leaving it partly on, with water reaching the shower head. In its stowed position, the water has little option but to leak into the boat rather than the sea, and eventually finds its way down into the bilge. Tap position back to off, problem solved! How easy things are when you know what is causing them.
By all accounts, it is not an uncommon problem – later in the day, I tell the story to the folk on one of the neighbouring boats; they look at each other and laugh.
“We had exactly the same problem last year – it took us several days to find what was causing it. Now, whenever we find water in the bilge, that is the first thing we check”, they say.
I make a mental note to do the same. I suppose it is some kind of rite of passage for a boat owner.
“What do you think these little birds are?”, says the First Mate, changing the topic.
She is looking at a group of small chicken-sized birds with orange, black and white markings loitering on the pontoons. We had seen a similar bird on one of the pontoons in Whitby, and I had meant to look it up. Although reluctant to let us get too close, they seemed relaxed to be amongst and around humans.
“Terns”, say our neighbours. “That’s what we have always called them, at least.”
I am not a bird expert at all, but for some reason terns doesn’t ring quite true. The terns that I have seen previously all had forked tails and seemed to be at sea. These ones don’t and aren’t. Later I look them up in our bird book, to discover they are most likely turnstones, so named because they like to turn stones on the beach over to look for food. Our neighbours have the first syllable right at least.
We had planned to stay a couple of days in Scarborough, but can’t bring ourselves to face another day of the raucous speedboats coming and going every five minutes. Our neighbours tell us of a nice peaceful bay a little further down the coast where we can anchor and relax, so in the morning we sail down to Filey Bay and anchor there. The sandy beach in front of the town is massive, and already full of a lot of people. The day turns out to be beautiful and sunny, so we decide to stay the whole day there reading and catching up. I settle down to read my Dracula book which I had bought at a bookshop in Whitby. The First Mate starts on answering her accumulated emails.
It is then that I meet Spencer. Spencer is a spider of unknown provenance, who is in the process of weaving a web across two of the struts holding up the canopy tent. At first I am a little affronted that he has the audacity to litter up the boat with his cobwebs, but then I remember that we have had a large number of flies coming and going, both in Whitby and Scarborough, which we had assumed was due to the heat and not us or our dirty washing. So I decide that he can stay provided he earns his keep by catching flies.
Spencer seems to understand the deal, as no sooner has he finished his web across the triangle of the struts, than there is a fly struggling to escape. Spencer moves quickly across and immobilises the fly with a numbing Dracula bite to the neck, and looks at me for approval. I give him the thumbs up.
“What are you doing?”, says the First Mate, looking up from her computer.
“Just encouraging Spencer the spider to do his stuff”, I say. “Hopefully he will keep the number of flies down on the boat. Let’s leave him there for a few days. Make sure you don’t clean his web away.”
Spencer the spider looks up from his fly as if to say “Fine, you keep to your side of the bargain and I’ll keep to mine. In a day’s time you’ll notice a lot less flies, believe you me.”
In the morning, the wind has gone around to the north, now coming from behind us on our port quarter. Not only that, we are just in time to catch the south-flowing flood tide. We set the sails and have a good run down past Flamborough Head where the current strengthens further and carries us along at a cracking 8 knots.
In the afternoon, the tidal current changes to the other direction so that the wind and tide are now in opposition. Such ‘wind-over-tide’ conditions usually result in quite choppy waves, and this time is no exception. As our speed slows and the going becomes much more difficult, Ruby Tuesday rears and dives into each successive wave as it comes. With the wind directly behind where we want to get to, we also have to take several long tacks to avoid any accidental gybes where the boom is blown violently from one side to the other. It’s slow going.
And then disaster of sorts. There is a crack and the mainsail goes slack and starts flapping in the wind. Then there is a clanging of something against the metallic boom. This is not a good time for problems. I peer over the cockpit tent to the boom and see that the outhaul block system that pulls the sail out from the mast seems to have disintegrated. One of the shackles has broken. The block itself is making the clanging sound against the boom. Luckily the outhaul line is still attached to the clew of the sail preventing it from flapping around too much. We pull the mainsail in and decide to motor the last few miles with the genoa remaining out to give some extra push against the tidal flow. The broken block system will have to wait until the evening when we have somewhere calmer to fix it.
There is mobile reception, so I phone the Humber VTS Control to ask the best route into the Humber. The voice sounds friendly, so I decide to ask him also about the anchorage on the western side of Spurn Head.
“It’s a great little anchorage”, he says. “The wind is from the north at the moment, so it should be quite sheltered. You’ll be fine.”
That all sounds reassuring, so we decide to spend the night there rather than going into Grimsby proper. It is about seven miles in and seven miles out, which will add quite a bit of time to our next passage, so anchoring at the mouth of the Humber seems like a good idea.
As we round Spurn Point, the wind seems to increase, and we see whitecaps on the waves and one yacht beating a hasty retreat. The omens are not good. And the shelter is almost non-existent – Spurn Head is a sandy spit at the mouth of the Humber, perhaps only a few metres above sea level, and we can see the north wind whistling over the scrubby vegetation and whipping the waves in the supposed anchorage into a froth.
As we approach, we spy two other boats there – another yacht and the lifeboat, both heaving up and down at anchor – so decide to give it a go. At least it will be a chance to test the anchor alarm on the new AIS. We find a spot a little way from the other boats and drop the anchor and set the alarm. It seems to hold, although the boat is pitching up and down like a yo-yo. Then the mist comes down and it starts to rain. We decide we will just have to stay here and make the most of it.
In the evening, I find a couple of spare shackles that I use to fix the outhaul block system. One is a twisted shackle used on the genoa, so I have to use another straight shackle to counteract the twist. It is not ideal as it makes the whole assembly longer than it should be, but it will have to do the trick in the meantime. I’ll buy the correct shackles at the next chandlers we come across.
The wind is howling and the boat is pitching as I go on deck to reattach the outhaul line, so I clip myself in just in case I fall overboard. The First Mate keeps a watchful eye on me through the saloon hatch. I make it back.