It has been too long since the last proper post. As you may have surmised I’m much keener on stories of sailing and getting out on the water than matters to do with construction, Jetties, mud-berths, and the general laborious nature of keeping a club like ours up and running. Well, here’s an effort to make amends.
There is one thing is for sure at Wardleys is that we’ve got some blumming good land skippers at our club!
And the proof that they can sail a keen course when working with their hands, sail close to the wind when erecting impressive wooden structures, and keep their wellies well above the muddy shores when blasting out quantities of goo standing in the way.
If you haven’t been down to the club recently it’s just in front of the clubhouse jutting proudly out towards the river. A lot of hard work and effort have been sunk into the ground along with those ex GPO poles and other timbers. And all made possible by Wardleys Member’s hard work and generous subscriptions.
And it hasn’t been without other types of cost borne by our brilliant club membership. If you were to plie the skipper of yacht Rivendale with a tumbler of whiskey and Canada dry he’ll tell you all about it! (Something about falling off the back of a lorry closely followed by a half-ton telegraph pole). Still, it looks like he’s gotten away with it, with only a very slight spell off work. He is as fine as can be now.
In way of a pat on the back for all concerned. I am sure you have all heard of the comedian ‘The Landlord’. He would sum things up by lauding those involved with the words, “You Beautiful People, You Beautiful People”. And he would be dead right!
But ALAS the club just recently has had the WIND KNOCKED FROM ITS SAILS!
I am afraid to say that even the best of Skippers (land or otherwise) cannot steer a canny course when a whopper of a wave slops over and takes away the mast and sails, wholesale!
Well this is exactly what has happened to the club with the COVID 19 catastrophe. If you haven’t just arrived back from planet Zog you already know what it is about. I am afraid it looks as if our plans for the first half of the season have been sunk and are currently on a fair vertical descent towards Davy Jones’ locker.
Lord of the Admiralty, Boris was on TV the other night and he told us not to congregate in groups of more than two. We can’t even go further than a mile from home without good reason! And sorry boys, boats are considered as second homes and do not count. Do not get any clever ideas. We are so well and truly sunk — but hopefully only for the time being!
The planned 8th April Crane-In would now be ILLEGAL, under the terms of the govt lock-down.
We have had to lock up the clubhouse to deter those who might feel lightheaded about it all and thus wonder down in a delirious state of despondency.
ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE:
I am sure we can all appreciate the canny course through stormy seas the Government most certainly has to steer to give those of us who are disposed to falling overboard, in situations like this, the best of chances of getting pulled from the water by the brilliant NHS. To achieve this we must ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed by too many hapless casualties thrashing about in the soup. That’s the idea anyway.
I thus strongly urge us most excellent Wardleys skippers to all play our part! To shamelessly mix my metaphors, we’ve all got to BOX CLEVER to sail out of this MAELSTOM.
If my understanding of contagion is correct, at least 65% of us are going to get hit by a breaking wave (aka. the lurgy) before the seas go calm again.
Now back to the sail to the great Morecambe adventure?
I was brought-up in Morecambe and first learned to sail in a Mirror dinghy and then a little later on in a Wayfarer Dinghy, launching off the town hall slipway. We are talking about the seventies here. Yes, homemade wetsuits and hard plastic yellow lifejackets! And so very modern it all was! But to top it off, all the new boats had glistening gold aluminium masts and cardboard stiff terylene sails. The sound of those early sails thrashing whilst head to wind at the bottom of the slipway, whilst waiting to go was terrifying. Then eerie quiet as the boat boar way to be replaced by the manic gurgle of speeding water, as the hull ripped onto an instantaneous hydroplaning adrenalin rush, resulting in a wet spray electric charge through a classic Morecambe Bay chop!
Sorry, but moving forwards in time to the, not quite yet, sentimental summer of 2019. One early morning two Wardley’s boats sailed out of Piel Island. There was Jamila (a Mirage 2700) in company with Andy Sargent in Kyle 2. Once having navigated carefully beyond the Seldom Seen scars and as far as the Walney lighthouse, the two boats split up and went their merry ways. Kyle 2’s lay a course back to the River Wyre, and Jamila lay a course for Morecambe. The plan was to return to the slipway of my sailing youth when the sun was always shining and the wind was always blowing.
As all time-served and experienced Wardley’s sailors know, there is a little bit of gamesmanship and a roll of the dice when deciding when to bear to port and set a course on the Blackpool tower. With a good surging 4/5 knots this always a good rule of thumb. You will eventually find yourself bearing down on the Fairway Buoy with the remnants of the Wyre Light just beyond. But misjudge the height of the tide, or your speed over ground, and you quite simply and unceremoniously hit the bottom.
However to lay a course to Morecambe, the easy but somewhat inefficient route is to follow a regular Wardley’s Sailor’s course back to the River Wyre, as described above, and once at the Heysham Deeps turn ninety degrees to starboard and follow the big boats towards the all tidal port of Heysham.
Now laying an efficient fast course to Morecambe is a gamble on top of a gamble for the irregular navigator. The sandbanks are always shifting and changing. They are certainly not for the faint-hearted or for Building Society Bank manager types wedded to the words ‘Safe, Sound and Dependable’.
Now, the excitement for the risk-taking adventurer is to take the shortest route and get swept along with the flood tide! It’s further than the River Wyre but quicker to get to if you not deterred by the notorious Morecambe Bay Mort Bank shallows. (aka. Deadman Bank en Anglais)
The skipper of Jamila was feeling confident. He had just taken cyberspace delivery of updated charts on this laptop based chart-plotter. He had all the information at his fingers and knew full well how to rig up a tidal curve with port corrected hours and the like. A china pencil inherited from most excellent Wardleys skipper Vic Mathews, Jamila’s previous owner, facilitated such tertiary calculations, markings, and notes. A line across the electronic map was drawn. The sounding along the line were noted. Calculations were made compensating for the advance in time and the surging Morecambe Bay nine and a half meter tide expected that day. The synopsis was that it was going to be close, but there was a bit of contingency built-in. The fuzzy warm feeling knowing you’ve got contingency, fans the flame that ignites the, “Let do it”, decision The route was not quite but roughly with the direction of the tide. Jamila was going to be dropping her anchor in Morecambe before Kyle 2 picks up at Knott End. Game on!
A quick VHF call to Kyle 2 was made to announce the plan. Andy Sargent voice replied with a slight raise in tone, “You are, are you, I do wish you good luck”, but no explicit, or obvious implicit recommendation to rethink the plan.
A course for the seaside resort of Morecambe was struck. Jamila surged along at a speed over ground never seen before. A sharp eye on the depth was kept at all time. The margins were tight but were largely what was to be expected. Rushing along at 7-8 knots with between a metre and two metres at all times under the keel is not for the faint-hearted. Going forward or event standing up was to be a no-no. Also, going down below I was resolved to keep myself braced at all times in case of a crashing and unexpected halt. Most sailors will experience something similar for short periods when crossing bars, or banks in the Thames estuary, or general short cuts in tidal areas. But this short cut to Morecambe was going to take an hour or so of hard sailing in an F5. I did not want to get hurt or to be thrown overboard.
After forty minutes of bowling along, the end was coming into sight. The intersection where Mort Bank gives way to Furness Bank then Yeoman’s Bank, which tapers off into the relatively deep Kent channel was in site. The seas were very choppy, as it was to be expected in shallow tidal water. The depths registering on the sounder had so far been amazingly flat and consistent of over the six nautical miles covered so far. The size and scale of the enormous Heysham 1 and Heysham 2 nuclear power stations were making themselves felt to starboard. Time to get out the camera with the zoom lens and get a few mementos.
It is not uncommon to sail past flocks of black-headed gulls bobbing around en-mass out in the middle of the bay miles from anywhere in particular. The seas around the boat were choppy, but no visual cues around the boat suggested anything particularly threatening. Looking astern, Jamila was leaving a nice well-defined trail of foam and broken water in her wake. The first sign of trouble came with a group of seagulls 200 yards up ahead to starboard. There was something not right about them. They were not bobbing about lifting and falling with the passing waves as one would expect, and surprisingly their bums were hoisted somewhat above the water such that their legs were partially showing. SANDBANK ahead!
Jamila shuddered to a halt from seven knots to nothing in a second or so. For a moment nothing, and then she let go of whatever she was holding on to, and carried on a little more, before repeating the exercise. This went on for a little while. I didn’t dare get up and do anything. Think of a bucking bronco in a cowboy movie!
Dropping both sails and the anchor, and waiting for highwater minus one hour was to be the preferred course of action. The offending sandbank was a good metre higher than charted. The game was up. Morecambe will have to wait for a while. So OK, my Wardley’s sailor pal Andy S will be picking up his Knott End mooring whilst I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere. Well, that is the way the cookie crumbles! Jamila was still bumping along, briefly shuddering to a halt and then lifting a bit and moving on to the next.
Eventually I saw what looked like barely covered sand. I immediately steered Jamila off at a tangent and beached her in the hope she would not budge so I could safely go up on deck. With the sails still up and slightly abeam the noise of flogging canvas was hurting my ears and raising anxiety levels into the red zone.
Once the sails were down and the Rocna anchor deployed a welcome calm descended.
A cup of tea was required. It was time to relax, get some lunch, and ring Dad with news of progress. The plan is for him to pick me up and take me to my old home. In fact, Dad lives only a short walk from the Heysham’s Sunny Slopes, and if up there walking his dog, would be able to see me, as a little dot, some four miles away on the sandy coloured sea that we had all grown to love over the last fifty years. I must confess to having both eaten, having a nap, and perhaps of relaxing a little too much. A whole hour had gone by. There was one hour to go to high tide ( HW) and six miles under canvas to sail.
The last leg of the journey was a trip down memory lane for me. Armed with a good telephoto lensed camera, I was able to capture a record of all the great places I remember as a boy, and later as a young adult going out with the lads, drinking ale, playing pool, darts and let’s not forget, space invaders.
Jamila surged into the Kent channel passing the Heysham harbour, The Barrows, St Patricks Church, Heysham Village, the Sunny Slopes, Sandylands Promenade, The Battery, Morecambe West End, The Midland Hotel, The Winter Gardens Theatre, Morecambe Central, and finally Morecambe Townhall. The promenade continues for several miles further northeast encompassing The Broadway Hotel, Happy Mount Park (remember Mr. Blobby), before terminating at the foot of a steep hill called Hestbank. I once spent two weeks in the first prominent whitewashed house on the said hill. From my room I remember seeing a long snake of people following the Queen’s Guide out across the vast planes of sands yonder to the foothills of the English Lake District.
Jamila charged up to the notional finishing line bang on the time of high water. The question at the top of the skipper’s mind was where to drop the anchor.
The plan, in brief, was to leave the boat, paddle to the slipway in the Avon round-tail, be welcomed by the Dad and car, retire to the house set in a pleasant leafy setting, enjoy the evening sunshine on the lawn, drink a long G&T, eat well, sleep soundly, return to the slipway, and finally paddle back to Jamila on the early morning tide.
Down came the sails for the second time but this time the Volvo D3-20 was brought to life, and the anchor was to stay put for the time being. The hunt for a suitable place to stay the night was on. Where best to leave Jamila? It was currently high tide and the intention was to leave on the next, so pretty much anywhere was up for grabs. Looking at the local boats at their moorings it was obvious that they all preferred to be tucked in behind big piles of rocks called Groynes. It looked cosy, safety in numbers, mess with one boat owner and you mess with them all. However there was not much space and certainly not enough swinging room to deploy Jamila’s trusty Rocna. Another reason not to anchor behind is that since the Groynes were built, they have silted up badly, and in places, bright green Marram grass has taken a foothold. And returning a little late to depart might mean a twelve-hour wait for the next tide. Unfortunately, the modern-day man paying the bills working to the rhythm of a google calendar cannot deal with such awkward practicalities.
The weather forecast for the night and the following morning was favorable. So, dropping the hook outside the Groynes it was going to be. The other consideration is that you don’t want some drunk walking out on the sands and lifting your anchor as a souvenir of their stay. There are plenty of pubs nearby on the promenade. Given Morecambe’s reputation for claiming the lives of hapless beach walkers, the plan was to anchor off in the deepest gully on the chart. With a bit of luck the anchor and boat would only be exposed very briefly, and it would frighten the casual punter venturing out that far in the dead of night, or at least sober them up in doing so a bit.
Using my Belfield Chart Plotter, an electronically informed anchorage was chosen. The idea was to anchor in the Kent Channel that briefly runs parallel with the promenade. Hopefully Jamila would lie in the knee the deep waters oozing down from the Kentmere valley east of Ambleside and Troutbeck. This would be a good time to try out the Featherweight Seagull outboard that would spare the old arms and shoulders the effort of rowing ashore. With skipper at tiller Jamila zig zagging with an eye on the echo sounder gave a rough idea of the lie of the channel. A discernable underwater gulley was evident running north-north-east. Down went the Anchor followed by a three-minute spell in reverse gear to dig in. Then the engine shut down and all went calm. By this time the wind had dropped off somewhat but still providing a breeze for the Morecambe and Heysham yacht club members, whose dinghies suddenly appeared in respectable numbers from the very jetty whence I learned to sail.
A school friend of mine who’s a good skier and sailor when responding to a Facebook: ‘What do you prefer’, type list of questions, was confronted by the trickiest one of all: “The Mountains or the Oceans”? Bearing in mind he learned to ski very young on the slopes of the French Pyrenes (and I was there with him), and only later did he learn to sail on Lake Windermere crewing an E-Boat offshore one design: his answer was ‘ THE MOUNTAINS BUT ONLY JUST’. Well, I am hereby resolved to gainsay my good friend! Had he experienced the very special romance of sailing back to his home town, of dropping anchor on a glorious summer evening with Lake District Fells in the backdrop, had he been welcomed by a crowd of small sailing craft, by happy families with buckets and spades on the beach, and the smell of ice cream and candy floss in the air, his decision might have gone the other way?
Now one of the sailing craft peeled away from the pack and headed in my direction. It evidently wasn’t part of the race. It differed also in that it was a small well spec’d cruising boat with a tall slender mast. It had no trouble cutting through the, by now, light airs and easily plugged the ebbing tide. It got closer and closer, and it was clear that the skipper had something to say. Eventually when in earshot I heard the words, “You don’t want to anchor there. And can I respectfully remind you that you should not dry out your yacht without prior knowledge of the bottom, you would do better moving elsewhere”. There was something strange but familiar about the delivery of the said injunction. His tone of voice and demeanour were mildly authoritarian, but nevertheless polite and not at all unfriendly. And also, he did not appear to be addressing only me? He also appeared to be addressing his own crew??
It was turning into one of those difficult to read experiences. Was it an ex Heysham High school pal I had failed to recognise having some fun at my expense?
The situation revealed itself when the boat suddenly went about and sailed off on a starboard tack. On the tall high aspect ratio mains’l were the words emblazoned ‘Morecambe Bay Sailing School’. I had happened upon Morecambe’s very own Royal Yachting Association sailing instructor. All became perfectly clear and I broke out into a broad grin. I had, after many long years of admittedly being mainly a weekender sailor, decided to secure my Yacht-Master Coastal Skipper’s examination, so I was familiar with the officer training style of instruction that entails. The RYA instructor then put in another tack and bore off and doubled back my way. I adopted that alert eager to please manor that all keen skipper candidates automatically adopt, I hailed back in his direction, “Where would you advise me to go SIR?”.
I was directed to a spot about 300 yards southwest downstream. Further away from the friendly crowd of moored cruisers, but closer and less work for the Seagull motor to propel the skipper with overnight bag ashore.
The danger that I faced was that local commercial fishermen had erected a scaffolding structure to further their good enterprises and I am guessing, to net fish as they swim down the Kent at low tide.
Dad finally answered his phone. He was up at Windermere sitting in a friend’s living room looking out up the lake to the very hills and source of the river Kent. He was just about to leave. He could see the next ferry approaching. Once at Ferry Nab, a drive down Lythe Valley leading to the A6, a turn off at Carnforth Enroute Morecambe, and then descend the hill at Hestbank soon arriving at the town hall slipway. I had a wait to endure, but a pleasant wait all the same.
In the meantime, a sight that caught my eye was a chap sailing a small 12′ Heron Dinghy. He was clearly a very senior member of our sailing community. Mid to late eighties I would guess. But amazingly and quite beautifully there he was out there in a small boat on a sometimes unforgiving sea squeezing every drop of goodness from his allotted time on our beautiful blue planet. Whilst pondering this wonderful senior sailor, let us take a moment to remember Pablo, Robert, Peter, and Melvin, Wardley’s club members who started the 2019 season but sadly didn’t make it to the start line for 2020. God bless them.
Eventually I could see a man onshore watching me through a pair of glasses. By this time the crowd of sailing dinghies were either being dragged onto their launching trollies or were heading back to the slipway. The Avon was ready bobbing on the end of a painter, all that remained was to set the anchor light and lock the boat. A well-tickled carburetor is a good guarantee that a Seagull motor will burst into life first pull. They always do when you know-how, or at least within three on a bad day. The little trail of blue smoke between Jamila and the shore had long since dissipated once the greetings and formalities were over. The deflated dinghy, oars, outboard, and overnight bag were stowed in an awaiting car and whisked off to an address I still think of as home.
Well folks that is pretty much it for the moment. This was the first time I had sailed home. Everyone must try it one day. I would heartily recommend it if you can. Jamila was still there at six in the morning. One more night was passed at Piel Island, hosted by King Stephen and Shelia, and Jamila sailed back to Fleetwood marina the following morning–the Blackpool tower saw to that. If you made it this far god bless you.
Take care every one in these strange times. Fingers crossed for 2020.