With force six gusting force seven southerly winds predicted, two Wardleys Marine Yacht Club members decided that they would not be defeated by the elements and set forth into yet another Morecambe Bay maelstrom. As it happened the bothersome winds were not blowing as strongly as all that, … , or was it that the skippers were lolled into a false sense of security by a devious following wind?
The two boats in question, Sika (32′ Golden Hind – Norman Ingram) and Jamila (Mirage 2700 – Simon Ellis), departed on high water around 13:50H on a ‘not that high’ 8.7m tide. Not wanting to waste time and go aground, they quickly motored past the upper regions of the river to find deeper pools before finally turning head to wind and hoisting the sails. The entrance to the open sea at Fleetwood was now only half a mile ahead. So far so good.
Once canvas aloft, both boats tracked along together, Both skippers were attempting to goose wing, although at times minor wind shifts caused a number of crashing jibes clearly audible on the other boat, sounding clear evidence of the half gale that was blowing from behind.
Sika’s and Jamila’s game of cat an mouse continued with both boats neck and neck past the Fairway buoy and some way across the Lune Deeps. At this point ‘Sika’ suddenly turned to port taking the deep route to the north west, whilst Jamila continued on the northerly route over the notorious Mort Banks.
Once on their divergent ways, the two boats quickly became mere shadows on wild angry horizon. Jamila put in a call on channel 6 (agreed channel) to check up on his fellow Wardleys Club member. A conversation ensued in which both sailors agreed that they both were able to see the other. However, when Jamila’s skipper emerged from the companion way, Sika was no where to be seen. Repeated scans along a skyline where the sea and the sky merged in various shades of murky grey were all fruitless.
Jamila, alone now, surged along over the Mort Bank painfully aware that the tide was falling fast and going aground would mean a long hassardous wait to re-float. Visibility was poor but eventually the dark skyline of Piel castle and the surrounding foreshore began to take shape in the distance. Also, far to port, what started as shadow in the surrounding cloud resolved into the shape of a sail. ‘Sika’ was fast approaching the channel into Barrow!
Both boats eventually found a mooring close to the Island. Neither of the sailors was surprised to see that there was little activity ashore. The weather over the preceding week had been dire, and the forecast for the weekend was just awful. Was the Ship Inn open?
However, things hadn’t be just plain sailing for ‘Sika’ Having entered the channel well to the west, and the fast ebbing tide really piling it on. ‘Sika’ resorted to the engine and set about dropping the sails. With all the right to feel happy and proud of having made it this far, there was disappointment in store for the skipper as a gumpy engine began to faltered and stall from time to time. Something clearly wasn’t right. Was it the fuel supply, or was it something more sinister?
Jamila’s skipper rowed-over in his round-tail Avon inflatable to lend assistance. Sometimes matters can pile it on and come to a head, and brotherly solidarity and support is in order. Wardley’s sailors are close knit bunch. All stops were pulled to seek out and solve the problem. Soon a filthy fuel filter had been removed. When diesel poured from breached piping, an extra hands with a bowl was there to stem a flood, or to shine a torch to make a tricky procedure doable. A new filter fresh from its box, and a clean and supple set of ‘O’ring seals were soon in place. A once recalcitrant engine was put back in service and was made to purr sweetly as it ever had done. Thus, despair turned to cheer, and a night at the Ship beckoned.
Strangely the Ship Inn was empty when the two sailors pushed their way through the door. They noticed three orange life jackets on the hooks in the porch as they passed the threshold, but no sign of any owners enjoying hospitality. There was a spooky silence. Empty! A sharp call of ‘SHOP’ was emitted but to no effect. A second call had the desired effect. Steven the landlord came through from the back and briefly explained that a bad run of weather leading up the the weekend was never good for punter numbers, but then cheerfully chirped up, “What can I get you to drink lads”? Food and Drink was ordered!
For that day, XCWeather had predicted dire conditions for the morning and early afternoon but promised fine weather from 3 O’Clock onwards. They got it wrong. The fine weather suddenly appeared at 6 O’Clock. A sharp line across the heavens created a perfect contrast. It marked a clear divide between plainly rubbish weather on one side and a glorious sunny blue sky on the other. The two sailors found themselves eating al fresco with fantastic views sweeping from the the Lake district hills in the north, to Morecambe and Heysham in the east and on to Blackpool tower to the south.
Later on in the Ship Inn things took a turn . It happened to be the tenth anniversary of Steven and Sheila taking on the role of Landlord and Lady of the Ship Inn and indeed title of King of Peel. Friends, relatives, regulars, cottage dwellers, and members of Wardleys Marine Yacht Club filled the main bar area.
Exotic foods suddenly appeared on plates served buffet style (‘Sika’s skipper could not resist a degustation even after having just devoured an enormous sausage and chips!), and an arrays of exotic drinks and liqueurs lined the tables. Jäeger bomb after Jäeger bomb appeared and no one was charged more than nowt. Down the hatch, down the hatch they cried! Bar games were played with aplomb. Lady folks competed to write their names in a way that only a lady can – no touching the pen mind! Good honest merriment was had by all.
Back to nautical matters, as the night at the Ship Inn progressed, the flooding tide resumed it relentless march. The Avon round tailed dinghy was manually moved in stages up the long sloping jetty to avoid being swept away. Eventually it was time to go. We had to go! The tide was moving at over three knots and all we had was a pair of oars to get to the first and then the second of our respective ships. What remained of the light was fading fast. It was now or never!
Now two half drunken Wardleys sailors, in an AVON inflatable, rowing against a fast flowing tide was no mean feat. A plan of attack was discussed and agreed. Well, in fact it was a straight royal proclamation from King Steven: “Row up tide in the shallows twice the distance the boats are from the shore, then row like F#CK!” Which we executed reasonably well and Sika’s skipper was the first to alight. So far so good. Further down tide lay ‘Jamila’. To Jamila’s immediate left, the Ship Inn lights were blazing so it wasn’t easy to see. A white frothy trail exuded from the stern of ‘Sika’ as the tide swept by – the gurgling noise was remarkable. The last cry from the the skipper of ‘Sika’ to the skipper of ‘Jamila’ was; “Radio me on channel six, if I don’t hear owt, I’ll call the lifeboat”!
The impressive and powerful RNLI boat tucked away in its Roe Island boathouse just over the water was NOT needed that night.
The easy part of the voyage was now over What lay a head was going to be tough. The ticker tape weather messages coming in on ‘Jamila’s’ NAVTEXT system were not good The following day we were to expect: F6 gusting F7/8 on the nose! i.e a straight southerly coming directly from Fleetwood. The only consolation was: ‘ Sea state slight to moderate‘.
The night at anchor was just fine. The wind was blowing straight off the shore. To a certain degree they luxuriated in the lee of the Ship Inn. The morning alarm went off at 4am. It was already light and oh my god was the wind was blowing!
The plan was to get going one and a half hours before low water. Use the last of the ebb to get to the Lighting Knoll. A long series of short tacks and long tacks out of the Barrow channel. Then finally continue on the port tack across the bay at slack water. The cunning plan would hopefully lead the two boats clear the shallows, reefs and tide induced breaking waves.
The two boats finally slipped anchor at 6am. Immediately they are hit by a squall. Visibility dropped as the rain whipped by the wind made looking a head none too easy. ‘Jamila’ recorded up to 38mph on wind speed dial. Both boat were double reefed with a enough jib to provide balance and to bring the bow around on the subsequent tack. Going was slow and an ponderous but there was still a knot or so of tide helping us on our way. The initial squall subsided as quickly as it came. Visibility improved. the wind dial was now averaging 28mph hitting hitting 33mph at times. Then suddenly there was the sound of wildly cracking canvas. Somehow, ‘Sika’s genoa managed to unfurl itself whilst still in the confines of the channel with the Seldom Seen reefs not far astern. ‘Sika’s skipper displaying incredible seamanship, unable to leave the tiller, coaxed her down the channel, putting in countless tacks, until eventually safe enough to lash the tiller and skip up on deck. By the time ‘Sika’s sails were tamed and generally back in control, both boats were ready for the long tack across the Morecambe Bay. Slack water had arrived. The sea was lumpy but not breaking excessively. It was time to relax a little.
Much sooner than expected the two Wardley’s Sailors were beating up the Fleetwood channel. Helped on by the young flood tide, they surged past the Euston Hotel, and were soon in the relative shelter of the River Wyre. With still three hours of flood tide required to complete the last 3 to 4 miles, they dropped anchor and came to a welcome halt. They relaxed a little and indeed eat a bacon sandwich or two.
The last leg was a trip up the Wyre was to be under engine. It was a good opportunity to charge the batteries and pack away the sails before leaving the boats. The tide was still running strong north to south and holding the bow facing into the flow. However the wind was still blowing F5/F6/F7 from the south. This had the strange effect of driving the boat forwards under bear polls faster than the tide could pull it back The anchor chain was thus jammed firmly under ‘Jamila’s bows. It wouldn’t come up! Reversing the boat with the tiller lashed pushed the boat back but she pulled randomly to the left or right yielding the same net same jamming effect. The skipper took the decision to tie on a buoy and cut loose. He would come back later to retrieve the anchor!
(A job eventually done with with the help of club member Tom, using club member Malcolm’s dinghy, and a trusty 43 year old Seagull Forty Plus)
Within the hour both boats were back at Wardleys. Unfortunately the ordeal was not over. The wind was getting stronger still F7/F8. Getting back onto the mooring didn’t go well. ‘Jamila’ ended-up hanging by a fouled prop, bows almost on the nearby bank and ‘Sika’ ended-up losing two boat hooks in numerous aborted attempts to catch a mooring. She eventually resorted to anchoring as close by a buoy as possible. ‘Jamila’ eventually managed to drag her bow back around, and ‘Sika’ could only pray to GOD that the anchor would hold firm until safely taking the ground. Phew they made it!
By 7pm both sailors were back in an empty club house thinking in unison NEVER AGAIN. But I bet they will!