Book talks – Blown away at the yachtclub

We didn’t realise the strength of the wind till we were on the walkway, when I had to clutch my armful of materials and struggle to avoid being blown away. I was crossing a floating marina walkway in Blythe to give a talk to the Royal Northumbrian Yacht Club about my Mediterranean sailing memoire, Crab’s Odyssey.

Once inside I stopped to get my breath back. Behind me the door slammed open and then shut again even faster, accompanied by an expressive expletive. A women said: “Sorry about the language! What a night! You must be our speaker. I’m Fiona. My son told me I HAD to come – he’s at Somerville College where you were.”

Northumberland sailors don’t let wild weather get between them and culture, some 20 people had turned out despite the winds and downpours.

It was an honour to speak last 4 April about my Mediterranean sailing memoir at such a distinguished venue. The club was launched in 1890 and says it has evolved with the history of the Northumbrian coast.

RNYC meets in a light boat

The club house is wonderful, a luxurious boat experience in Blyth and very different from our cramped experience sailing the Mediterranean on Crab so many years before. The club is housed in H Y Tyne III, previously Light Vessel No. 50.

According to the RNYC website, it’s the oldest floating timber light vessel remaining in Great Britain and only one of three still identifiable as a light vessel. She is 100 ft (30.5 metres) long and weighs 230 tons. She was never fitted with an engine and was towed to her positions.

In 1908 there were 54 light vessels on station mainly around the East Coast, the Thames Approaches and along the South coast. This one spent her formative years anchored over one of the most dangerous spots around Britain, and has no doubt seen many terrific seas and storms.

According to the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club website: “She was ordered in 1878 by Trinity House, the Lighthouse and Light Vessel Authority for the British Isles, specifically to serve on Seven Stones reef off the Isles of Scilly, some of the roughest waters around the coast of the United Kingdom. She was built in 1879 by Fletcher, Son and Fearnall at their Union Dock, London to a design by Bernard Waymouth, Secretary to Lloyds, and one the architects of the ‘plimsoll line’. His design and sketch plan, of a timber-built vessel copper-fastened throughout with a whale back, caloric engines to drive her foghorn, and more efficient flashing lantern driven by a revolving clockwork mechanism, match LV50 exactly.” Seven Stones is thought to be Britain’s most dangerous reef.

Her hull is similar to an 18th century fighting ship, made of double-planked 3” teak timbers on 4” oak frames and sheathed in metal alloy called Muntz to just above the waterline in order to prevent attack by shipworms. The lantern was driven by a clockwork mechanism and she still has her original mast and lifting pulleys for the lantern. The lantern was never electric, it was lowered and cleaned each day and filled with shale oil.

Her crew were 11 (7 on ship at a time) in cramped and noisy conditions, they included lamplighters, fog signal drivers, a Master and a Mate and able seamen.

She suffered severe storm damage at Seven Stones and had to be towed to London for repair in 1886, then in 1891 was moved to a sandbank called Shambles, near Weymouth. In 1909 she moved east to Outer Gabbard in the Thames approaches off Felixstowe. She got damaged by various boats in 1916 and 1919 while stationed at Nore, and in 1943, 1944 and 1945 while at Calshot Spit in Southampton Water.

After 73 years of hard work, including being on station during both World War I and WW2, she was finally decommissioned and moved to a breaker’s yard. The hardy Northumberland sailors of RNYC felt she deserved another chance, and brought her up to Blyth to become the third vessel to act as their clubhouse. The boat club members love her a lot, she has been converted and has a bar, a saloon, a race office and a galley. She can be visited on some Heritage Open Days, contact Friends of LV50 for details or reach them via Friends of LV50 website.

Horizontal rain

The club had its anemometer, and Clive, who co-hosted us, showed us on it that the wind outside was gusting 55 knots – I hope that will be the windiest book talk I give about sailing in the Mediterranean. When we drove home to Durham afterwards the rain was driving almost horizontally, and there was so much of it the motorway was awash.

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