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Eyemouth 4th September

Yacht Quintet
Visitors' Pontoon

4th September, 2005

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You can't get a phone signal in Eyemouth with Orange. Well you can, but you have to walk inland a mile and climb at least fifty feet above sea level. Even then one street out and there's nothing. So we couldn't get a phone signal yesterday morning so I couldn't get a weather report. The Harbour Master wasn't in and the report on his door was already 48 hours out of date. The dive company didn't have a weather report because their computer was down.

Click for a larger imageWe were about to leave anyway. It seemed such a nice sunny day with blue skies and we knew the wind was generally southerly which wasn't the best when I had the bright idea to ask the people in the boat moored behind us. They have WeatherFax.

They told us that it was to be southeasterly 3 to 4 and occasionally 5. Now force 5 is the top of our tolerance and southeasterly is 'on the nose' to Holy Island within about half a degree. Gentlemen do not sail to windward. We decided to stay. So yesterday I roamed the streets of Eyemouth seeking intellectual gratification.

I walked the mile inland and climbed at least fifty feet above sea level to get that elusive phone signal and I did check mail and send off the latest report to the web manager. I visited the various galleries and saw some interesting, and very many uninteresting, paintings and prints. I looked at the bronze statue of Willy Spears, leader of the rebellion against unfair taxes on the fishermen and I visited the museum where I learned of the Eyemouth disaster, 'The Great Disaster of 1881'.

Apparently on the morning of 14th October, 1881, the Eyemouth fishing fleet went to sea. The 'glass' was as low as anyone had seen it but it was a bright, clear day and the fleet had been kept in port over the previous days by bad weather. One boat left and, as a matter of pride and tradition in the port, the rest of the fleet followed.

The fleet sailed to a point eight miles or so off the coast where they baited and laid their lines. But, in a moment, the benign day was transformed. The wind built to hurricane force, whipping the seas into a frenzy. Lines were cut away and cast off as the fishermen abandoned their livelihood and concentrated on saving their lives.

Click for a larger imageSome boats were immediately swamped, their crews frantically trying to hang on to their vessels and avoid being carried away. Other boats attempted rescue of their fellows but were unable to reach them or found that merely keeping their own boats afloat took all their skills and energy. The remaining boats turned for the coast, to escape the nightmare that they suddenly found themselves in.

Some boats were blown down the coast and were thought lost. Others made it to the entrance to Eyemouth only to be dashed on the rocks where their crews drowned within sight of their loved ones. Few of those wrecked on the beach were rescued and carried ashore.

Over the next few days missing fishermen were confirmed dead as their bodies were washed up on beaches to the north and south of Eyemouth. Some fishermen, presumed lost, returned to their homes from ports further down the coast where the storm had pushed them and, miraculously, spared their lives.

Click for a larger imageAll in all, 129 fishermen were lost that tragic day. Nearly one hundred wives became widows and hundreds of children lost their fathers. It took Eyemouth many years to recover from such a loss.

One hundred years after the tragic event, a tapestry, hand crafted by many who were related to the victims, was unveiled in the Eyemouth museum. The tapestry depicts scenes based on the events and lists the boats and crews lost on that darkest of days. These are just two panels from the four panel tapestry.

Click for a larger imageAlso in Eyemouth one can find a complete and genuine Chinese Junk and a riveted iron boat referred to as Big Bertha. I have asked what she is but without success. One child sporting a blonde Mohican haircut said 'It's a big boat.' pronouncing the first three words as a Scot but the last as if he came from Tyneside. One charming lady said 'It's a bloody eyesore.' Does anyone know what it might be?

Big Bertha and the other strange vessels at Eyemouth are apparently part of a collection owned by the International Sailing Craft Association. Andrew Thornhill is the chairman of this august body, or was at the time of printing of the brochure from which I have discovered that ISCA has plans for Eyemouth. This grand plan is however somewhat delayed for reasons which I have yet to ascertain, so don't all run off to Eyemouth expecting to see a modern and exciting museum of the sea without checking first.

Yesterday evening at about 7.00 pm we walked into town to find some dinner. We tried Murphy's fish café but they close at dinner time. How English are the Scots sometimes? So we headed back to the Contented Sole, a pub/restaurant. It was fully booked with a stag party, so we opted for Oblo's again. On the way there a woman suddenly rushed out of the Ship Inn, screaming 'Clive, Clive.' and leapt at him hugging him round the neck.

Click for a larger imageIt turned out to be an old friend of Clive's, Jadger, who lives in Burbage and with Steve and Florry is on holiday up here. They just happened to have stopped for a drink on their way back to Berwick. Clive was surprised to meet them so far from home but tells the story that he once bumped into Steve in a bar in Malta! Clive proudly pointed out Quintet across the dock and then we all went into the Ship and joined them for a drink.

As to why we haven't left today, well, the forecast this morning was still southeasterly 3 to 4 with occasional fog patches so we decided to leave. And fog did roll in at about 10.00o'clock, our usual departure time, and even the dive boats came back saying it was too dangerous. So we waited.

We actually set off at 11.30, cast off lines, motored out of the harbour , stowed lines and fenders and, as we came out of the shelter of the harbour, we hit a monstrous, rolling swell. And it was cold with sea fog just offshore.

Thinking that the disturbed water was just the shallows at the entrance, we persevered, motoring into horrid, rolling slop, but it was just too horrid. Clive turned the boat and, tail between legs, we went back in.

Click for a larger imageAt 2.00o'clock I made some soup for lunch to try to keep out the cold. You see, shortly after returning, the fog followed us in. The temperature plummeted. The sky is uniform grey. It's bloody horrible. My feet are freezing!

Tomorrow's forecast is south to southwest, 3 to 4. Let's hope that horrid swell has gone and the fog has blown away. Because there's nothing else to do in Eyemouth. We've already done the lot.

Les Sutcliffe

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