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Read more about Quintet, the boat that will carry our adventurers on their journey.

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Hull 17th September

Yacht Quintet
Visitors' Berth
Hull Marina

17th September, 2005

<-Hartlepool 10th September Fosdyke 18th September->

Click for a larger imageWe’ve been here since Monday, waiting for the weather. It look’s like we’re leaving today for the final leg back to Fosdyke, if the weather forecast is to be believed.

We left Hartlepool last Sunday as planned. We were up before 7.00o’clock and breakfasted on bacon sandwiches, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. I went off to find the Sunday papers, stealing a quick look out through the outer harbour and confirming that the seas had gone down since the day before.

By the time I had returned, Clive had finished the engine checks and had Quintet’s diesel in warm up mode. I radioed the lock office and warned them of our imminent departure and we cast off and headed for the lock.

We had the huge lock to ourselves and at the top of the tide, we were down at sea level and out, heading for deep water, in a few minutes. By 8.45 we had cleared the outer harbour and were hauling up sails for the reach along the coast.

Click for a larger imageWe had confirmed the forecast again before we left and, looking at the synoptic chart, this was going to be the last opportunity for us to leave for a while. A deep low over the Atlantic was trucking east and was going to make for the sort of breezy weather that neither Quintet nor it’s skipper and crew are particularly fond of. However, it forecast a pleasant northerly wind for the time being giving us a fast, if rolling reach down to Flamborough Head.

We made fabulous time along the Yorkshire coast. Clive offered lunch, farmers’ market pork pie, but the motion of the boat was putting me off eating. I nibbled at a half apple. An hour later I felt better and devoured the rest of the pie which Clive insisted was at least two large helpings.

By 3.00o’clock we were approaching Whitby, our originally planned destination for the day before we heeded the doomsayers who had told us that we would never get into Whitby after the weather of the previous three days. As it was, there were five boats racing off the harbour entrance, five boats too big to have been launched off the beach, so I guess it was actually possible to get in and out of Whitby. But by the look of the swell off the entrance, entry and exit would have been pretty exciting. For those who remember a certain entry to MacQuarie Harbour, or Hell’s Gates as it is sometimes called, off the west coast of Tasmania, Whitby on Sunday was similar but just a much narrower gap to get through.

Our ride down towards Flamborough Head continued to be quick. We had to bear away further and the rolling became pronounced as the coast turned further south.

We passed Scarborough before 6.00 pm, and as we approached Flamborough I started to feel nervous. We were already rolling a lot, sometimes dipping Quintet’s spindly boom in the water. And we had been warned that even in the kindest conditions there was always swell of Flamborough Head. What would we encounter when we got there? Would Quintet’s heavy, towering mast make her unmanageable?

Click for a larger imageAt 8.00o’clock in the evening, as the sun set, we approached the headland. The lighthouse started to flash its message of warning across the North Sea and we were relieved that the stories of heaving, wallowing seas were a little exaggerated, at least for today.

We turned southwards and the rolling became more pronounced. The boom was occasionally dipping with the roll and the pressure of the mainsail against the spreaders was putting the integrity of the rig at risk. Apart from that, we were going so fast that we would arrive off the sand spit at the entrance to the Humber while the tide was still running out, and in the dark too.

We debated what to do. Should we go further out to sea and then gybe back? With this wind, our gybe angle would be huge. We’d have to go half way to Norway before we could turn and make Spurn Head. Anyway the forecast was for the wind to go westwards over night. We decided to drop the main, run yankee and staysail wing and wing and time our arrival for first light, motoring if the wind died and we were not making enough speed against the tide. In the mean time the promised shift might arrive and make it comfortable again.

Even without the mainsail we were still making more than four knots while the tide stayed with us but it wasn’t to last. As the evening breeze started to weaken, it still hadn’t gone west, and the tide turned northwards we slowed to a point where we were only occasionally exceeding two knots. It was time for an engine. The batteries needed charging anyway. Navigation and interior lights were looking decidedly dull.

We motored through into the dawn. We could see the bright lights of Easington gas terminal ahead and the weaker lights of rigs to seawards. The lighter wind meant that the sea wasn’t standing up so much with northerly wind across the north going tide.

As the eastern sky turned a paler grey, the lighthouses on Spurn Head became visible and we could start to identify the lights at the entrance of the Humber as freighters and ferries waiting for the turn of the tide to carry them up to Grimsby, Immingham and our destination, Hull.

I was concerned about a shallow patch to the east of the tip of Spurn Head, that curvaceous sand spit which loops out from the northern shore of the Humber. The chart indicated a series of drying sand banks which shifted position frequently. Our track down the coast had brought us further inshore than we had planned so we headed out a little before locating the navigation marks and joining the fairway of one of the greatest river entrances in Britain. We were looking out for lightships which were marked on the chart but just normal navigation buoys were in evidence. The water at the river entrance was quite chopped up and lumpy around here and there was very little wind. In extreme conditions it must be horrendous.

We followed the northernmost buoys and then crossed the fairway to the south side as recommended for yachts, on the chart. Then, as we got into the smoother water in the river we rehoisted sail for the ride up the river.

I went below to recheck our course for the run up to Hull, noted that many of the marks on the river are shown on the chart with the lightship symbol, realised that my estimate of ten miles to Hull was out by ten miles and then realised that with the wind at last in the north west we were not going to be sailing for very long.

When I came back on deck I related this information to the skipper who ordered engine on and sails off and we motored into a bright, blue, sunny Humber morning.

Clive went below to prepare bacon sandwiches and coffee while I marvelled at the breadth and power of the Humber and the huge amount of traffic, some of it anchored and much of it moving on a Monday morning.

The Humber is one of those special rivers. From the looks of it, it appears to flow upside down. The mud is on the top! The Yarra River in Melbourne is the same. It’s not a good look in a river.

Click for a larger imageI was still looking for these lightships that the chart shows, but all I could see were pretty normal looking navigation buoys. On closer inspection, however, I realised that many of them were actually boat like. They weren’t really lightships, rather lightboats, light dinghies if you will. It seems strange that these tiny, unmoving vessels should be charted using the same symbol as is used for the South Goodwins and Sandettie lightships; real ships which once had resident crews to attend the light before the days of automation.

We passed the harbour at Grimsby and, before long, we were rattling at more than seven knots towards Hull. The riverside docks were busy with ferries and freighters and the city shone in the bright morning sunshine.

I left Clive on deck while I went below to raise the marina lock on the radio. They were not answering so I called the office on the mobile phone. I was assured that our signal could be heard and that the lock operator would acknowledge us when he was able to. So I went back on deck to find Clive talking on his own telephone and completely ignoring the marked channel. As I knew that there were extensive sand banks on this part of the river and I was in no mood to sit out here for hours having already been at sea for twenty four, I remonstrated. Clive insisted that, in spite of his never have been here before, he knew that there was plenty of water. He didn’t seem to think it was important whether it was actually underneath us!

Click for a larger imageEventually we made contact with the lock keeper. We were asked to await a vessel on its way out and eventually he called us in. We turned into the lock just upriver from the fantastic building which houses ‘the Deep’ marine exhibition and we were finally in.

We tied up at the visitors’ pontoon and sat in the midday sunshine sipping the first beer since we left Hartlepool twenty five hours and 113.5 miles ago. Not having had much sleep, we soon hit the sack to grab a few hours before our Hull hosts were to arrive and take us out to dinner.

I’m sure you remember Tone and Denise from chapter 2. Tony is the painter who valiantly tried to paint Quintet no matter what the Fosdyke weather threw at him. Of course he failed, but not because of any weakness on his part. Even boys from Hull, tough as they are, cannot control the weather. Denise is a lady with whom Clive and I have sailed with many times, although never at the same time, and whose love of food Tony often blames when his figure moves from its sylphlike ‘one’ shape towards its more rotund ‘zero’ shape. Her love of food is so great that she has rearranged her working life to allow one day per week to attend a diploma course in cooking. Surprisingly, although anyone who dines regularly with her Denise develop rolls of middle, Denise continues to keep her tiny frame in trim. How does she do it?

Denise took us to the Boar’s Nest, a restaurant which gives the lie to recent television programmes slating the culinary standards available in Hull. The food was fantastic and very British: wild boar sausages, duck, liver and bacon, all served with fresh, tasty, crisp vegetables. Deserts were also very good. I don’t do desserts but who could resist the beautiful summer pudding with vanilla cream?

Denise and Tony also took us out the following night as well, to Paulo’s at the old Customs House. Once again they demonstrated that Hull is not the culinary desert that has recently been implied.

I had to leave Hull and attend a wedding in Bristol, just down the road. When I returned this afternoon, it was to learn that Clive has been doing the town while I was away. He is particularly impressed by ‘The Deep’ the permanent exhibition on the river side, which replicates deep water habitats and displays the weird and bizarre creatures which live there. Coupled with the splendid maritime museum in the city and the art gallery, a beautiful marina and grand municipal architecture, this is a city which can offer daytime edification followed by night time hedonism. I can’t understand why it even gets a mention in ‘Britain’s Crappiest Towns’.

The weather is finally with us again. This afternoon we leave for Fosdyke.

Neil, a long time sailing companion of Clive’s is coming with us, hopefully to do all the physical things that I seem incapable of since my back went out a couple of days ago. Tony would have come except he’s doing his ‘incompetent crew’ practical over the next two days. Denise was going to come too, but a long lost friend has arrived from Mumbai and it seems a shame to waste an opportunity to dine out.

Les Sutcliffe

<-Hartlepool 10th September Fosdyke 18th September->