Cruise to Newcastle

Report by Derek Finlayson

Under leaden skies, I made my way to the Ocean Terminal at Leith on Thursday 8 June 2001. I could see BRITANNIA. In front of her was the Jubilee Trust's new brig TENACIOUS...

But, where was BALMORAL? My heart sank. Fearing the worst, I made my way tentatively towards the cruise liner terminal. A coach of Silver Coach Lines was parked in front. As I drew up, I saw a rather harassed-looking Ian Quinn. What's wrong?

Captain Davies, BALMORAL's master, received a poor weather forecast for the Forth area last night, winds north-westerly at 25 knots. Fearing he might have difficulty leaving Leith, he decided to spend the night in Coldingham Bay. So, we would be joining the vessel at Eyemouth. Some intending passengers were not happy with the change of plan and had given poor Ian much grief. I really felt for him. It was not fair. Ian did his level best to explain the situation to everyone who turned up. Fortunately, one of the recent arrivals had a mobile phone and Ian was able to contact the office directly and update them on the situation.

After waiting a further 10 minutes beyond the departure time for late-comers, just over 40 of us settled down to enjoy a wee trip to Eyemouth. But, we'd hardly got outside the docks before a further 2 passengers changed their minds and got off. One of them, sitting next to me, had expected to cruise all the way to Newcastle and back on the BALMORAL and muttered that he didn't choose a bus trip! Yet, the itinerary clearly stated that we would be bussed back from Newcastle.

We had about 4 hours to play with at Eyemouth. The sun shone most of the time we were there. There was a good number of fishing boats in the harbour, including the Whitby lifeboat on the slipway for overhaul. Eyemouth is a wonderfully picturesque wee fishing village and I got photographic opportunities I would not have had had we kept to the original timetable.

1200 hours came and went and still no signs of BALMORAL. A small container ship on the FEEDERLINK service passed on the horizon heading north. About 15 minutes later, BALMORAL nosed her way out of Coldingham Bay and entered Eyemouth Harbour following Briggs' FORTH CONSTRUCTOR.

We backed out of Eyemouth at 1400 hours to the crisp crackle of thunder. The air felt heavy and leaden. I hoped the lowring skies were not going to set the tone of the day before us.

Donald MacDonald and Douglas Yuill from the Forth of Forth Branch were among the passengers who embarked at Eyemouth. Douglas later introduced me to George Train, who was on the Sunday cruise as well.

In glorious sunshine, we sailed down the coast towards Berwick-on-Tweed. About 150 joined the ship there, among whom was Richard Winfield, publicity manager for the Coastal Cruising Association. During the cruise from Berwick to Amble, Richard held a raffle on board and raised 136 for the Balmoral Restoration Fund.

BALMORAL docked at the restored quays near the bridges. It was quite a tortuous approach up the river with the vessel at times sailing almost at right angles to the way the river was flowing. With expert handling, the crew on BALMORAL's bridge made it look so easy. No other vessels, apart from the pilot boat, were at Berwick.

From Berwick, we sailed down the Northumbrian coast towards Amble. We got lovely views of Holy Island and Lindisfarne. We were still in sunshine, yet all around were the signs of heavy rain showers. It felt like there was hardly any wind and the sea state was quite calm with hardly any swell at all. Douglas described it as "classic coastal cruising weather". From Lindisfarne, we sailed between the mainland and the Farne Islands. Some were a wee bit dis-appointed that we didn't sail closer to Holy Island or sailed in amongst the Farne Islands as BALMORAL had done 2 years ago.

The haven of Amble harbour has a very "yachty" feel to it. Virtually the whole harbour had been upgraded with new quays, walkways and streetlights that one finds in a yacht harbour. And there were plenty of yachts as well as fishing boats. A sizeable crowd appeared to board here too. I think we'd all chosen this cruise for the same reason, to be one of the first to sail under the new Millennium Bridge at Newcastle. Anchored off Amble lay the Ocean Youth Club's sail-training ketch JAMES COOK.

So we left Amble and made for Newcastle. The restaurant onboard had been open for high teas since 1630. Judging by the repetitive announcements over the tannoy asking those who had finished their meal to leave and let others get seats, it must be very busy. When I went for my evening meal, the queue was almost back to the door. It was clear when I got to the counter that the catering staff were hard pushed to keep up with the demand. Someone had had a go at one of them when they found out that the fish dish was sold out. I guess it wasn't just the weather that was a wee bitty edgy that day. The poor man that served me looked guy wabit and in need of a decent break. Yet, he carried on as well as he could without voicing any complaints.

Off the mouth of the Tyne, we were met by the pilot tender NORMAN FORSTER. The mini-bulker CELTIC COMMANDER lay at anchor. Vessels seen on the way up the Tyne were as follows:-

On our way upstream, Ian told us that we would not now being sailing under the new Millennium Bridge and a soft groan echoed round the vessel. The pilot said that the bridge had not passed all the tests and would not be operational. So, we berthed down from the bridge near CATHERINE. Then, they couldn't remove the barriers on the quayside. Then, we got an announcement saying that there was some dis-agreement where we should berth. According to the pilot we were at the right place, but according to the council officials, we weren't. So the telegraph sounded yet again and we moved forward about a ships length. Then, after a short struggle, they managed to dis-assemble the barriers on the quayside. But, nobody had told the coach drivers of our new berth, had they? So there was a wee delay for that too. It was all a bit of a fiasco and I couldn't help whistling to myself the Laurel and Hardy theme-tune.

So we boarded the coaches and headed for home. It had been a long day and everyone was dead beat. I glanced round the coach on our way northwards at the expressionless and exhausted faces. I mused to myself that it was much more interesting traveling by sea that it was by land. Traveling by sea is much more than simply an experience, its a way of life. And one of the greatest benefits it gives you is Time and Space. There's no point in chasing around and chaffing at the bit. Its not going to get you there any quicker. But you have time, time to make friends, time just to relax and unwind, time to socialize, time to take a deep breath and drink in all that fresh air, time to plan ahead, time to dream. Time to do the things you don't have time to do so well traveling by air or by land.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of my trips and look forward to many more. All the staff clearly put maximum effort into making the trips as good an experience as they could. Its just a shame that the small minority threatened to spoil all the great effort that's enjoyed by the majority. Well, here's one who's deeply grateful to everyone for all the hard work. I certainly enjoyed myself. As an example of what I mean, Ian Quinn took the names and addresses of all the Edinburgh passengers and told us we would be sent complimentary vouchers for a cruise on the WAVERLEY during the summer, which was a very generous offer. I hope they all remember that and take him up on it and bring there friends too.

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