North Shields to the Farne Islands Trip

A reminiscence by Bob Armstrong

Before I begin, I have to admit that the dates are a bit vague, but I think it was towards the end of summer of either 1981 or 1982. I'm sure the ship's log will confirm. I believe Waverley nightstopped up at Newcastle upon Tyne Quayside and on this particular weekend morning, (Saturday or Sunday) She came to North Shields Fish Quay where she swept round in a graceful arc then landed heavily against the quay, pushed there no doubt by the strong ebb tide which had the tendency to do this to unsuspecting vessels. The loud cracking sound brought a grimace to the lips of the Quay Master. Never mind, we all trooped aboard ready for our voyage via Blyth which was about 8 sea miles North of the Tyne, to the Farne Islands and back. This was a surprise to Fran my wife as she only thought we were here to see the ship, not board her. She was therefore dressed for summer weather and not the chilled sea air we would be subjected to once away from the lee of the land.
Waverley slipped out past the pier ends and turned North. It was a bright breezy day with the wind from the South East. I knew this to be a chilly wind that invariably raised a short chop which was uncomfortable for smaller boats as I used to run sea fishing parties from North Shields with my brother George. 
We dropped into Blyth to collect more passengers who filed on board. They too wore expressions of excitement. After all it wasn't normal for the World's last sea going paddle steamer to sweep into these waters. We left Blyth heading South for a while and once clear of the dreaded 'Sow and Pigs' rocks, turned towards the North and for the Farnes.
There was an air of excitement on board. Adam our 2 year old son and Clare our 7 year old daughter were in a new and strange environment. The roll of the ship was odd to their little legs. Fran was feeling the chill and we spent a long time in the shelter of first one funnel then another. I seem to remember there was a sense of warmth coming from the forward funnel base. As things became more chilly and windy, poor Fran had to retire to the interior.
I was beside myself and was here there and everywhere looking at the ship, the sea and the view from every angle, this was my element. I also made many trips 'doon te see the engine'. Going North it was calm enough with only a chill following breeze. I could see that the 'sea's' were following us and knew that on our return it would be 'different'. We got to the Farnes and marvelled at the views and then also to distant Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and across to the mighty Bamburgh Castle atop it's massive rocky outcrop.
Presently Cap't. Neill turned Waverley round for our return trip. Almost immediately she began her dancing which was to continue all the way down to the Tyne. The sea was hitting us from the South East and the chill wind swept the decks. Only the hardiest of the passengers was on deck now. The roll of the ship caused some to ponder whether that last bite, or pint even was wise. Eventually there was a steady stream of gastro-invalids to the sponsons where the wc's were located. The Gents were fortunate in that theirs were ahead and astern of the starboard wheel. Alas for the poor ladies, they had to suffer the traumas of attending their wc's on the 'busy' port side. I say busy because that was the side being hit by the South Easterly 'seas'. Far from being an uncomfortable chop, there were real 'seas'.
Poor Fran had what must have been the most horrendous experience of all and it was after this that the after ladies were closed off. Being behind the port wheel, the aft 'ladies' was particularly 'lively'. I remember it well as I was waiting for Fran to emerge. I felt the ship plunge and lurch over to port in the trough of a particularly big 'sea'. She was then hit hard by a wall of water which the paddle blades caught and threw with considerable force up beneath the ladies wc's behind the wheel. There was a 'whumph' from below and a gargled scream from within. Fran emerged soaked from head to toe. Apparently she had just managed to enthrone herself when the incident unfolded. The resulting blast of freezing sea water which erupted from the toilet pan, blew her ceilingwards, she screamed then landed amidst a deluge which accompanied her out of the doorway. It could have been worse, but not much. After all she might have wanted to do more than a No 1! That was it, if she could have walked on water she'd have ordered the ship to stop dead in the water while she walked home. She wasn't the only casualty however. The same wave caused an almighty crash in the cafeteria where a sizeable pile of plates were sent crashing to the floor.
We picked our way between moaning passengers. It had really turned nasty on the way South to Blyth. The distant
chimneys of Blyth Power Station were seen ahead and to starboard and eager eyes peered in that direction often, but we seemed to be approaching them awfully slowly. Presently they came to dominate the scene, signifying the fact that we were approaching Blyth Harbour where some lucky souls could be landed. Strangely, conditions improved remarkably as we approached the harbour and some local lads in their cabin boats tried in vain to race Waverley who was deceptively speedy.
We steamed up into the quiet waters of the river Blyth and reached the quay where in no time at all Waverley was alongside disgorging the locals who didn't seem quite so excited anymore. One or two of them were decidedly wobbly on their legs. Was it the roll of the ship or had they sampled a little too much hospitality? We'll probably never know, but without obvious exception, they were all pleased to be on terra firma.
The time came to set off once more for the Tyne and for the first time this trip, Waverley seemed reluctant to do what she was bid. We left the quay with the wheel hard to starboard but the shallow harbour seemed to hinder her normal handling and she wouldn't respond to the helm. Ahead then astern, but all in vain, there was nothing else to do but break out a long warp from the forepeak, aft around the starboard sponson then on to the quay. We went slow ahead until the warp almost sang with the strain, but slowly it worked. The bows came about to starboard and after a while and with the warp cast off, we headed once more out to sea and on to the Tyne.
The South Easterly had blown itself out and the trip South was peaceful and actually quite pleasant. Fran dried herself against the forward funnel casing and we entered the Tyne almost with all forgiven. I say almost. I happen to know one person who might not care to risk a repeat experience...Fran!
We disembarked at North Shields and finally watched Waverley plod upriver to return to Newcastle quayside once more. It was an unforgettable trip and I just wanted to share it with you before the mists of time obscured the details. I hope you enjoyed this little tale. I certainly enjoyed sharing it with you.

Webmaster's note:  Readers will be pleased to know that the paddler now has a sealed, vacuum sewage disposal system and "blowbacks" of the type described are no longer possible!!!

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