Hi there, my name's Penny. I was the heritage consultant on the original Roker Pier and Lighthouse HLF bid, working with the Sunderland City Council team. On a beautiful day in August 2016 I sat on the cliff top at Whitley Bay watching the tall ships sail out to sea and thought to myself - I'd really love to have a go at that. So with Sunderland 2018 in my sights I set about booking a little high seas adventure that this saw me sailing out of Woolwich dock on Sunday 8th July on the Oosterschelde, a three mast topsail schooner bound for Sunderland.
Penny's Diary - Days 3 and 4
Day Three 11 July 2018
Woke up at 4.15am to see the sunrise but unfortunately there was too much cloud to see anything. The ship was deathly quiet at that time in the morning although the night watch - Rose and Kiel - were both up on deck making sure all was well. I caught Rose's eye and contemplated staying up but the lure of my cosy cabin sent me back below for an extra couple of hours sleep. Usually on a trip the volunteers are divided into three 'watches' operating through the day and night, with each seeing a sunrise and sunset. However, because we were travelling under motor the captain had decided not to impose the watch system which was a bit of a pity though I must admit it was nice to get some sleep.
Later, after breakfast, it was up on deck to greet the new day. We were finally back up to full strength with everyone recovered from their sea sickness. The ship was just off the coast of Sunderland and with our end point in sight we were free to spend the day just sailing. We had been joined by a number of other vessels including the Nelson, the Fryderyk Chopin and the Christian Radich as well as one or two others on the horizon that I couldn't quite make out.
Everyone was very excited about the prospect of a full morning of sailing. The northerly wind was still blowing which meant tacking upwind but we were up for the challenge. Martin, the captain, gave the order to raise all of Oosterschelde's 12 sails including the main gaff topsail which we had to attach from the deck and the mizzen gaff topsail which Manon - one of the ships' professional crew - had to climb to the top of the mast to release. She made unfurling an expanse of sailcloth while dangling 100ft in the air look so effortless!
Raising the sails involved teams of volunteers pulling on the halyard; the rope attached to the head of the sail used to hoist it up the mast. Another set of ropes - the 'sheets' - were then deployed to adjust the sail and keep it taut into the wind. Once set the various ropes were then 'made-fast' on belay pins set into a pin rack that ran along both sides of the ship.
With all the sails set the ship was an impressive sight. A film crew in a small yellow motor boat came alongside and began to film - you can see some of the stills on the ship's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/oosterschelde/. The police and coast guard also came alongside to check us out but with all in order they were soon on their way. With a bit of time to spare there was a chance to don a safety harness and step out along the netting to sit on the bowsprit and watch the waves crash passed.
We changed direction - 'tacked' - into the wind a few times, all the crew being very careful not to get in the way of the huge booms as they swung across the deck. Then all too soon it was our turn to head into the harbour. A pilot from the Port of Sunderland came onboard and took over the helm and sadly we had to take down the sail and switch back to motor. Nevertheless it was an exhilarating experience and a great privilege to 'sail' into the dock. I was blown away by the huge number of people who came out to wave us in. The pier and the harbour walls were crammed with everyone waving and cheering. The restored Roker Lighthouse looked particularly splendid and the sun even began to peep through the clouds. We finally moored up at the eastern end of Jubliee Quay, just in front of the Alexander von Humboldt II. Later the Royalist moored up alongside us.
So that was the end of the sailing but the trip was not over yet . We still had a few hours to look around the dock at the other ships, many of which were festooned with brightly coloured flags flapping in the breeze. I went aboard some including the enormous Russian Mira which at 109m is double the length of the Oosterschelde. Then it was back onboard for our last evening meal . Some of the volunteers disappeared into town to watch the England/Croatia match returning a couple of hours later with glum faces. They soon cheered up as the last night party got underway with crews of all nationalities joining us on deck until the wee small hours. Apparently the Oosterschelde has a reputation for throwing the best parties in the fleet and this was no exception.
Day Four 12th July 2018
A few people were nursing sore heads on Thursday morning and thankfully we got an extra hour in bed with breakfast at 8.30 rather than 7.30am. Richard, the cook, as ever rustled up a splendid meal despite having no electricity as the generator had packed! It never ceased to amaze me how the crew took any problem or issue in their stride and came up with a solution, often without a second thought.
After breakfast it was finally time to say goodbye to Oosterschelde and her amazing crew. Thanks to every one of you for making me feel so welcome. Your kindness, knowledge and enthusiasm helped make my short journey an amazing experience that I will always cherish and remember. Things seem a little grey now that I am back on shore but I have already started planning my next sailing trip. Where should I head next? Perhaps the Western Isles of Scotland or the coast of Cornwall or maybe I will push the boat out (excuse the pun) and head for Cape Verde! In the meantime there is still a full two days of the Tall Ship Festival left to look enjoy. So I'll sign off now. Thanks for joining me on my little adventure.
Until next time, Gelukkig zeilen!
Penny Middleton is a project manager at Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA), responsible for built heritage and conservation. She has worked on a number of projects in the North East including Roker Pier and Lighthouse, Hylton Castle, Seaham North Dock, St Mary's Island and Lighthouse and Miek Lighthouse. For further information check out the NAA website: https://www.northernarchaeologicalassociates.co.uk/
Oosterschedle's voyage from London to Sunderland