Yacht Trip to Norway Summer 1951 by Leslie Banks
Came the summer holidays and Victor, Len Shaw and myself turned up with the Shireen at Bowling Harbour ready to start the navigation of the Forth-Clyde canal and of course the outboard motor was showing its cursedness and refused to start. Fortunately, another much heftier Yacht was about to do the same trip so we begged a tow and we found that this gave us much more manpower in handling the boats through the numerous locks. We eventually arrived at the River Forth and we put in to Leith docks overnight. Vic noticed that the barometer was showing a rising pressure, which, in our ignorance, we took to be a good sign, but in fact, as we were to find out later, was an indication of some very big North winds. In our ignorance, we set off down the Forth and out into the North Sea pointing in the direction, which would take us to the Fjords of Norway. The strong northerly winds helped us on our way and we began reefing down to cope with the increasing force until in force seven conditions we were obliged to tie down the mainsail completely. Len and I fished out the sea anchor from below piles of ropes lifebelts and other chandlery and went up front to field this and to secure the ropes-end as best we could. It very soon became clear to us that Shireen was never intended to ride true to a sea anchor and we settled at right angles to the tie exposing our port side to the worst of the wind and the driving sea. Days later when we eventually got ashore we noticed that this side of the boat had all the lovely Caronia-Green paint almost stripped bare.
Vick of course was not at all happy with this and he insisted on going forward to check our work. On the return journey, we saw him washed over the side by a particularly big wave and the prospects of one or both of us going over the side to rescue this non-swimmer had to be faced. Fortunately for us during the gales the topping-lift had become unreeled and was trailing in our wake and we managed to coax Vick who was some 20feet away by now to grab the rope and we pulled him up to the side and dragged him aboard. We do not know whether he then became unsociable or whether it was due to shock but he curled up in his bunk and did not say a word to us for a full 24 hours. Shireen had only two bunks, one on each side, which left me to occupy the floor space between. There was nothing else we could do so we stayed there rolling about eating a succession of packets of biscuits and occasionally pumping out the bilge. Our cooking stove, which was a sheet iron affair mounted on gimbals, was rattling away in its own compartment beating our tin kettle into a flat useless affair against the side of the boat. After a full day of us in this condition we heard a boatís whistle so I put my head over the storm sheets covering the cockpit and found that we were being circled by a trawler who asked us if we were OK or whether we wanted to abandon the boat and move over to them. I passed the message to Vick who by then had recovered his composure enough to politely refuse their request. I am not sure whether we were in this state for two or three days and it seemed an age but one morning we awoke to find that the wind had at last stopped whistling and the sun was fighting to come out. We very quickly handed in the sea anchor and set the sails so that for the first time in an age we were in such a state that we could set up the Primus stoves to fry up a well-earned breakfast.
Shireen continued her way north and after a couple of days we were rewarded by the sight of a fixed ball of cloud indicating that solid earth was somewhere beneath it. This land we finally met after dark by the repeated signals of her lighthouse. We at first thought that this was the entrance to Bergen Fjord but as we tried to move to the North of the light we ran into the red segment of the light so we pulled away and found at last that this was the Stavenger lights. We headed to the South of this lighthouse and decided to keep our nose to the wind and wait the dawn more or less keeping the same sea position. As dawn finally broke we found ourselves in the centre of a ring of rocks still holding the same sea position. The wind began to rise once again so we abandoned our plans for the fjords and decided to go with the wind heading to the south and the Naze. We found the South coast of Norway was a scattering of huge rocks with, for those who knew, a whole series of navigable channels between them. We decided to ask one of the locals in a speedboat who decided to show us the way to Kristiansand. Off he went sliding between these huge rocks and with us following closely in his wake until at last we decided to abandon him and headed out to the open sea to find our own way. In the lee of the land the sea was quite flat and we headed for port at a great speed. Once there we were once again only too aware of our need for an engine to make a landing but by shear good seamanship we managed to sail her and tie up at the coaling quay.
At that time, we found Norway was suffering from food shortages far worse than our own and that the restaurants were a lot on the pricey side. We managed to suffer this for a few days but finally decided that Denmark would be a much meatier situation. However, we did not have any charts of the approaches so we headed for a huge Ferry and asked the Skipper for his advice. He took us into his chart room lined with huge chart drawers and produced the only chart that he had, which was his route between Kristiansand and Copenhagen. He did however give us some advice on the West Coast of Denmark. Armed with this advice we decided to try our luck and headed out to sea once more. That accursed north wind started to blow up once again but on this occasion, was in our favour and we sped through the night at a full nine knots heading for Thyberon. At the point where we expected to be there we headed east for the shore and although we knew we were close we could not find a single landmark. We kept checking the depth of water with our lead weight on the end of a length of a bit of string and where it got shallow enough we kept our nose in the wind and decided that if we couldnít find Thyberon in daylight we would just give in and head back home even though we were starving. However, to our surprise late in the afternoon a lifeboat turned up and as we had no common language we were obliged to board it and they towed the yacht into Thyberon.
Once we got ashore we found the land so flat and featureless that it was no wonder that we were lost. However, we were given the full use of the local Seamanís Hostel and enjoyed a few days in the sunshine. Hostel meals were accompanied with huge bowls of new potatoes, which quickly filled us out. Moored alongside us was a brand-new boat with its two Swedish owners. They were heading for London and we were invited aboard to view this heavily built creation. Although no bigger overall than the Shireen it was built of one-inch thick pine planks compared to Shireenís half-inch mahogany boards, and would have been an onerous thing to sail. The day after our arrival one of the local sailors turned up with a local newspaper in which the Shireen was front-page news. It was double-dutch insofar as we could understand it at the time but later on we got a typist at the Danish Embassy in Glasgow to translate it for us and the following is the result.
From the account given above it must be obvious that the Danish Press are normally short of news events.
We spent the time in Thyberon checking out the boat and we did in fact find that the bob-stay tying down the fore-stay was loose and could have caused endless trouble in sailing had we not found it. We also stocked up with as much food as we thought necessary for the four-day journey home. Our holiday was almost over so at the first sign of good weather we set off together with our Swedish friends, who were heading for London. The sluggishness of their boat was obvious in the first few hundred yards and we happily waved them goodbye. The weather on the return leg varied in its extremes but no matter how hard it blew we at all times kept the boat under sail. In a few days, we came across the constant stream of puffers travelling along the East Coast so I suggested to Vick that we should hail one of these to find our way to the Forth. He was horrified at my suggestion and he immediately identified the island just north of the Forth and the Bass rock away in the distance. We headed south sailing between the island and the shore to find that we were in fact on the rocks of Coquete island and that, what Vick thought was the Bass rock was in fact some Pit Bing near Newcastle. We set about trying to avoid any more damage to the boat whilst we waited some twelve hours for the boat to refloat on the tide. We then headed a long way north and with adverse tides until we finally ended up in the east end of the Forth Clyde canal. Unfortunately, there was no friendly boat to tow us back through the many locks and we had to take turns in hauling the damned thing along the towpath.
As soon as we hit the open countryside I decided to do something about the outboard engine and by stripping the Carburettor and poking through the umpteen passageways with lengths of the course grass, growing alongside. We eventually got some life into the thing and we were thus able to motor for the rest of the journey.