Inverness to Amsterdam

By Pam & Steve Mortimore

Some might say that joining a tall ship in Inverness bound for Amsterdam via Aberdeen, Holy Island and Whitby on the North Sea coast of the UK in October is a brave or even foolhardy move. In our defence, October in previous years has provided some glorious weather that befits such an adventure and this was the positive message that was deployed to convince my lovely wife that it would be more interesting than the usual charter holidays in Greece and Croatia.

We joined the Flying Dutchman, a Tall Ship built in 1903 and restored and renovated during the winter of 2003/2004, at Laggan Locks on the Caledonian Canal as she had been severely delayed by storm Babet and was not going to arrive in Inverness on schedule. Two buses with a stop in Fort Augustus took us half way across Scotland to picturesque Laggan Locks and after a short wait she hove into view and we boarded.

After a cruise along the Caledonian Canal and through Lock Ness in glorious autumn weather we arrived at Inverness. The ship had a chef on board and the food was excellent far better than our lunch in Fort Augustus which was ‘traditional’ Scottish fare of deep fried black pudding and chips!

Sailing out along the Moray Firth in fine weather gave us the opportunity to get to know our fellow shipmates and enjoy the view. While storm Babet was abating, we knew that the sea state when we got out into the North Sea could be, as one of Hullabaloo’s crew would say, “spicy”. The grade of spice however, remained to be seen.

We rounded Peterhead and the conditions deteriorated. The land disappeared into all round grey murkiness and the wave height continued to build. After 36 hours of heavy-weather sailing, Captain Aires decided to head for Berwick-on-Tweed and take shelter from the next front that was due to pass through.

Entering Berwick with a large following sea, strong easterly wind and a stone pier dead ahead, was going to require some serious seamanship to get us safely into port. As a wave picked up the ship and our speed built, Captain Aires spun the large ship’s wheel (14 turns lock to lock) hard to port and gunned the engine. As we fell down the wave, the prop and rudder kicked in and we swung round. With the stone pier close to the starboard side and breaking shallows to port we shot into the river. A coaster waiting for the tide was not so brave and spent a very uncomfortable 3 days at anchor outside until conditions improved.

Unfortunately, due to the weather, our voyage ended in Berwick where the Flying Dutchman spent a further ten days waiting for the right weather window to cross the North Sea. In the meantime we took a train to Edinburgh and an EasyJet flight to Amsterdam. Not the end to the voyage we expected and we have still not fulfilled a long held aspiration to sail into central Amsterdam along the canal behind the Central Station. Here, while waiting for numerous trains many years ago, a promise was made to one day sail into the centre of the city, something that still remains on the to do list!

Journey’s End: The Flying Dutchman Moored in Berwick Harbour
Posted in Cruising Story.