The strange and heroic journey of ‘March Hare’ and the ‘Rabbiteers’
The voyage began at 07:55 hrs on Saturday 15th March 2014. Precisely 5 minutes before the agreed ‘cast off’ time.
The’ journey’ however started at 19:00 hrs on Friday 14th March.
The cruise itself was somewhat impromptu. There was not a great deal of planning involved. It stemmed from a desire to watch the last day of the Six Nations tournament; that, and the fact that my good lady wife had agreed to babysit over the weekend. I was offered a life line and took it firmly in both hands. It was suggested that I may want to go sailing ‘with the boys’ over the weekend, whilst Karen clucked and fussed over small humans at our house.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the word went out and the initial plan was put forward.
The outline plan was this-
Interested parties would meet at the club (RNYC) on Friday evening. The boats would be prepared, the crews allocated, gear stowed safely away and then we would have a few quiet beers, before retiring to bed for an early night; ready for an early start on Saturday morning.
I had arranged a 12 o’clock bridge lift at Newcastle City Marina, and estimated that we would need to slip our lines from Blyth at 08:00hrs.
On the way past Royal Quays we were to pick up ‘Bumpi Too’, who would join our little flotilla up the Tyne. Any other interested parties, not involved on the initial sail, would be joining us at Newcastle quayside.
It is testament to the efficiency of a well drilled crew that we had the boats ready to go at 17:30hrs on Friday night. We had thrown our kit into a jumbled pile in the middle of the saloon and stowed our vitals carefully.
We had inadvertently taken the Noah’s ark approach to victualing. It would appear that no matter what it was that we had brought, we had two of them.
2 x cases of Stella Artois
2 x bags of pre cooked curry
2 x apples
2 x bags of bananas
2x packs of fish
2 x packs of bacon
And a nice bottle of Jura Whisky.
There have probably been better organised cruises, but I wonder if you can guess what we came back with, and what we had to buy more of?
By 18:00 hrs the crew were getting restless, and close to a mutiny. Unfortunately we were not fully assembled. The skipper of ‘March Hare’ had not yet arrived, although one of his ‘Rabbiteers’ had made an appearance.
In order to avert a mutiny; and taking a lead form the great Naval captains of the empire, I opened the grog locker and we got stuck into the first case of Stella.
Crew list at this time-
We decided to wait onboard ‘Kandula’ until the rest of the crew were assembled. At 19:00 hrs they arrived. We were joined by
Steve Meakin (Skipper and chief Rabbit)
Kit was stowed in double time and we sat looking at each other, trying to decide a sensible approach to the evening. We decided to get an early night and not drink too much.
BUT, we would go to Blyth first for a quick beer. We would have gone onboard ‘HY Tyne’ the club ship, but she is closed for rewiring.
A Phoenix taxi was booked, and the ‘Heroic Five’ ventured forth into the welcoming arms of Blyth town.
We went to the ‘Wallaw’ pub, converted from an old cinema. It was huge. The beer was cheap, but there was very little atmosphere. We had a few beers, had a little food and decided to go back to the boat for an early night.
BUT, we ended up going to the ‘Blyth and Tyne’
Now the ‘Blyth and Tyne’ is a strange establishment. On the outide a respectable pub, built in the traditional style. On the inside, a demonic hall, populated by the cast of ‘hellboy’ and ‘the rocky horror show’
It was one of those awkward moments. We were through the door and had ordered a pint each, before the stark staring realisation had set in. There was a group of 14 year olds playing pool. There was a twelve year old picking the ‘music’ on the juke box. He obviously liked a bit of Thrash Metal!
Behind us, covering our escape were a couple who were drinking some sort of ungodly cocktail , served in red plastic buckets and ahead of us, were the doors to hell. Beyond which was a dark hole in the fabric of the universe; which we were too scared to approach, but were forced ever closer, in an attempt to distance ourselves from the inhabitants of this den of Hades.
We drank in silence and we drank quickly. We made no eye contact.
We decided to go back to the boat for an early ‘ish’ night.
BUT, we ended up at the doors of ‘The Waterloo’.
There was a large crowd at the door, enjoying the fresh air and listening to the witty banter of the ‘bouncer’.
As we approached, the scene went deathly quiet. The bouncer stopped us at the door, with a cheery smile. “Alright lads, you can come in, but its a charity night, so I have to charge you!”
Paul Warren in all innocence asks the question, “OK mate, but what is the charity?”
Obviously, the bouncer wasn’t ready for this quick fire test of his initiative. He struggled initially, but once he had a head of steam, the information flowed freely.
Apparently, we were to pay a pound each, in benefit of Blyth Town, under thirteen , Alzheimer’s association! The donations were carefully secured in the bouncer’s pocket!
We entered the pub, and as sure as William Shakespeare described it, in ‘as you like it’; indeed all the world is a stage!
It was a mix between Dante’s Inferno and The Circus of Horror’s. There was a woman, who was so fat, that not only could you see a VPL through her over stressed leggings, you could see so many cellulite dimples and varicose veins, I thought she was wearing corduroy. It took me back to my childhood; when I had a birthday party, entertained by Bozo the clown. Bozo’s special party piece was balloon animal tying. During his act, Bozo had a sneezing fit. The balloon animal that he produced as a result of this fit had survived against all the odds and was now, apparently living in Blyth.
There was the amazing 1980’s woman, who has obviously found her ‘look’ in 1987; and had religiously stuck with it, despite all of the evidence that she shouldn’t have.
There was a real live ‘meat draw’ going on, which seemed to be won by precisely the people who really should have been entering the ‘salad draw’ instead.
The whole event was being compered by a very poor Alvin Stardust impersonator. His outfit of slightly baggy, shiny with grease black suit, was elegantly finished by slightly grey, originally white terry towelling socks, with designer comfy slip on shoes.
We decided to retire to the boat and get an not quite as early as planned night!
BUT, we decided to have a little night cap. We opened the bottle of Jura and had one little drink each. In the confusion, we managed to lose the bottle top. We got to bed at 01:30hrs. Nice and early in the morning!
At 07:00hrs we were awoken by a bull elephant seal, which sounded like it was having a heart attack on the pontoon. As it transpired I was incorrect on both counts. It was Steve Meakin, trying to get his bodily functions in order. We managed to get up and get the kettle on. It was like a scene from the walking dead.
Brian Thornton arrived to lighten the mood, wearing shorts. The crews were agreed. Mike Layden turned up too to join the fun.
March Hare’s ‘Rabbiteers’ would be-
The ‘Kandulas’ would be-
We started to prepare the vessels for sea. We would of course be racing to the mouth of the Tyne. Blyth Piers to Tyne Piers.
There was lots of fussing about , as sails were bent on, halyards prepared and shore lines made ready to slip.
I looked over to ‘March Hare’ and asked Brian if they were ready to go. He told me “Two minutes”. I turned to check on the ‘Kandulas’ to see if we were nearly ready to let slip at the agreed 08:00hrs. With five minutes to go, I saw ‘March Hare’ slip her lines and head for the sea.
In a mad rush, we dropped the lines overboard, scrambled aboard and set off after them.
We hoist the mainsail with the first reef in. The forecast was 16kts from the West, gusting to 35 knts. We headed out to see, and saw that ‘March Hare ‘ was waiting just outside the piers. She was sporting full sails.
We sailed out into open water and decided to throw caution and full sails to the wind. I requested that the reef be shaken out. As we did so, I heard Brian over the VHF. “Ready, steady, GO!”
away we go
The race was on, and we had been caught, figuratively speaking, with our pants down. We go the reef shaken out, reset the main sail and took up the chase. The conditions were blowy and overcast. There were a few white horses developing, but the sea was flat. The sailing fast, and on the edge of being over canvassed. The spray started to fly and we were broad reaching along the coast. ‘March Hare’ was leading, with ‘Kandula’ sailing hard and fast, slightly upwind and behind. Approaching St. Marys ‘Kandula’ was the faster boat. Not much in it, but we were gaining ground.
At St.Marys, we were within water bomb distance. We prepared a large broadside. The ammo was prepared and lined up on the bridge deck. Our fortunes changed and ‘March Hare’ had the legs on us.
She was sailing faster and a little off the wind. We were maintaining our course, but slipping away from her.
At 08:30 we were past St.Marys. We were well ahead of schedule, so I put in a phone call to Ian Peddie, who was meeting us, in ‘Bumpi Too’ on the river outside of Royal Quays. It didn’t sound too promising, as a weak voice told me that ‘The Bumpi’s’ would not be joining us. Never mind I thought, Ian will undoubtedly join us in Newcastle, for the beer drinking. Whatever the ailment was, it must have been serious; as it caused Ian’s phone to stop functioning for the rest of the weekend. I do hope he is OK.
We were approaching the Tyne now, and ‘March Hare’ was still ahead. However, we were much further up wind and sailing fast still. We still had a chance. We trimmed sails for speed and were now sailing close to the wind. ‘March Hare’ trimmed likewise and it was now a sprint to the line. We were faster but had slightly further to go. ‘March Hare’ was slower, but pointing higher than us. They had good boat speed. They were too fast for us, and they crossed the line about 5 boat lengths clear. Despite our efforts, we couldn’t catch them in open water.
March hare slips away
We both continues sailing, tacking up the river against the ebb and with the wind on the nose. We tacked back and forth between ‘herd sands groyne’ and ‘the middens’
As we got to the lifeboat station, the ‘Kandulas’ started the engine and dropped the sails. We motored up river with a strong head wind and ebb tide. At times, we were only making 2.5kts.
We were way ahead of schedule. At 10:30 we were passing Whitehill Point. We had lost our water bombs to miscellaneous onboard incidents and decided to have a calming beer. We couldn’t see the Sun, so were unable to tell if it had, in fact, crossed the yardarm.
We motored on up the river and got to Newcastle 45 minutes before the bridge was due to open. We decided to tie up next to the trip boats and wait for the bridge. We had a beer whilst we were waiting.
At 12:00hrs the bridge lifted and we entered Newcastle City Marina. Met as usual by ‘Skippy’ the City Warden.
We tied up quickly, got changed into our formal drinking attire and headed for the bright lights of Newcastle quayside.
Iain Robertson was waiting for us. He looked thirsty!
We put a kitty together and went to the’ Eye on the Tyne’, a gastro pub on the quayside which specialises in not selling beer or food. We drank and made merry. We watched a fine performance my England Rugby. We endured the poor beer and didn’t eat.
The pace was apparently being set by Iain Robertson, who despite appearances, turns out to be a bit of a sprinter. We upped out pace to about 3 pints per hour.
Following the match, we moved on to the ‘Akenside Traders’
We got into a singing competition with the Welsh during the Wales v Scotland match. A match in which he Scots sent their under thirteen’s Alzheimer’s squad, instead of their international rugby squad.
The drink was flowing harder and faster. The drink had tuned strangely pink, and we had turned strangely French!
We cheerd on ‘Le Bleus’ and sang against a large squad of Irish lads. It was great, light hearted banter. Ireland won their match, and in doing so were crowned as winners of the Six Nations. Well done boys.
We decided to go for a curry. It starts getting a little hazy from here on in. I remember wrestling and piggy back races. I remember vindaloo not being hot enough, and Warren demanding a Phall. I remember walking (rolling) back down the hill towards the quayside. Mike Swann was MIA. Mike Layden was broken. Iain Robertson having done the damage had gone home, Brian Thornton had decided to drop a shoulder and his homing instinct had kicked in. The heroic few decided to retire to the boat for an early night.
BUT, on the way there was trip to Tesco. Another two bottles of Morgans Spiced rum were purchased.
Jamie was induced to perform his famous lamppost hanging trick, where you hold yourself horizontally off a lamppost. Warren ‘the ringmaster’ managed to gather a large crowd, to watch this amazing feat and a loud chant went around Newcastle quayside…..” Jamie…jamie….jamie…”
This was all very well and good, apart from the fact that Jamie had never performed this trick in his life, he had drank about 15 pints of assorted lager and beer and the whole event had been orchestrated by Warren! Jamie was heard to wimper, ‘I can’t do this.’
Undeterred, the crowd chanted on, whipped into frenzy by Warren. Jamie went for the performance of his life. The crowd were entertained.
We retired to ‘March Hare’
MIA Mike was aboard ‘Kandula’ watching a movie!
Mike Layden was still broken, but had managed to find his way back to ‘Kandula’ too. He was put into the traditional recovery position. (We left him where he was lying, but put a sleeping bag over him) and hope that he would be alive in the morning. The plan was to throw him overboard if he didn’t make it through the night!
Brian had got the Metro home to Whitley Bay.
I had run out of energy by now. It must have been really late, so having lost the ability to speak, or think in joined up sentences, I went to bed. Apparently it was 21:30hrs. I was broken too!
The heroic boys (those who were left)-
Mike Swann (now recovered and no longer MIA)
They decided to finish off the spiced rum.
The next morning came very quickly. We were awoken by the sound of the market being erected and the force 8 gale whistling down the Tyne.
We went hunting for breakfast and coffee. The departure was planned for 12:00hrs. There was a miraculous recovery by all.
We then heard a rumour on the news. The headlines went something like this-
Man, 52, of Whitley Bay, detained for Metro fare evasion.
We couldn’t think who it could be; certainly not one of our crew?
Brian turned up shortly after, having got the Metro back to town. Brian is apparently 52.
The crews for the return trip were as follows-
‘March Hare’ –
Brian ‘the fugitive’ Thornton
Jamie ‘the acrobat’ Shepherd
Paul ‘bring me a Phall’ Warren
The wind was strong and gusting stronger. We raced down the river under a little fore sail. At times we were actually surfing down waves.
We made it to Herd sands in short order, rounded up and set sail. We hoisted the main with one reef. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Two reefs would have been faster and drier!
We raced back to Blyth. It was a fast, wet and exciting sail back. But for the shortest period of time, ‘March Hare’ took and held the lead. It was a close run thing again, and the boats were separated only by the number of times each boat had ‘rounded up’ in the gusts.
We saw a few Dolphins on the way back up the coast, but no other boats. We also saw about 40kts of wind at times, I wonder if that was why no one else was out?
All in all it was an excellent cruise, the first of the season. The sailing was brilliant, the company outstanding. I hope this is an indication of things to come for the forthcoming season. Come along and join the fun. Everyone is welcome to join us. I hope to see you out there soon.