There follows a story of a voyage made by Peter Bricklebank back in 1968 when he joined Pat Helm returning from Stavanger, Norway to Bridlington. Jim Evans suggested to me that it might be appropriate to include an article by way of a tribute to Peter – an accomplished yachtsman, good friend and stalwart of the RYYC. Much of what I will transcribe was supplied to me via Alison Deighton (Peter and Jean’s daughter) and is taken from Peter’s and Pat’s notes and reflections of that voyage; however in many ways it also represents a testament to the spirit and determination of Pat Helm.
Peter had sailed at Bridlington several times with Pat Helm as well as a crossing to Holland with him. Pat owned a 20ft Cap Horn class yacht ‘ltaldo I’ (there’s irony in that name!), home-constructed by his cousin Angus Field. He had a big ambition to sail alone and had planned a single-handed trip to Stavanger, whilst asking Peter if he would like to sail back with him. Quoting Peter: ‘most of the Bridlington yachting fraternity said they wouldn’t like to go out of the bay in it, but it looked
strong enough to me’. It had taken Pat some time to make ‘ltaldo’ ready; her forward deck required strengthening, coachwork beading renewing to prevent leakage, a gas cooker and navigation lights installing – and so o n. Arthur Cook finally managed to acquire a suitable life-raft and Peter helped stow food and clothingfor the voyage.
‘ltaldo’ was towed out of Bridlington harbour on the evening of 27th June 1968 by Peter aboard his cabin cruiser, and Pat set a course for Flamborough Head. Rain, calm, thick fog and a south easterly Force 6 were encountered in the first 2 days, then quoting Pat on day 3:‘sunshine, Force 4 just off the stern, surfing along, transistor supplying Family Favourites – what more can one ask’! This was soon to be replaced during the night by a Force 8, large, menacing waves and the arrival of an exhausted pigeon which slid down the reefed mainsail. The gale persisted throughout the next 2 days; – with the noise of waves thumping against the beam and constant baling the cockpit clear of water, Pat had become very tired and ‘dozed off virtually standing up’.
On the morning of the 6th day he confirmed his position as 7½ miles south of Hastien Fjord and ‘charged up it over-canvassed with only the yankee jib set, narrowly missing a crop of rocks which broke the surface in confused seas’. As the wind strength increased to Force 9, gusting I O and having been knocked flat when in sight of Stavanger, Pat anchored 50 yards offshore, ‘cooked my first really hot meal, had a decent wash and first shave since leaving Bridlington and retired to my bunk well fortified by two exceptionally large whiskies. He took ‘ltaldo’up to the Vagen Quayside the following morning and tied up just astern of two graceful 45 to 50 ft German yachts which made her ‘look like a cockleshell alongside them’.
Peter took the ferry from Newcastle to Stavanger to join Pat, who had taken time to rest up and check out the town and its surroundings. Pat recorded that the ferry docked on time and he ‘could see Peter leaning over the rail, probably having mis-givings about the voyage back’. 2 days later at 11.30 hrs on a Monday they left the quay in heavy rain, the shipping forecast having given Force 5 to 6 north west and proceeded initially under outboard motor. The wind freshened and soon they tacked to clear the Tugenes Lighthouse and were passed by an impressive sight of a frigate and 4 torpedo boats of the Norwegian Navy to whom ‘we dipped our ensign, as we laid a course 223 degrees compass for Flamborough Head and the open sea’.
The two were in very deep water off the Norwegian coast, one minute in a huge trough, the next ‘on a crest – the wild seas around us, having a quick look out for shipping: The wind increased forcing them to reduce sail and throughout the night and Tuesday morning, a Force 7,gusting 8 made life miserable and very wet. Having initially felt seasick, Peter had recovered by the afternoon and by 19.00 hrs the wind dropped to Force 2 variable, the wave motion having rapidly decreased. At
12.30 hrs on Wednesday in a Force 3 easterly they passed ‘Orion’ the first oil rig to be located in the North Sea and which had been in transit, then moored in a new position since the last issued notes to mariners. During that afternoon the wind steadily increased and ‘ltaldo’ continued until 04.00 hrs the following morning under reefed main and yankee. They dropped the main in increasing wind and by the afternoon the BBC forecast gale 8, gusting Force 9 for Dogger, Humber and Tyne, but ‘we’d already decided to head south keeping away from land so to our embarrassment found ourselves in the midst of it!’
They changed to storm jib for more control but took some unpredictably heavy seas, thereby sustaining slight damage including damage to a deck stanchion. Peter had gone below for an hour’s rest but was woken by a tremendous bang and having been thrown in the air, found himself covered in crockery, ropes, shackles and tins of food. ‘We calculated that we were 70 miles off Flamborough Head and with the sea so shallow, very confused waves threw up mountainous pyramids of water some 30 to 40 feet high with great crests; – a gale to remember!’
By Friday morning the wind was from the north west Force 2 diminishing, but they made little progress and floundered about most of Saturday too, whilst dense fog descended leaving them at the mercy of the tides. By 19.30 hrs ‘Italdo’ was utterly becalmed so they decided to use the outboard. ‘After 1 ½ hours Peter went below to take bearings, when shortly after I sighted chalk cliffs and huge rocks with sea breaking on them, only 50 yards away! We subsequently dropped anchor about 1 mile offshore and amidst the upheaval tried to work out which cliffs we were so close to. We found ourselves just north of Thornwick Bay.’ This put them a good 10 miles south of their estimated position which ‘was not too bad considering our last sight of land was nearly 6 days previously and our navigational equipment was somewhat elementary. We learned the lesson though that we should never again head inshore in thick fog, no matter how keen we are to get home’.
‘Having no engine noise we distinctly heard Flamborough fog horn and remained anchored overnight. At 06.00 hrs on Sunday morning we rounded the Head with the flood, continuously taking bearings in visibility of 10 to 15 yards and keeping a sharp look-out. However when the tide started to ebb and still in dense fog, we decided to anchor in the south bay east of the South Smithic buoy.’ ‘Peter always managed to make food more palatable than I could, so we fortified ourselves, repacked gear and cleaned the boat. In a persistent mantle of fog we set course for Bridlington harbour at 15.00 hrs; thus we suspect that having been 90 miles off Flamborough on Thursday morning, to mooring in the harbour at 18.00 hrs on Sunday qualifies us for the slowest average knot per hour award!’
They entered the harbour ‘to the accompaniment of a tremendous thunderstorm, which was a fitting end’; nonetheless ‘Italdo’ had proved seaworthy having brought her occupants safely through 3 gales. A postscript from Peter concluded: ‘One learns how insignificant we all are in the world of nature. Life is short and it is far too easy to watch and never do anything worthwhile. This means taking one’s opportunities when they arise.’