Boats from the past

These memories may not be of much interest to most but I feel they must be included here.
Of all the boats stationed in Blyth harbour a few stand out in my memory.
The dredger

In our harbour we had an old dredger named "Cowpen" which was a permanent fixture on the river constantly keeping the channel at the correct depth.

Whenever we were at the beach we were serenaded by the continual clank of the dredger working away.

It was the largest dredger of its type in the world and served our port well from 1913.

Its strange triangular shape was as much a fixture as the lighthouse in those days.


A more interesting pair of boats were the two paddle wheel tugs. They had been around for a while and, of the four permanent tugs in our part of the harbour, they were much more intriguing to me than the newer screw type tugs that would eventually take over, although when I left in 59 they were still going strong.

I did have the privilege of climbing aboard the Greatham¬Ě one day when Geordie and I were watching the crew swab the decks while on standby. No-one was ever allowed aboard so it was a rare opportunity to see things up close. What I noticed most was that although the hull and the paddle covers were painted almost everything else was polished, or worn, wood. Even the large curved rail that supported the tow ropes when in use were stout solid wood.

We were told that these steam powered boats were not as powerful as the new tugs but they had some advantages. The most obvious advantage being that they could turn around completely in no space at all by reversing one of the paddles.

The lifeboat.

I never did get to look closely at the lifeboat because it was well secured in its shed at the top of its ramp ready for launch at any time.

It was said to be unsinkable and proved to be so on many occasions while rescuing sailors from wrecked vessels on the North rocks. The seas at times like those were about as formidable as you would find anywhere but the lifeboat with its volunteer crew always came through.

Its only drawback was its slow speed but once on scene they had the equipment and expertise to effectively save many lives.

The RAF Air Sea Rescue Launch

My favourite boat, however, was the Air Sea Rescue launch.

We had two of them stationed permanently ready for any eventuality. Unlike the lifeboat these launches were the fastest boats in the area. The two huge engines started with an explosion that could be heard for miles so we always knew when they were leaving on a mission. These boats were property of the RAF and only RAF personnel were allowed on board. They were kept sparkling clean and in perfect order at all times and were a pleasure to behold.

During the war years the high speed Air Sea Rescue launches stationed around our shores were responsible for saving over 13,000 lives and their motto "The sea shall not have them" was well known.

I was lucky enough to deliver their newspapers every morning as part of my normal route and got to know the airmen quite well. For that reason I managed to be sneaked aboard for a look at the inside of the boat and view the massive engines. None of my friends ever had that good fortune so I was always asked when anyone wanted to know about the many attributes of these vessels. I forget the stats, horse power, knots, airspeed etc. although I did know them at one time. I do know that it took less than a minute from receiving a call for them to be leaving the dock at high speed.

An interesting thing I learned while on board was the reason for the circular piece of glass in the windshield. Up 'til that time I had noticed them but never understood their use until they explained that it was a more efficient type of windshield wiper. The glass spins and the blade stays still making the clear part of the window always in the same place.
(Makes sense. There have been times when I could have used one on the car living in Vancouver.)

A few years after my visit the launch I had toured blew up, burned and sank, while moored at the dock, luckily with no loss of life. By then the crews had all changed and I had no insight into what happened but eventually an even better launch replaced the old one.

The RAF took their life saving equipment seriously.