Hi there, my name's Penny. I was the heritage consultant on the original Roker Pier and Lighthouse HLF bid, working with the Sunderland City Council team. On a beautiful day in August 2016 I sat on the cliff top at Whitley Bay watching the tall ships sail out to sea and thought to myself - I'd really love to have a go at that. So with Sunderland 2018 in my sights I set about booking a little high seas adventure that this saw me sailing out of Woolwich dock on Sunday 8th July on the Oosterschelde, a three mast topsail schooner bound for Sunderland.
Penny's Diary - Day 2
Rudely awoken from a deep sleep yesterday night by the most horrendous noise. My first thought was 'iceberg' ! Obviously seen Titanic one too many times. Then I wondered if we had run aground but thankfully nothing so dramatic. It seems that the anchor had accidentally been dropped, that's tantamount to pulling your hand brake on on the motorway. The ship lurched alarmingly and then stopped. For the next half hour we heard the ratchet on the anchor going up a few links at a time. Then the engine kicked in and we were on our way.
Tuesday morning brought the dreaded sea sickness. Seas were very rough as we were set against the wind. All too much for my poor inner ear to cope with and I spent much of the day holed up in my cabin or peering into the waves from the bulwark trying not to part with my breakfast (and failing). I wasn't alone, half the volunteer crew were feeling the same and the deck was like the Mary Celeste with just a handful of lost souls milling about.
Despite depleted number the ship did FINALLY set sail. Yes, a day and a half after leaving Woolwich we raised all the sails on the schooner which was very exciting. I stayed to see the last one set but then had to head down to my cabin and pray for sleep to take me.
I felt better around four and headed back on deck. There were only a handful of people up and about, many with grey faces. Still, we managed to tack the ship, turning into the wind to take us back in the direction of Flambrough Head. We had had to head out to sea that morning in order to set the sails as the wind direction was against us. It was great to finally get a chance to travel completely under sail. The engine is a necessary evil as it would have taken 2 weeks and multiple tacks to get to Sunderland but under sail the ship felt so different and you began to get a real sense of the majesty of the Age of Sail. Waves crashing on the bow, spray in the air, the roll of the ship as she corrected herself and thrum of the wind running through the rigging.
It's now 9pm and we are sitting in the ward room having a chat before bed. Most people seem recovered but there are still a few casualties. Tomorrow we head into Sunderland and should be approaching Roker Pier around 12.00pm. I better sign of now. Let's hope there are no rude awakening tonight!
Penny Middleton is a project manager at Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA), responsible for built heritage and conservation. She has worked on a number of projects in the North East including Roker Pier and Lighthouse, Hylton Castle, Seaham North Dock, St Mary's Island and Lighthouse and Miek Lighthouse. For further information check out the NAA website: https://www.northernarchaeologicalassociates.co.uk/