Life at the end of the road

November 14, 2012

Down on the river :-)

Filed under: boats, daily doings, South Shields — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 6:58 pm

Well, we certainly could not have had a better day for today’s practical work after yesterday’s theory about it. The open lifeboat, it’s launch, operation and recovery. A light warm breeze of south westerly wind a clear sunny sky making it an absolute pleasure after the confines of the classroom.


So after all fifteen of us clambered, sorry boarded the lifeboat on the ‘boat deck’ some seven or eight meters above the Tyne we lowered ourselves down by pulling on the centrifugal brake wire. Not something that I’d relish doing with the 50 people that this lifeboat is capable of carrying Smile

With the tide still ebbing we headed up river towards actual port of Tyne itself passing much of interest on the way and honing our skills at steering a course on the compass.


I’m not sure what this huge barge was for, but at a guess I’d say it was rigged for cable laying from offshore wind farms.


Having just been lowered with fourteen other mariners in a 50 man lifeboat six or seven meters into a calm and sun bathed river Tyne. The prospect of getting into one of those hanging from the side of the DFDS Princess Seaways during a December night on the North Sea did not appeal to me Sad smile However that’s why we practice and drill regularly so if it does happen then at least we can pretend we’re not scared Smile Seriously though these boats and their lowering systems have to be capable of being launched with a 20 degree list and 10 degrees of trim, that’ll be ‘leaning a lot and pointing up or down quite a bit’ in layman’s terms Smile They must also be capable of travelling at 6knots for twenty four hours and be capable of going astern. I know you didn’t really need to know that but I do Smile



This really is a ship taking coals to Newcastle, the world has gone mad Smile It is in fact the Bulk cargo carrier Topaz, registered in Majuro??? bet you don’t know where that is, well if it’s any consolation none of us did either.

It is in fact the capital of the Marshal Islands in the Pacific,



and whilst the Topaz was discharging coal the Panamanian flagged Clipper Bari Star was loading scrap. This will be all the cheap Chinese carp that we bought a couple of years ago going back to China or India.


As the morning progressed the temperature rose and it was positively lovely, our lecturer filling us with useful knowledge not only about boat work but also some of the sights on the river.



The knotts flats as they are known were completed in 1938,


THE Blitz was just starting in London and all of Britain’s industrial areas were about to become the targets of Nazi bombing raids.

It is generally assumed that Britain had missed the boat and lacked planning to deal with the coming onslaught, surviving by the skin of its teeth.

But that wasn’t true in all cases. Take the case of the Sir James Knott Memorial Flats in Tynemouth. Today they stand majestically on the top of a hill in Tynemouth.

Building started in the 1930s and by 1938 they were nearing completion.

They were probably the first-ever flats built with special features to help tenants withstand air raids, essential with the gathering clouds of war.

Two of the special features were the use of fire resistant materials throughout, unusual for those days, and the huge cellars designed as air raid shelters. It was thought these flats could have become a prime target for Nazi bombers as they stood on a high cliff overlooking the mouth of the Tyne, above the dangerous Black Middens reef and looking out to the North Sea.

In fact each flat was designed to look out over the river or the sea and the building would also become a notable landmark for sailors coming home to the river and that was particularly appropriate, seeing that the original intention was for some of them it would become home.

Everything a modern 1938 flat should have was being incorporated – and even more, as down in the basement, there was to be big workshops where, an architect’s report said, the heads of the 135 households which were to be accommodated there, could spend their leisure time.

Ironically the flats provided the perfect ‘pointer’ for German bombers heading for Newcastle and the yards of the Tyne, so whilst all around got heavily bombed the flats were never touched.


  The Knott's Flats at Tynemouth





It was whilst passing the fish quay that I spotted this familiar trawler, the Madalia, formally from Kyle, a couple of my mates used to work on her and I once had the embarrassment of being rescued by her Sad smile I was taking a 10m landing craft, the Magnus to Kyle to load smolts when the gearbox failed in the Kyle narrows. Fortunately, before we ran aground the Madalia came out and gave us a tow into port. 


We were not the only ones on the river practicing seamanship, the ‘Archer class’ patrol vessel HMS Example  looked like she had cadets on board and was repeatedly going alongside to moor at West Quay in North Shields.


This will be the light at the northern end of the breakwater



and this the one at the south, which was obviously getting work done.

When the piers were originally built they had huge steam cranes on them on railway lines that constantly moved concrete blocks around the seaward sides of the breakwater and replenished them with new ones. Although one of them was converted to diesel I think they were still it was still in service until 1978 or something. Now they reckon that modern methods of underwater grouting are just as good, I did have some picture on my laptop but can’t find them. Both of the cranes at one time or another were washed into the sea during storms, the northern one only a year or so after its installation. That one was salvaged but the southern one ended up as scrap Sad smile

Anyway, it’s 19:00 now and I’m off out to search for bargains in Morrison’s to eat, so I’ll just post this for now before I start on my homework Smile



  1. I thought it was Grumpy Digger Driver in a yellow gilet for moment, the wind having pushed his finger sideways…

    Comment by Iain — November 14, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

    • I wish it was GDD and I was at home Iain 😦 Still only seven more nights in South shields 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 14, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

  2. I notice the instructor has the nice comfortable buoyancy aid while the rest of you have the ‘it’ll keep you afloat but it’ll break your neck when you jump in’ type.

    Comment by Irena Krasinska-Lobban — November 14, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

    • No Irena, we had the comfy fall asleep ones 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 14, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

  3. “bargains in Morrisons” tut tut, you’re getting too used to city life. The coey in Portree beckons, – some of this and none of that – Glad to see that you’re getting “hands on” practical + useful + enjoyable stuff to round off this lengthy course. Soon be time to “couple up” and head North back to civilisation. All the best A.

    Comment by arthur — November 14, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

    • Hi Arthur, think it’s about time I started using those gas lights 🙂 Gosh I’ve just put one on and now I can see 🙂 Still can’t get over meeting you at Kilmuir, talk about coincidence 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 14, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

  4. A lovely cruise down the river! And history too. Feels like I’ve been there.

    Comment by drgeo — November 14, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

    • Hi Dr G,

      just wish I could remember more about those Titan cranes on the breakwaters. There was a display board with pictures on but I thought I’d be able to find stuff out ‘on line’ when I got back to the Thomson, however I failed miserably 😦

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 14, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

  5. <> … a bit different from going out with the gun hunting for rabbits, Paul … still, it’s how us townies get the thrill of the chase

    Comment by cazinatutu — November 14, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

    • oh dear, what happened there … it was meant to start off with “search for bargains in Morrison’s”

      Comment by cazinatutu — November 14, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

      • Aye Caz, a bit different and a lot more expensive. You think you’re getting bargains here because everything is cheaper from petrol to cider but the truth of the matter is you end up spending far more money. The Coey in Portree may be more expensive but we go once a fortnight and spend just over a hundred quid. Here I go every night and spend a tenner 😦 The hundred quid is for three and a dog, the tenner just for me, and that’s me economizing, I was spending £15 a week on just three cups of tea a day at the college, now I’m taking sandwiches and drinking water cos I just can’t afford it. I’m going to go home and shoot a nice big stag 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 14, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

  6. have you got your sea legs back, must be a few weeks since you’v been out on the water, (sure you’v probably got gills)

    Comment by mike — November 15, 2012 @ 1:59 am

    • Hi Mike, made a total hash of my boat handling but we’ll not go into that 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 15, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

  7. Are these Dolphins the seabirds are sitting on,and how often is the fuel in these suspended cruise lifeboats changed? I have really enjoyed my trip to South Shields through your blog..oh and why does the Shields word defy the laws of English grammar ? ( i before e except after c unless a proper name). Enjoy the rest of your stay,keep well and haste ye back. x

    Comment by SOTW — November 15, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    • Hi She,

      North and South Shields take their name form the word ‘schele’, meaning a temporary hut or shed. Shiels or shielings are usually found in the uplands where they were occupied by shepherds who could shield themselves from the wild weather.

      Well I never, imagine that 🙂 I thought shieling was a highland word 🙂

      Not sure what those things are called but it’s not ‘dolphins’ the river Clyde has lots of them and they were put there to speed up the water flow and thus prevent silting up.

      River groynes (spur dykes or wing dykes) (American English: “dikes”) are often constructed nearly perpendicular to the riverbanks, beginning at a riverbank with a root and ending at the regulation line with a head. They maintain a channel to prevent ice jamming, and more generally improve navigation and control over lateral erosion,

      Groynes perhaps ???

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 15, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

  8. Hope the boat trip was not the “modern-day Pirates viewpoint” section of the course 🙂 .Sounds like a bit more thought went in at the design and function stage with the pre-war flats.Nationwide many post-war tower blocks have already been demolished.

    Comment by Andy — November 15, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    • Hi Andy, was a bit stunned myself to find out the age of those flats, I’d assumed they were from the 50s or 60s, no wonder they’ve lasted so well. Pirates is Wednesday’s course and I get a certificate at the end of it, ‘Maritime Security’ or some such, very relevant for the Sconser Raasay sailing 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 15, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

  9. Maritime Security ! Now there’s a job for a smart drug sniffing dog like Molly, and she would no longer have to be stashed in the Landy! Get HER a certificate too!

    Comment by drgeo — November 15, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

    • Think Molly came from a drug dealer DrG, she arrived on my inlaws doorstep with an alcohol problem at five weeks old 😦

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 16, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  10. I notice the lecturer in the boat is a very good looking young man and her deserves his “comfy” life jacket

    Comment by ian jeffrey — January 11, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  11. * he deserves it ha ha

    Comment by ian jeffrey — January 11, 2013 @ 11:45 am

  12. have just seen the picture of me and OMG you must have a better one of your favourite lecturer at the Marine Safety Training Centre . I am training your guys next week at Greenock. Hope your there but i think you have all ready done maritime security. all the best mate 🙂

    Comment by ian jeffrey — January 11, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

    • Morning Ian,

      great to here from you. Unfortunately not on that course but I will be back in South Shields on 20th for three weeks. Sure I’ll catch up with you then and yes, I see what you mean about the picture, happy days 🙂

      Cheers, Paul

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — January 12, 2013 @ 8:32 am

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