Grand Tour Day 51: Whitehaven Marina to Douglas, Isle of Man

Missing Link log 6 June 1999

Crew: Kim Hollamby & Malcolm Threadgould.
From: Whitehaven Marina, Whitehaven Harbour, Cumbria.
To: Douglas Harbour, Isle of Man.

Port engine start hours: 364.1. Finish hours: 366.6. Hours run: 2.5.
Stbd engine start hours: 364.2. Finish hours: 366.7. Hours run: 2.5.
Log start: 4025.6nm. Log finish: 4069.9nm. Distance run: 44.3nm.

Cranes at Whitehaven, Cumbria
Cranes at Whitehaven, Cumbria

Navigation log
Paid berthing fee 11.63.
1750: underway and into lock.
1800: out of lock. Wind N to NW F4. Vis: at least 30nm.
1805: wpt 1056 1.3nm W chimney N of Whitehaven. 54 33.30N 003 37.50W.
1812: wpt 1055 1.0nm W Saint Bees Hd. 54 31.00N 003 40.00W.
1830: 54 27.25N 003 48.10W.
1900: 54 20.46N 004 02.70W.
1930: 54 13.46N 004 17.65W.
1950: report to Douglas Hbr Radio, drop off plane to wait for ferry movements (one outward bound, one inward) with 0.5nm to run to wpt 1058 0.6nm S of Onchan. 54 09.50N 004 26.00W.
2003: permission to proceed into hbr.
2005: wpt 1059 0.2nm from Douglas Hbr on ldg lights. 54 09.00N 004 27.62W.
2008: enter harbour, visitor pontoon full, berth on south side of King Edward VIII pier rafted three out.

The Cumbrian port of Whitehaven is a surprise package in more ways than one. If you go back in history far enough, you find it commanded rather more importance in terms of maritime commerce than Liverpool and, if plans to treble its 50 acres of wet docks had gone ahead in Victorian times, perhaps it might have maintained that lead. Instead the handicap of the shallow Solway Firth waters versus competition from deep water facilities and the tribulations of local mining operations all pushed it into steady decline, finally resulting in the complete termination of commercial shipping, other than fishing, in the early 1990s.

A 10-minute conversation with Paul Hurst neatly summed up Whitehaven’s most recent spell of misfortune and its start back up the ladder again. Had we called a few years ago, we might have found him as one of 60 employed at the docks handling bulk cargo, primarily coal and phosphates. Amongst his tasks then were driving coal locos and working the grab-equipped cranes, two of which still stand testament to those years. Now he is one of five who have found new employment working at the harbour’s brand new 24hr lock facility.

His view from the tower takes in all of Whitehaven’s five docks, now impounded, the largest of which contains first 103 fully serviced berths of what could become a much larger marina. But that is just the start of a massive spend of regeneration grants aimed at turning the town into a major tourist destination.

Harbourmaster David Allan was a little nervous about our reaction to the marina’s surroundings as they still show plenty of signs of the gradual lapse into dereliction that the docks and the town once faced. But we were quick to commend the place for its unspoilt nature, for its architecture and for the very good range of shops that lie close to hand. All of the grant money is clearly very welcome, but we hope that Whitehaven never loses the working dock feel it still maintains. Even as things stand leisure boaters have a very adequate much needed new facility in a sparsely served area offering tidal access over 16-20 hours of every day.

Mad Sunday in Douglas, Isle of Man
Mad Sunday in Douglas, Isle of Man

The point was immediately reinforced when we left Whitehaven to lollop our way across a sloppy bit of sea to Douglas on the Isle of Man. With no space on the exposed small visitor’s pontoon there, we rafted Missing Link third out on the south side of the tall King Edward VIII pier. As I write this she is rolling through quite a few degrees, the fenders are juddering and we’re in for our most uncomfortable night yet on the Grand Tour.

Mind you we have arrived on Mad Sunday, the first day of the famed TT Races during which hardened motorbikers try to kill themselves on two wheels around the Isle of Man’s famed road circuit. By the time we walked into town, the racing had transferred to the front where helmeted warriors were burning rubber on the streets in front of baying fans. The only hint of a more normal kind of entertainment came with the arrival of an extremely lengthy and impressive firework display, the prelude to us descending a very long ladder back down to Missing Link’s rocking decks.

Ride safely at Mad Sunday!
Ride safely at Mad Sunday!

A ferry is due on our berth here tomorrow and we’ve been told to move off by 0930; it won’t be too much of a chore to do so.

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1999 Grand Tour circumnavigation of Britain by motorboat index.

This article originally appeared on the Motor Boats Monthly website.

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