Spider T sails from Keadby Lock on Humber to Arbroath – the full story

Spider T returns to the Humber following the Arbroath Sea Fest

Mal Nicholson and the Spider T crew will have more to chew on than most when they consider their summer’s adventures, having sailed a 1920s Humber sloop from Keadby to Arbroath and back.

The purpose of the boat’s trip was to attend Arbroath Sea Fest, and join in the marking of the 200th anniversary of the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, by Robert Stephenson. (I’m pleased to note a connection here – in building the Bell Rock Light, Stephenson was assisted by John Rennie, whose son Sir John Rennie was responsible for the New River Ancholme Drainage Scheme, which created the river that provides Spider T’s home berth.)

As you’d expect, their trip was marked by a series of minor mishaps and fascinating encounters, unforgettable landfalls, great thundering dawns and glorious sunsets. A series of posts here at intheboatshed.net recorded the northward trip, but you can read about the whole thing on a special page on the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society’s website.

A series of local newspapers covered the story of the Spider T’s visits to ports along the way, including this one recording the moment when the boat and crew called in at Hartlepool.

PS – Dig the great photo on the HKSPS homepage showing a keel skipper working his boat out of harbour using a sweep, with his rudder hard over and a tender in tow. Now there’s a challenge, yotties!

Spider T sails from the Humber to Arbroath: days ten, eleven and twelve, Anstruther to Arbroath

The frayed halliard on Spider T Derek Chafer and Paul Coultard watch Coull  Deas at work replacing a halliard

Coull Deas splicing in an eye on the new rope

Photos by Chris Horan. Click on the images for a much larger photo

Crewmember Chris Horan describes days eight and nine of Spider T’s voyage from the Humber to Arbroath:

Day 10

It seemed as if someone somewhere was looking after the crew of Spider T when they opted to stay in harbour at Anstruther for further day in hopes that the weather would improve before continuing to Montrose and then the Arbroath.

Skipper Mal Nicholson, spent the day working on minor repairs and checking on various matters relating to sailing, including the condition of ropes.

It was fortunate he did so, for it turned out that one of the mainsail halliards had been nipped badly and several strands had frayed – see the photo above – which would likely have led to the heavy gaff and sail crashing to the deck and potentially injuring one of the crew or even damaging the ship.

The crew conferred with local experts including marine engineer Davy Todd and 86-year old former fisherman Coull Deas, who had sailed on the Spider T on an earlier voyage.

Splicing the line was considered, but finally it was decided to replace it and the work was carried out by Coull.

Throughout the day there was a constant stream of visitors to the vessel.

The inner harbour at Arbroath photographed from the Spider T Entering the inner harbour at Arbroath with th Signal Towar Museum in the distance and thelifeboat house on the right

The Spider T enters Arbroath inner harbour

Day 11

Tying up in the outer harbour of Arbroath gave the Spider T’s crew a tremendous sense of pleasure and achievement, and relief. It was good to have arrived on schedule for the Arbroath Seafest, but skipper Mal was relieved that the difficult last leg was over.

The new peak halliard turned out to be too long, which meant that it could not be hoisted high enough to use the main sail effectively. The problem had not been discovered in harbour because there had been too much wind to raise the sails, and the Spider T was heeling more than should have been necessary.

The problem will be sorted out relatively easily during the vessel’s stay in Arbroath, but it did mean the Spider T sailed straight for its final destination rather than calling in at Montrose. ‘We needed the shortest possible route with the rig in that condition,’ said Mal.

The entry to Arbroath was tricky at low tide, and the Humber sloop grounded slightly on the mud at the entrance – if she had been 10 minutes later she could not have got in. Nevertheless, she tied up in the outer harbour and the crew were just in time to catch a meal of hearty steak pies and clooty dumpling and custard at a nearby pub.

Lynn Cameron festival secretary and treasurer, Alistair Martin chairman of  Seafest, Mal Nicholson, owner and skipper of the Spider T and Eleanor Whitby of Red Pepper Events which organises health and safety and other aspects of the event One of the many outlets selling Arbroath Smokies

Day 12

On Thursday morning the vessel, Spider T was moved into the inner harbour, where she was once again cleaned in readiness for hundreds of visitors to come aboard during the Arbroath Sea Fest weekend and celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the building of the nearby Bell Rock Lighthouse.

The cleaning operation wasn’t helped when a drainage worker disposed of some
material into the corner of the harbour, splattering mess over ropes and part of the decks of the Spider T, creating work and a potential health risk for members of the crew.

Needless to say, skipper Mal had a few things to say before widely going below to cool off. ‘It did not make for a good welcome,’ he said. Later, however, spirits improved with the arrival of Mal’s wife Val and a number of friends.

Mal once again thanked fuel sponsors CFS and DHL (UK), which provided
some food for the voyage.

As the Arbroath Seafest drew closer barriers went up along the harbourside ready to provide a degree of protection for the 40,000 or so expected visitors.

The Spider T was joined in harbour by the famous lug-rigged fifie Reaper fishing boat, and two restored fishing boats from the 1940s, the Favourite and Rachel Douglas.

Another exhibit is a replica of the sling cart used to carry building stones for the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

Seafest chairman Alastair Martin welcomed the Spider T and said that the organiers very much appreciated the crew had made.

Skipper Mal said it was great to receive such a warm welcome from those organising the Seafest and from people in the town.

Established in 1178 by King William the Lion, Arbroath is famous for smoked haddock, known as Arbroath smokies, and the smokers give the harbour quarter a pervasive smell that tugs on the tastebuds.


Spider T sails from the Humber to Arbroath: days eight and nine, stuck at Anstruther but enjoying the visit

Mal Nicholson with trophies won by the Spider T at the Anstruther Muster 2011 Jim Morrison of Pittenweem visits the Spider T during the Anstruther Muster

Visitors at the Anstruther Muster 2011 The Spider T at Anstruther 2011


Photos by Chris Horan. Click on the images for a much larger photo

Crewmember Chris Horan describes days eight and nine of Spider T’s voyage from the Humber to Arbroath:

Day 8 (continued)

High winds and big seas forecast by the weathermen had arrived by Sunday. Spider T was due to sail from Anstruther to Montrose, but consultations between skipper Mal Nicholson, senior crew and the land based back-up resulted in a decision to delay the journey to Montrose until the bad weatherhad eased.

It was not so much a case that Spider T could not have sailed but partly a matter of erring on the side of caution, and also taking into consideration that trip was a working holiday for crewmembers and that the commercial port at Montrose had less to offer than Anstruther.

Staying in Anstruther for a little longer would also give more members of the public a chance to view the Spider T, which had been given an award for the being the oldest vessel at the Anstruther Muster. The award was received by crewmember Rory Mitchell.

‘It is an award for the hard work of the crew and supporters, which includes a lot of shore based people,’ said Mal. ‘For me it also showed that the ambassadorial role we play for National Historic Ships is recognised by the Anstruther Muster.’

Jim Morrison, who is a member of Anstruther Sailing Club, which organises the Muster, said people had been delighted to see Spider T sail in. ‘There was a buzz went round. Most people round here are fascinated with vessels, particularly with those which have been restored. It was smashing to see her return.’

Spider T bomb disposal 2 TheSpider T in Anstrutherwith a Royal NavyBomb Disposal van on the harbour side

 Derek Chafer sits in as cox with members of St Ayles rowing club, Anstruther with the ladies at the oars.. Rowers in the harbour at Anstruther

Day 9

Being in port did not mean there was nothing to be done, for as well as welcoming visitors there were various maintenance and domestic tasks to be accomplished.

In addition the vessel was switched from shore power to generator power to allow electrical equipment such the washer to be operated along with the ship’s shower and other appliances, the engine and the gland sealing the propeller shaft were checked, and the fast-emptying ebbing water tanks were refilled.

The Spider T’s unexpected trophies were not the only suprises to come the way of the sailing barge’s crew while at Anstruther.

One centred on an unexploded bomb found in the approach to the port, which crosses a former minefield. The Spider T had sailed through this on her way into port a couple of days earlier!

The minefield is supposed to have been cleared long ago, but each year one or two devices emerge and find their way into open water, posing potential dangers to mariners and tourist boats. The floating bomb could have severely damaged a vessel like Spider T if she had come into contact with it.

Once the object had been sighted a Royal Navy bomb disposal team arrived to blow the object up in a controlled explosion while local lifeboatmen kept other vessels at bay.

The alarm over the floating bomb failed to deter crew members Derek Chafer and Chris Horan when they were invited to join the women of the town’s St Ayles Rowing Club for an evening’s rowing session in their two Iain Oughtred-designed St Ayles skiffs.

Although heavy rain had been forecast, the day turned out better than expected and we had a beautiful summer’s evening – and so the two crews set off for a couple of circuits along the coast.

Afterwards, the rowers and friends were invited on board the Spider T for hospitality and to see round the Humber sloop.