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Crossing the Bar

Before the piers were built and the river dredged, ships intending to enter or leave the Tyne had the agonising wait for the tide and weather to be favourable. At low tide, the sand bar to the south of Battery Rocks was only 6 feet deep and collectively moving thousands of tons of shipping across it at full flood was a perilous task. If an easterly wind was prevailing, it could take days for ships to enter the harbour, and vessels anchored off Tynemouth were simply left at the mercy of the elements.

Then when their turn arrived to cross the dreaded Bar, they were faced with the uneasy run between the Scylla and Charybdis of the Black Middens and the Herd Sands, using only the leading lights on both banks to guide them. Many ships as a matter of course, became stuck on these hazards, sometimes with the loss of their cargoes and occasionally with the loss of life.

Whalers Entering the Tyne ― John Wilson Carmichael (1830)

The Tyne had two whaling fleets: one stationed at the Low Lights, North Shields, and the other at Dent’s Hole, Byker. In this painting by renowned local marine specialist, Carmichael, two whalers wait their turn to cross the bar in a choppy sea, as pilot boats approach the vessels.

You can buy a copy of this masterpiece here:

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