“…and now the weather forecast” the radio next to my ear burst into life at its normal pre-programmed 7am in my tiny little bedroom in my tiny little one person apartment in the North East, one Friday in November circa 1982.
“…its horrible” the radio announcer announced, “Gale force 9, lots of rain and a pearler of a Perfect Storm moving across the North Sea tonight, the fishing fleet at North Shields is confined to the harbour today…”
None of which would have normally worried me not one jot, not even slightly, on any normal Friday morning I would have sprung from my bed, had breakfast and gone to work in the knowledge that the weather was going to be fairly normal for November in the North East with the promise of a pearler of a storm that night.
I was very interested in this news on this Friday though.
For on this Friday I, and some other foolhardy land-lubbing people were travelling to Denmark on a ferry from North Shields, oh dear.
It was my boss’s fault, all of it, everything that happened that day/night/the next day/night, all of it was his fault for it was his idea, his idea that in order to impress some of his new friends at the local Lions Club he had organised a so-called “mini-cruise” on the DFDS service to Esbjerg, Denmark and he’d dragged two of us from the office to support him in this venture – a 26 hour crossing to Esbjerg, six hours onshore and 26 hours back, booze and eat all the way there and back and get up to all sorts of pranks and hi-jinks like the middle-aged overweight geeks in Lions Clubs all over the world do, their chance to let their hair down away from wives and suchlike, hmmm, didn’t quite work out that way…
I met the group in the car park in North Shields, everything was acting out exactly as specified, the group was middle-aged, mainly bald, overweight and very geeky, I was the youngest there by twenty years at least, this would be like a weekend away with your dads mates while your dads mates all imagine they are your age again. The weather was exactly as promised by the Metro Radio announcer that morning, wet, very wet, and a Force Nine blowing, definitely, but the DFDS people all looked busy and to our amazement they said the ferry was still sailing, it always sailed, this Perfect Storm was a mere puff to a ferry like this one.
It was a big ferry mind, huge actually, many decks high, too many to count, we took the lift to the top floor and the panoramic lounge right at the front of the ship where we ordered the first beer and went and stood outside on the verandah.
It was a bit blowy up there but not as bad as imagined, could be ok this, maybe a big ship like this really wasn’t that scared by a Perfect Storm, a horn sounded, ropes were cast off, we started to move down the Tyne towards the sea and were in high spirits when a matelot walked around the corner and urged us all to go back inside the lounge bar, locking the doors behind us when we had done so – that’s when a few of us wondered what was coming.
The ferry terminal at North Shields is one bend of the river downstream from Tynemouth and as we rounded the bend and the ship straightened up for the last mile of the river we could see nothing beyond the pier end at Tynemouth but white froth, wild white froth where calm blue sea should be, someone went to fetch some brandy, it looked like the bar was closing and they were naming “Safety” as the reason.
A small collier boat was making its way down the Tyne about half a mile in front of us and we stood and watched as it left the protection of the long pier at the Tyne’s very mouth and entered the cauldron of white water beyond – we all stood and watched open mouthed as the front of that cargo ship rose in the air until it seemed like it was standing vertically in the water, then the front plummeted down into a trough of sea and the rear end rose up out of the water until we could see its propellers spinning fruitlessly in the air.
“Oh fuck” we all muttered in unison, “who’s idea was this ?”
The collier could not make any headway against the sea and so bravely had to move to one side to let the ferry through, as we passed and it mounted the next big wave sideways I swear I saw the lifeboats being lowered – the huge ferry fared a little better, it could make some sort of headway through the raging sea but the panoramic lounge windows soon resembled that scene from “The Poseidon Adventure” where Frank Drebin the captain of The Poseidon gets his first sight of “The Wave” and raises his hands to his face to stop it.
And then the storm really started…