Finally the winds have moderated and even the sun has consented to make an appearance so we are resolved to keep to our sailing schedule and make for Liverpool and the AND (Abandon Normal Devices) festival at FACT (Foundation for Art and Technology). On board there are multiple interpretations concerning the state of the tide and our relentlessly enthusiastic skipper Lars is eager to slip away at the earliest possible moment. Out of the Sea Lock and into the ocean, then unfortunately straight onto a sand bar! We churn our props, shimmy off the bar, try again whilst listening to hopeful comments from the lock-keeper over the VHF. But discretion being the better part of valour we return to our berth and I fall into a well deserved stupor in the morning sunlight on the foredeck trampoline.
Three hours later we make a successful (and more dignified) exit. The ship cruises south past the hulks of coal mines perched along the cliff tops. Whitehaven once boasted the deepest mine shafts in the world and the first undersea coal mines, it also could report a terrible record in human tragedy, employing children as young as eight years old to extract the energy source that fueled the Industrial Revolution.
Eastward in the haze we spy the towers and reactor buildings of Sellafield, a nuclear re-processing plant, re-named from Windscale in an attempt to sidestep the former nuclear generating station’s notorious safety record and to dis-associate it from its other role as a producer of weapons grade plutonium for Britain’s Nuclear arsenal. Truly a site of cold-war industrial archeology, as these two incarnations are co-located with Calder Hall, the worlds first commercial nuclear power plant. Needless to say the waters in this vicinity are amongst the most radioactive in the world – we decide not to swim!
We sail further south passing a series of oil and gas rigs beginning to light up in the gloaming on the horizon like drifting apartment blocks. As night closes in we approach the mouth of the Mersey estuary to confront a confusion of flashing red lights dotting the horizon. A check of the electronic charts shows no source for them but careful scrutiny with binoculars reveals that we are sailing towards a vast array of wind turbines planted out in the ocean. We debate their disposition and distance and finally choose an approach that avoids being sliced and diced!
Liverpool was my introduction to city life; I studied Sculpture here and used to sail the Mersey on a regular basis. In those days we had a strong aversion to contact with the river water which exuded an acrid chemical odour (courtesy of Lever Bros et al) a full immersion in which was said to require a tetanus injection! We enter the river my nose expectantly aquiver – but to my surprise the river has seemingly returned to a healthier state, silt filled as usual but without the chemical tang!
We glide past Seaforth, passing a procession of outbound merchant ships, passing New Brighton to starboard and then the entire river is ours alone, the city’s shining reflection across its glassy surface.
At one in the morning we tie up to the harbour wall and I’m climbing a sea-wall ladder to beat down the door of the Coburg lock-keepers station. Two sleepy, good-natured lads stumble out of their bunks and within an hour we are berthed, showered and in our bunks.