The team are travelling down the north east coast. Miranda Krestovnikoff manages to get out to Bass Rock and Neil Oliver investigates a legend in Cullercoats.
Browse content similar to Rosyth to Sunderland. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
I'm back on home territory, on Edinburgh's mighty seaway, the Firth of Forth.
And I can promise you some extraordinary encounters.
Miranda Krestovnikoff gets dive-bombed by gannets.
This is what gannets are really famous for -
this plummet right into the water to catch the fish.
Dick Strawbridge has a riveting experience.
Imagine doing half a million of these.
-Do you still believe you can move it?
And some tough ladies pit themselves against a two-tonne lifeboat
to test the legend of a famous rescue.
This is Coast.
Where the Firth of Forth meets the North Sea,
standing sentinel is Bass Rock.
Sir David Attenborough calls this huge rock
and its 150,000-strong gannet colony
one of the wildlife wonders of the world.
Somewhere out there in amongst all that invigorating weather is the Bass Rock.
Now, I've tried on three separate occasions to land there for Coast,
and every time the weather has defeated me, but Coast doesn't give up easily.
Maybe Miranda will have more luck.
Bass Rock looks almost welcoming in the early morning sun.
'I really want to get out there to see the gannets close up.
'And I'm not alone - Ben and Kirsty Burville are amateur wildlife photographers and keen divers.
'In their day jobs, Ben is a doctor, and Kirsty is a teacher.
'They've come to Scotland to attempt something really ambitious.'
They're going to try and film the Bass Rock gannets diving underwater,
something I have always wanted to do,
and it's anything but straightforward.
Even though they're amateur film-makers, their track record is pretty good.
This footage of Ben diving with seals was taken by Kirsty
just off the Farne Islands in Northumberland.
So why gannets? What's the big attraction of filming gannets underwater?
Over the Farnes every now and again, you get gannets diving down,
but only ones and twos. It would be really, really interesting
to see if I can could catch them as they going into the water from above the water and below,
so where better to come but Bass Rock?
-Kirsty, what are you being up to?
-I'm going to be doing the filming topside,
getting the gannets diving down, so it should be pretty spectacular.
It's going to be a real adventure for the day for both of us.
While our amateur film-makers head off to find gannets diving underwater,
I'm taking the more direct route.
To get a sense of the challenge Ben and Kirsty face, I need to see
the birds up close, and you can only do that on their home base.
It's not easy to set foot onto Bass Rock.
Strong currents swirl around the cliffs,
and the mooring site can be treacherous.
Today I'm lucky and I can venture onto the rock,
with Maggie Sheddon of the Scottish Seabird Centre as my guide.
This is absolutely splendid. You know this is a real first for Coast -
no Coaster has ever been on Bass Rock, I'm the first.
-This is amazing! I've never seen so many gannets in all my life.
And it's the best time to be here, because the birds are rearing their young -
that means the rock is full to capacity.
150,000 birds and their demanding chicks all hungry for fish.
Out on the water, some of the gannets are starting to dive
for their dinner within range of Kirsty's camera.
'Up here, it's a rare chance for me to get close to the gannets.'
Normally you only see them in flight or as they're plunging into the sea.
When they're diving, they hit the water at an incredible speed -
how does their body actually cope with that?
They can hit up to 60 mph. Basically they have air sacks that inflate.
It tends to be around the neck, the upper chest area, they have a membrane that flips over the eye
to protect the eye, and they have a moveable plate just at the back of the bill,
so when they hit the water, everything is sealed,
and literally, just before they dive in, the wings fold back like an arrow.
60 miles per hour. With gannets hitting the water beak first at such high speed,
getting hit by one would be serious for Ben.
'His plan is to shelter beneath the boat and try and film the dives from there,
'so we'll have to encourage the birds to come as close as possible if Ben's going to have any chance.'
To bring the birds in, we've got some really disgusting-smelling haddock heads here
and some herring as well. The herring gulls have moved in, and now the gannets are coming in as well.
Now we're getting some plunging. Look at that, it's fantastic.
'The gannets are diving closer to the boat, but still not close enough.
'Sheltering under the boat, Ben will need to be within a few feet to get that crucial close-up.
'To make things worse, he's battling strong tidal currents down there.
'I'm using a pole camera to try and see how he's getting on.'
I've found Ben.
'Ben is surrounded by jellyfish, which makes getting close to the diving gannets even harder.'
It's very, very difficult to get near to them.
It's very hard to stay underneath the boat.
'With Ben's dive time rapidly ticking away,
'we finally manage to lure some gannet within range of his underwater camera.'
Look at that!
All of a sudden, they've just come right in.
'We're seeing some great dives from up here, but underwater it's been a struggle.'
'Ben's only had one chance. It's time to see whether
'this amateur cameraman managed to get a shot a professional would be proud of.'
So do you think you got anything good, then?
I think there could be a couple of good shots in amongst the...
As you can see, the visibility down there is not very good.
-Bit green, isn't it?
-A lot of green stuff there.
-There you are!
-Oh, well done! That was great!
-So quick, isn't it?
-Really quick, really quick. That's so brilliant, you did really well.
Ben and Kirsty have managed to capture the spectacle of gannets diving underwater.
'What I'm coming away with is a sense of wonder at this extraordinary bird city just off our coast.'
Hidden away across the water from Bass Rock is a little secret.
It's not easy to find, but Seacliff Harbour is reputedly Britain's smallest,
and with an opening just 10 feet wide, I'm not going to argue.
The harbour was constructed in 1890 by the local landowner,
using a steam engine and compressed air to cut the stone.
Once busy with small salmon fishing boats, now it's used by a solitary lobster fisherman.
There's room at Dunbar Harbour for plenty of boats.
But not far away was another invention,
a tradition this time that's unique to fishing communities on the east coast.
20 miles south of Dunbar is Eyemouth.
When I woke up, I sort of forgot it was the big day,
and then, when it dawned on me, all of a sudden the butterflies started up and...
Tamsin MacKechnie is about to be crowned the Eyemouth Herring Queen.
It's a title created in 1939 to celebrate the life of the town's fishing industry.
A new teenage queen is chosen each year.
I had an interview with about five people, including the town provost,
and later on that night,
they came in and gathered us all together and told us who'd won.
'I think they were looking really for someone who could be a role model to the younger children.'
A lot of the past herring queens said to me it's pretty much like getting married, it's really a big day.
I remember the pipers playing, I remember the parade
and the great feeling for the day, it was fantastic.
Before all that, there's the traditional three-mile sea voyage,
while ahead the town of Eyemouth awaits its queen.
It was quite a privilege to be herring queen, I think - you felt you were representing Eyemouth.
During her year as herring queen, Tamsin will carry out civic duties. Today is her day.
I'm really nervous, I'm shaking.
There's all those people.
I remember the last sentence of my speech was,
"To fishermen all round our coast, I extend greetings and good sailing from this old fishing town."
Next stop on our adventure south - Cullercoats.
In the 19th century, Cullercoats was a thriving fishing village.
It was the men who braved the North Sea,
but what makes this place special is that it is the women of Cullercoats who are celebrated.
I've got a copy of a painting here. What it shows
is a group of villagers hauling a lifeboat along a beach, but when you look at it,
almost the first thing you notice is that it's mostly women. In fact, the painting is called The Women,
and there's an inscription on the frame that reads, "On New Year's Day 1861, the fisherwomen of Cullercoats
"dragged the village lifeboat three miles along the coast in a blinding storm of snow and sleet,
"to the rescue of the crew of a wrecked ship, The Lovely Nellie, and saved all the crew but one boy."
Now, these must have been some tough women,
but who were they?
The women of Cullercoats were renowned for their strength and stamina.
'They carried fish to sell around neighbouring villages,
'ran the household and, according to some tails, even lifted their husbands out to the boats.
'And to cap it all, my painting has them dragging a heavy lifeboat overland to rescue a stricken ship.
'To get an insight into these hardy women,
-'I'm calling on the grand-daughter of one of Cullercoats' fisher wives.'
Were women like your grandmother famous locally?
It was only years after that people realised what a unique
elite group they were.
I just loved her. She was a lovely round little woman, you know, very kind and worked hard.
You know, she had to walk miles and miles every day to sell the fish. She did that for 50 years.
I've heard so much about how hard they worked.
Well, the women did work hard. It was just their lives, and that's what they'd been dished out.
They were tough!
What I want to know is, are the modern women of Cullercoats as hardy as their great-grannies?
There's only one way to find out - we're going to re-create the painting.
The first volunteers have turned up...
Women of Cullercoats...
..legend has it that about 140 years the women of Cullercoats pulled a lifeboat
through the teeth of a howling gale for three miles along the coast. That was then, this is now...
Can you achieve the same feat?
Well, the women seem to be game. All we need now is a lifeboat.
'Luckily, Whitby Historic Lifeboat Trust have brought along a beautifully preserved specimen.'
Is this more or less the kind of lifeboat that would have been used in that mid 19th-century rescue?
It's the same type of boat.
You'd find actually, if anything, she's one of the smaller ones,
and that she's only 2¼ tonnes.
You're saying this is one of the smaller ones. When I'm thinking of men hauling - or women - hauling it,
it looks pretty big and heavy to me.
Do you think that women alone could have moved a lifeboat like that?
-You would say that!
-I would say that, but it is possible.
-The question is, do they still make women like they used to?
-That's going to be some effort.
I'm intrigued to know why the women of old
had to drag a boat weighing tonnes along this windswept headland.
'Robert Oliver is a sixth-generation Cullercoats lifeboat man - perhaps he'll know.'
In the painting, the boat's been dragged - where is it being dragged to?
From Cullercoats here along the cliff top along to Brierdene,
which is about two, two and a half mile north of our station.
But it's a boat - why didn't they just put it in the water and go by sea?
-On the day, it was a very, very severe weather, too bad to launch here.
-So what did they do next?
Some of the villagers would have got the horses and connected the horses
-up to the boat to pull the lifeboat along the cliff top.
-But it's women in the picture.
The RNLI statement says there were horses.
-They shouldn't be there!
'Horses? That's really thrown me.'
'I've got to dig deeper to discover the truth.'
Robert was right.
The Times of January 1861 says of the lifeboat,
"It was dragged along the coast by six horses and launched from the sands amid great excitement."
So The Times says there were horses - the painting shows women.
To make sure OUR lifeboat gets dragged along the headland,
'maybe the women of Cullercoats will need some help on standby.'
-Hi, Charlie, how are you doing?
-Nice to meet you.
'These dray horses are powerful beasts and they're at the ready -
'if needed - for our recreation of the Cullercoats lifeboat drag.'
But what's nagging me is, if horses were used to pull the boat,
then why aren't there any horses in my painting?
If the artist wasn't recording a historical event, what WAS he trying to do?
'I'm meeting local art historian Steve Ratcliffe.'
Steve, what can you tell me about this painting?
Well, this painting was painted by John Charlton in 1904,
and at the time it was painted,
Cullercoats was a well-established artist colony.
I don't think I expected to find great artists in this little corner of England.
A lot of people are surprised by it, and they're quite stunned to find that a famous American artist,
Winslow Homer, was resident here for nearly two years.
Over 20 years before Charlton painted the lifeboat drag, these pictures by the distinguished
American artist Winslow Homer had already made the Cullercoats women famous.
Homer captured the strength and dignity of the fisher wives. His work elevated them
to near-mythological status, and these images of the Cullercoats
women helped establish Winslow Homer as the greatest American painter of the 19th century.
He painted the women time and time again,
always engaged in the harsh day-to-day realities of coastal life.
Homer painted day-to-day life.
Is this by Charlton a painting of plain fact?
No, it's not, it's a symbolic painting - it's trying to express his feeling, his admiration for
the women of Cullercoats through art, so he's used the historic background, the 1861 rescue of The Lovely Nellie,
to let people know that he has a message to tell them of his respect and admiration for those women.
'So, if my painting is a romantic image of the women of Cullercoats,
'perhaps it was created'
because a great artist had already immortalised them over 20 years earlier.
But the legend of the lifeboat drag persists. It's an heroic story
I still want to believe. Could the women really have done it? Time to find out.
Right then, you said you could do this, do you still believe you can move it?
Three, two, one...
Now, the thing is, this is quite good fun in a way, but you have to remember
that on New Year's Day 1861,
the crew of a stricken ship, The Lovely Nellie, was somewhere
out there in a dreadful storm, so this wasn't about fun that day, it was life and death.
'On the flat, the women are getting a real momentum going,
'but on the upward slopes it gets tougher and tougher,
'and don't forget - on the night of the rescue, the boat was being pulled on a heavy wooden carriage.'
Right, that's it, enough's enough, you've done far more than I expected, honestly,
but I'm going to bring in the horses, so down ropes.
'Just as on the night of the rescue, what was needed to cope with the terrain
'was the addition of some genuine horsepower.'
Oh, no bother!
'I've spent a long time piecing together the facts of the night of the wreck of The Lovely Nellie
'over a 140 years ago. What I've discovered is that
'the whole community AND their horses came to the rescue of the crew,
'saving all the lives bar one.'
And whether it was horsepower or woman-power that hauled the boat down to the water,
it's the power of legend that's given life to the story of the Cullercoats women.
A few miles south of Cullercoats, you come to the mouth of the Tyne and the city of Newcastle.
For centuries, coal was exported down this river,
but in March 1998 the last of the export vessels left the Tyne.
These days, the river is handling coal again, but now it's imported -
coal comes in here all the way from Russia.
Looks like sending coals to Newcastle is no longer a fool's errand.
Continuing south, we hit another famous north-eastern river, the Wear.
Sunderland could once boast it was the largest shipbuilding town in the world.
During the Second World War, over a quarter of our merchant and navy ships were built here,
but as wartime production boomed, the seeds of a devastating decline were being sown.
Engineer Dick Strawbridge wants to know what silenced the shipyards.
Boats were built here for over 600 years.
Busy shipyards jostled for space along this river.
Now you'd hardly know it.
In their heyday the Wearside Yards were world famous,
sheets of steel came in, and finished ships rolled out.
What I find amazing is that this massive enterprise,
like the ships it produced, was held together by one little component.
It was the dependence on this metal fastener
that was both the strength and the weakness of the industry.
Most of the historical metal frameworks that we marvel at are held together by rivets.
And this is a rivet. It does the same job as a nut and bolt, holding
two sheets of metal together, but it doesn't come undone.
You heat it up until it's cherry red, then you put it through a hole, and then you bash both ends of it.
It then holds the sheets of metal together, and when it cools down it contracts and holds it even tighter.
It's an awful lot of effort, but it works.
Riveters worked in teams, or squads.
A heater heated up the rivets in a stove, then passed them, or often threw them, to a catcher.
The catcher's job was to take the red-hot rivet to a holder-up,
who put the rivet in a hole connecting the two ship's panels.
The riveter then pounded the rivet home.
It was a labour-intensive job,
and, when the men left to fight in two world wars, women were trained up to keep the yards busy.
Shipbuilding towns reverberated to the sound of riveting.
Phil Peek and Brian Hopkins worked as riveters in the shipyards of neighbouring Hartlepool.
-Brian. Good to see you, Phil.
This is where the shipyard was that you actually built ships.
Where this one was built was over the other side there, a hundred yards away, if that.
And how many rivets a day do you reckon a good team would put in?
At least 800, 900 a day.
We're really proud of the fact, the steel plate would come in there,
when it left here, a finished job, it could go straight to sea and work.
How much did they get paid for riveting?
-Eight and ninepence a hundred.
-Eight and ninepence a hundred.
Yes, all that was shared out amongst the squad.
But if it rained, we got sent home, and signed the book for four shilling.
'Mary Power was a catcher on Phil's team.'
Mary, come and join us.
You used to work with Phil.
-It's a very physical job, Mary, so what was it like as a woman
being amongst all these men that were doing all this riveting?
Well, you didn't think anything about it... < We won't answer that!
You just you wore the overalls and the boots and you just go on with the job.
-What was the environment like? Was it noisy?
-It was very noisy.
-You couldn't hear yourself speak.
-I didn't know what they were on about, cos they used to speak with the sign language.
-Two, two and a quarter.
-Two and a quarter rivets.
-Two, two and three quarters.
-Two, two and three quarter rivets.
-That's the size?
-So calling for the size of the rivets.
-And a short one.
As a riveter, did you take pride in every single rivet you did?
Certainly. Yeah. I was a good riveter.
You knew that, when you were working for Grey's, you were
one of the best shipbuilders going, and there was no two ways about it.
So, if our shipbuilding was so good, where did it all go wrong?
In the dark days of 1940 we desperately needed more merchant ships
to keep the vital transatlantic supply lines open.
Churchill placed an urgent order for 60 cargo ships,
but he didn't give the contract to British shipyards. Instead he gave it to the Americans.
I'm meeting with David Aris to find out more.
OK, David, why go to America?
Because at that time, in 1940,
the U-Boats were massacring our merchant fleet,
particular in the North Atlantic, and Churchill realised that the ships were being sunk
at a rate greater rate than we could replace them from our own shipyards,
so we had to get the ships from somewhere else.
And talking about the scale of building, how long would it take to build one of these ships here?
Probably about six months to build the ship here in Thompson's,
and the ship was designed as a fully riveted ship,
that was the practice here on the River Wear, and in other parts of this country,
something like 480,000 rivets on one ship...per ship.
-Half a million rivets.
-Of that order.
With a war on, the Americans didn't have time
or enough trained workers to put in half a million rivets per ship.
A faster method of joining panels was welding,
so now welding was adopted on an unprecedented scale.
What the Americans did have was lots of space.
In massive new shipyards, complete sections of the ship were constructed as separate units,
before being craned into place and welded together.
The American genius for mass production meant that ships were soon being built in under 50 days.
This new merchant fleet helped win the war, by keeping Britain supplied with food, munitions and machinery.
The techniques of welding and pre-fabrication
that built these ships would spell the end for riveting.
The problem for us was that mass production needs lots of space.
The old British shipyards didn't have room to expand,
and they struggled to cope with the new welding age.
The industry fell into slow but terminal decline.
These days riveting has all but disappeared
but, even though we don't build many ships now,
we still need riveters if we're going to preserve some of our historic maritime treasures.
I've come all the way to Suffolk to see riveting at first hand.
Everybody's welding nowadays, I couldn't find any rivets being struck anywhere in the North East,
so I had to bring Brian and Phil down to Lowestoft to the restoration of SS Robin,
the oldest complete steam ship in the world, so they can give me their opinion on 21st-century riveting.
The SS Robin was launched in 1890.
She's a steel ship with a fully riveted hull, but she needs attention.
The team here are riveting some test plates in preparation for restoring the ship.
They've done riveting work on bridges and machinery, but never a ship.
It's a great chance for old hands Brian and Phil to pass on their wisdom.
-How's his riveting?
-What do you reckon?
-He's getting the hang of it!
-OK, what's your opinion? C'mon then, Phil.
-The top row's the best.
The top row's the best. That's too short, that.
-Would you employ the team?
-You've done all right, son.
-I've done all right, have I?
'We may not make them like this any more, but the SS Robin will be back afloat, rivets and all, in 2012,
'a monument to the glory days of British shipbuilding and riveting.'
Thank goodness there are some people, not many,
but still some people keeping alive the skills of our riveters.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
The team are travelling down the UK's north east coast.
Miranda Krestovnikoff finally manages to get out to Bass Rock, Neil Oliver investigates a legend in Cullercoats and Dick Strawbridge has a riveting experience in Sunderland.