I can think of many reasons to visit Hartlepool but none better than to see Britain’s oldest warship afloat, the frigate ‘HMS Tricomalee’ and to photograph the gathering of the Tall Ships for the North Sea Regatta 2010.
And have you heard the dark tale of the ‘Hartlepool Monkey’ washed ashore one night from the wreck of a French warship. Wearing a military uniform he was caught by the local fisherman, taken for a spy, found guilty and summarily executed! ‘Monkey Hangar’ now being a common term for a Hartlepudlian and H’Angus the monkey the name of the mascot for Hartlepool FC.
After a visit to the historic dockyard and a tour of the HMS Trincomalee I was up bright and early the following morning to catch the tide for the start of the North Sea regatta and not a monkey insight. As the armada of sail prepared to embark, we set off into the early morning sun aboard the ‘Flamer II’ with little evidence of the strong offshore winds suggested by the forecast and four hours to kill before the race, our skipper John Batty suggested a bit of fishing to pass the time as we headed for a local wreck. By 11 O’clock I had landed a 5lb Cod and a bucket full of Mackerel!
By now the boats were gathering on the horizon for the race start, time began to move swiftly and our skipper keen to drift over the wreck once more but the photographers were getting edgy! We had spotted the Dutch Full Rigger ‘Stad Amsterdam’ inshore under full sail, preparing to tack and head for the line. With Astrid, Pelican and Stavros hard on her heals, the fishing could wait, we stowed the rods and set off in pursuit.
The fleet was spreading out rapidly as we passed under the bow of the Stad Amsterdam, our shutters racing, when I suddenly caught site of a small dark figure way up in the rigging and my thoughts went out to the unfortunate monkey on that dark night many years ago and I wonder if his spirit was still looking on.
Dropping astern we headed towards the Dutch ‘Wylde Swan’ a 1920’s herring hunter recently converted into the worlds largest two masted topsail schooner, racing in her first season as a ‘Class A’ Tall Ship. As the wind speed began to increase we gave chase our radar indicating she was making 12kn. Not far behind was the British Schooner ‘Trinovante’ flying north under sail with a bone in her teeth and then the 4 masted schooner ‘Santa Maria Manuela’ Portugal, sister ship to the ‘Creoula’ and one of the ships of the Portuguese “White Fleet” that fished the Newfoundland Banks.
Sadly, the long trick over and the weather taking a turn for the worse, a heavy rain shower cleansed the decks of fishing debris and it was time to head for home, but if you’re ever up in Hartlepool spare a thought for the monkey and book a trip with John Batty, skipper of “Flamer II” and fisherman extraordinaire.