Yachting and sailing are in my blood and I have travelled extensively over the years, but it is always a little joke that I have almost sailed to the North Pole but haven’t sailed further south than Ramsgate.
Until last year, there were also major gaps in the UK marinas that I’d visited and areas of the UK that I’d missed on my previous travels.
I was determined to plug these gaps and, in May, together with a flotilla of 58 Dutch yachts, I was lucky enough to add Newcastle’s new NE1’s Newcastle City Marina to my repertoire.
The welcome we received at the marina was second to none, and our stay in the city was fantastic – testament to this is the recent award granted to Newcastle City Marina by The Yacht Harbours Association, which named the marina winner of the UK Coastal Marina of the Year (under 250 berths) 2015 award.
The award is a huge accolade given that Newcastle City Marina is such a young marina and has been awarded on the strength of votes cast by customers who have used the marina.
I came to visit Newcastle’s marina after the team at NE1 Ltd extended an invitation to a race event I organise in the Netherlands. Since 1979, a popular bi-annual sailing rally takes place from Netherlands to the Shetland Islands in Scotland, known as the North Sea Triangle, it’s an event that I’ve organised for the past 10 years on behalf of the Dutch Offshore Sailing Club.
The route sails from the Netherlands to Orkney or the Shetlands then to the south of Norway back to Netherlands. The route is a fixed one and the event takes place every other year, with the next race held this year, 2015.
The race caught the attention of the team at NE1 when they first created their Newcastle City Marina. The team knew of the race’s popularity and of the widespread love of sailing in the Netherlands, and so were keen to encourage these yachts and their sailors to come to visit Newcastle to take advantage of the city’s newly-created Newcastle City Marina.
When NE1 found out that the trip had a fixed sailing route and couldn’t divert to Newcastle, they were still keen for our yachtsmen to come to visit the new marina to experience what it, the city and the wider North East has to offer.
They recognised that Dutch sailors were prepared to travel distances that would include Newcastle in their sail time and that there was already a knowledge and interest in the city from the Netherlands evidenced by the increasingly popularity of ferry trips back and forward between the two countries.
For over a year and a half, NE1 liaised with me to plan a separate sailing trip to NE1’s Newcastle City Marina. It is only 260 miles to Newcastle from the Netherlands – a fraction of the distance covered in the North Sea Triangle rally, which amounts to over 1,100 miles – the journey is also a lot less difficult than sailing up to Shetlands, making the trip much more appealing to a wider group of sailors.
It only takes about a day and a half, compared to four days and nights to the Shetlands, which is considerably tougher and more challenging.
To organise the logistics for the visit and to encourage as many participants as possible, a series of facility visits from Newcastle to Holland and vice versa were held with delegates from NE1 and our organising committee.
Initially, I was hoping that about 20 boats would get involved but, after my initial visit to Newcastle, NE1 made it clear to me that the city was very keen to have us here, and once I conveyed this to my fellow yachtsman it really wasn’t very difficult to persuade them to make the trip.
The result was that, in May 2014, a fleet of 58 Dutch skippers and over 150 crew made the journey from Holland to Newcastle to enjoy a three-day celebration at NE1’s Newcastle City Marina.
It was the largest fleet of international vessels that Newcastle had seen since the city hosted the Tall Ships Race. The welcome was overwhelming – we arrived on Friday to a brass band fanfare, flags, bunting and a host of school children from a local Newcastle school waving flags and celebrating our arrival.
There then followed three days of events, sight-seeing and a warm Geordie welcome for our party. Everyone really enjoyed the trip to Newcastle and it opened our eyes to the wonderful North East and all there is to see here.
At first, we didn’t know what to expect, but we were all so impressed with the welcome, the people we met and what we saw of Newcastle and how beautifully it has been maintained and areas restored, particularly the old, very impressive buildings and bridges. It makes for a fantastic marina to have such a breathtaking backdrop and so much to see in and around the city.
The visit sparked an interest in Newcastle – the Dutch yachtsmen have now seen and experienced for themselves what the city and the wider North East has to offer.
I have already been back on a return journey. Following my tour of Scotland in the summer, I broke up my journey in the North East because Newcastle is now familiar. I know others in our group feel the same and this familiarity will help spread the word about Newcastle and its new City Marina, and will encourage other yachtsmen to visit.
Newcastle has tremendous potential for Dutch sailors – it only takes two days to sail here and in a normal two-week holiday there’s plenty to explore in the city and the wider North East.
Our group had a great three days in Newcastle – the voyage wouldn’t have been possible without NE1 taking the initiative to invite us over.
I very much look forward to my next visit and, now that the Newcastle City Marina has won the prestigious Small Marina of the Year Award, it will spread the news about the fantastic facility and what it has to offer. I only hope that there’s space for me and my boat the next time I want to visit.
Ed Megens is a Dutch yachtsman and supporter of NE1 Ltd