Five miles north- west of Whitby, in the right conditions Runswick Bay is an ideal overnight anchorage for anyone cruising the north-east coast, says Alastair Buchan
Until the late 19th century Runswick Bay was a fishing village with a sideline in smuggling. Then, as tourism spread from Whitby to Scarborough, its jumbled warren of narrow streets and colourful houses made it an artists’ haven rivalling in importance nearby Staithes and distant St Ives. After the Second World War its young men found work away from the village. Fishing declined. Houses became second homes and tourism the mainstay of the economy.
This is a coast of easily eroded Jurassic shales, clays and sandstones. Anyone sailing along it can instantly identify the most recent cliff falls and take bets on the next. During a storm in 1662 a landslip carried the village into the sea. Happily, the villagers were attending a funeral and no one was killed, but the story has it that only the dead man’s house remained. Hopefully the 1970s seawall means no reoccurrence.
In the bay, close to the village, the sea has carved a 70ft deep cave called Hob’s Hole after its resident hobgoblin. Locals once believed that Hob cured whooping cough and parents carried their sick children into the cave to ask Hob to take their child’s kink-cough away.
‘Once safely in the bay there is good holding and plenty of space’
Landslips continually renew the bay’s generous supply of fossils. The BBC programme Coast rates it as the best place in Britain for fossils, shells and rare stones.
Occasionally man helps the fossil supply. In August 1918 a U-boat fired a torpedo at a steamer passing Runswick Bay. It missed and hit the bay without exploding. Next day, ML 403 sailed from Whitby to recover the torpdedo. As they did so it exploded, caused a landslip and a sympathetic explosion of depth charges sank ML 403.
Constant landslips means a coastline of reefs and rocks waiting to trap careless skippers. There is a long history of vessels providing trade for the RNLI. Runswick received its first lifeboat, the Sheffield, in 1866 and the RNLI station stayed open until the late 1970s before moving to and merging with the station at Staithes. In 1982 the independent Runswick Bay Rescue Boat was formed.
Approaching from the north, the traditional advice was that Whitby Abbey open of Kettleness kept you clear of the offshore rocks. More recent guidance is to stay outside the 20m contour line. Only turn into the bay when it comes abeam and sail middle for diddle.
In the 1840s Runswick boasted a fleet of 20 fishing cobles that between trips lived on the beach or in settled weather sat on a mooring ready at the first sign of a blow to be dragged onto the beach. Unless you can follow their example, avoid entering in winds from the north through east to the south. Even if there is no wind, give it a miss in moderate to heavy northerly swells. Once safely in the bay there is good holding and plenty of space.