Published: August 3rd 2012
August 2nd 2012
French warship spotted sneaking up the Thames...
Well, it’s happened, we’re stuck, waiting for the wind and the sea to let us continue south and west. After a week of amazing variety, however, this is no hardship. Boulogne, which is known to most as a ferry destination best left behind on the way to anywhere and everywhere else, is actually a 13th century fortified town with much to see and do, or not do, according to inclination. And despite being close enough to Angleterre to see it from the city walls, we already feel we have been somewhere and arrived somewhere. Alice and I have certainly learned a great deal, and our first crew has been and gone, factors which have both put a great deal of perceived time and distance between us and our home port of London.
Last Wednesday, we left Chatham in the sunny evening and pottered down the Medway to Queenborough, just the two of us aboard. This familiar little spot felt as isolated as ever, and as strange as always: its mixture of nature and industry side by side. Avocets fed in the mud just a few meters from the boat, and the gas terminals, their great necks raised in the sunset,
stood in ranks like frozen diplodocus.
The purpose of the first few days was to sail together and practice various manoeuvres – tacking, gybing, entering and leaving unfamiliar ports, mooring to buoys and so on. The boat is easier for three of four to handle, so two takes a little rehearsal. We therefore planned to travel only to Dover in the three days from Queenborough, the miles to be covered being of little importance. On the first day the wind was anyway unhelpful for making distance and we tacked down the Thames Estuary for a while, turning south around the eerie Red Sands Towers, possibly the most bizarre posting of the First World War. Giant, rusting gun emplacements, on legs, cluster together there like a family: more frozen mechanical beasts to take the eye upward, away from the sea. That evening we moored on a buoy in the eastern arm of the river Swale and for second evening didn’t go ashore. Nobody else was there.
A sense of escape was creeping up on us, especially in response to a misty next morning and a leisurely wait for visibility and confidence sufficient for a start. We motored to Ramsgate
on glass for fish and chips in the sun, the Red Arrows bursting across the sky on their way to the Olympics, to which we had deliberately turned our stern.
On Saturday we made the short run down to Dover, sails up in a gentle, following breeze. The sea was blue-gray crystal beneath the white cliffs, and a spitfire buzzed them from above. In port we met our first crew and the isolation of our rehearsal days were over, having been executed exactly to plan.
Then on Sunday the plan changed. The sea was rough as hell and by half way a across the Channel it was obvious we would not get down the opposite coast to Boulogne that day. Two and three meter rollers swung confusedly across our path from the southwest, a triple reefed foresail giving us a whole two knots on top of engine speed. We had little choice but to turn east for Calais, surfing the rollers instead of fighting them. The next day was worse and we stayed in port. But Calais is no place for a lie up and on Tuesday we bashed around the Cap de Gris-Nez to Boulogne anyway, in
a heaving monochrome sea, with rain and spray in our teeth. We paid for giving the boat a hard time: the log impeller worked loose and we had to pump out the bilge.
We are still in Boulogne, and the sea out there is the same today as it has been for days now. Hoards of Netherlanders and Germans are passing through, screaming northwards and east towards home, with wind and swell behind them. But we south and westerers must wait.
There are more photos below