The 87th Calais Rally: the view from Silver Pearl

Boats assembled for the Calais Rally

A couple of hours into our journey down the long and majestic river Colne, Micha asked me how we were doing against the schedule. Now, for any south coast sailors who don’t know the river Colne, I should explain that that was irony. It’s just that an inconvenient southerly F5, a flood tide, and a very steep east coast chop were combining to make progress more than a little slow. The chop would stop Silver Pearl dead in her tracks continually until her ten mighty horses could coax her forwards once again.

I could see the crew, Michael Forbes Smith and Micha Werle exchanging glances that seemed to tell me that their appraisal of east coast sailing was falling far short of everything that they had heard in general, and from me in particular. I rustled together a couple of fried egg and bacon sandwiches to keep their spirits up but that only left me with egg on my face. Literally… it really was very rough down there.

On leaving the Colne we were able to head SE and fill the sails a little better although we continued to motor sail as we didn’t fancy tacking around the wallet to get over the Swin, and we already had time to make up. The usual SW Sunk crossing of the Thames is unreliable until someone can get out there to survey it following the winter storms, so we took the longer route over the Sunk Sands near Barrow No. 2 and then down Foulger’s Gat. This route takes you through the London Array, currently the largest offshore wind farm in the world. Whatever the rights and wrongs of wind energy, it is certainly an impressive feat of engineering. Once through the wind farm and into the Knock Deep at its southern edge, it is a fairly straight 38 mile heading to Calais, allowing for a little adjustment around the TSS. Unusually we had a very quiet crossing with no shipping coming anywhere close to us, but those southerly winds took their toll on our arrival time and we arrived in the marina at around 2130 local time, meaning that we completed the 66M passage in around 13.5 hours, well down on last year. It was a little late to go out and eat but, luckily, it turns out that Grimbergen provides all the nutrients a tired and thirsty sailor needs, so we joined all the other Little Shippers in the Calais Yacht Club bar.

A couple of boats had eventful entrances to Calais. Avventura suffered engine problems on the way over and entered the marina under sail. Luckily they were one of the first boats over, giving them plenty of stopping room. One of the RNSA boats also arrived without engine, a possible victim of diesel theft. Her skipper, unperturbed, simply anchored off Calais beach and rowed ashore with a jerry can. Once a Royal Marine, always a Royal Marine it seems.

As HMS Puncher was unable to attend again this year due to other engagements, we held the beer call aboard the Sir Claude Inglis who very kindly stepped in to help out. As her skipper Neil Fisher told me “We came along because we heard that Puncher was coming, except it turns out that we’re Puncher this year.” Neil and his son, Jake, did a superb job of stepping into the breach and even the occasional heavy rain shower didn’t come close to dampening the affair.

The evening meal in the Cercle Amicale Maritime was the usual excellent affair attended by the LSC, the RNSA, and three URNU students that were able to join us. The evening featured abundant lubrication, great food and superb service from all the team there. After dinner speeches were delivered with aplomb with Norman's deadpan delivery having everyone in stitches. The Mercer Shield for the boat with the highest distance travelled divided by waterline length was awarded to Lindsey Gill, skipper of Ocean Dancer, for their epic 130 mile passage direct from Gosport. Neil Fisher was deservedly given a year of honorary membership for kindly hosting the afternoon beer call and for being in line to do something similar for breakfast. The evening was rounded off with drinks at the bar, followed by a first-class malt for skipper and crew back on Silver Pearl, provided by Michael.

Sunday morning brought hangover cures for the walking wounded in the form of champagne breakfast aboard the Sir Claude Inglis, followed by prize giving with the Calais Yacht Club and the Chamber of Commerce in the yacht club bar. Ocean Dancer picked up another trophy for longest distance travelled whilst Silver Pearl picked up the trophy for the smallest boat in attendance or, as I prefer to put it, the largest boat available that costs only slightly more than I can really afford… in attendance. Several boats had to slip away straight after the prize giving to make the tide and bridge-opening. Luckily we were able to remain to chat to our friends in the Les Voiles de Calais yacht club, and hope to be able to welcome at least one of their number to the club when he moors in St Kats during the summer.

We decided to make the passage back to Brighlingsea overnight on Sunday as the forecast was for Northerly winds building through Monday. We let at 2100 local time to a beautiful sunset over The Channel, had another very quiet crossing of the TSS. We had a slight moment navigating the route through Foulger’s Gat at night as the safe water marks through the channel have extremely weak lights and are almost invisible against the background lights of the London Array. Definitely something to bear in mind if you go through in darkness.

This was, all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I think that I can speak for everyone in thanking Norman Hummerstone, the team at Le Cercle Amicale Maritime, Les Voiles de Calais, and especially the crew of Sir Claud Inglis for all their efforts in making this a most enjoyable rally.

Thanks to Micha and Maguy for supplying photos.

LSC boats in Attendance: Ocean Dancer, Avventura, Blustery Day, Greenwitch, Pim, Silver Pearl, Silver Tide, and Sir Claude Inglis (honorary)

Pete Hampson, 05.06.2014 | More from Pete Hampson’s blog