by Bob Alexander, Tosca crew.
The full moon, flat calm and phosphorescence on the bow and stern waves made the night hours magical —sailing at night is a must for those who have not tried it. The Princes Channel is a sensible choice at night—just keep taking the red cans down the starboard side seemed to do the trick. At North Foreland we turned south and after 5 hours motoring we decided to top up the fuel tank. Even with a funnel this was a difficult exercise—one gallon plastic cans with emptying tubes are a must. After dawn the wind filled in from the south east and we were able to sail on port fetch all the way into Calais, the tide was strong and there could be no turning back.
Party time in Calais
Waiting for traffic light signals to allow us into the harbour was uncomfortable as the wind was up to force 4, the tide had turned and we were all tired. The inner harbour gate opened at high water and we entered with a dozen other boats. We moored a long way down the dock to reduce the size of the raft, we ended up 4th and 5th on a 5 boat raft on the town side of the quay. There were 180 odd boats from UK and the party was in full swing ! After gin and tonics dozing the afternoon away seemed a good idea—John Ivory decided looking like a lobster was in keeping with the seafood available so he slept on the foredeck in the hot sun—ouch! Having a look around Ian’s Sonata I could see we were sadly under equipped on Tosca, he has more kit than a blue water gypsy, he took more drink into Calais that most took out and even has a gin bottle mounted on the bulkhead with an optic fitted! There are fenders fit for a tug—the big round ones so you can moor up against a rough harbour wall and still have enough gap to fall between. Catherine was so concerned about falling in the dock she was restrained from getting too tanked up—unbelievable!
Mike had to ring home to see how Neil got on in the afternoon race—then took a lot of stick for the boy winning. Thank you to Tom and crew on Quiet Airs for not signing on—good of you to cheer us up so far from home, we do appreciate it, Ha Ha! Ian cooked some spicy sausages and we all sampled these—later these were known as Ian’s revenge. Ian then went off to talk to half the people on the rally—plenty from Upnor and Conyer YCs. We finished Saturday with a superb meal in a local restaurant, One or two of the team going for a late drink in the yacht club.
Sunday dawned grey and we had rain but our spirits were not dampened. Ian went into town early and brought back croissants for breakfast, later there was a presentation for the club with the most boats at the rally: Benfleet coming runners up to Upnor and Upnor managing 11 boats this year. The yacht club welcomed visitors with some humorous speeches, light buffet and a glass of wine, the party atmosphere was still in place. Sunday afternoon was spent in town, followed by another superb meal in the evening. In the yacht club 2 guys played guitars and some sang along to the more popular numbers.
Back to sea
Monday we converted Tosca from a mobile home to a ship for sea, took ages—where does all the kit come from ? The lock gate opened at midday, many farewells and “see you next year” were heard, the outer harbour held a confused sea and not until all the yachts fanned out across La Manche could we relax and enjoy the swell and the sounds of the sea on the hull. Ian was fishing from the back of Soloist, at 6/7 knots, not an easy task. Mike wasn’t happy without a spinnaker up, so on a tight reach soloist sailed with full main and spinnaker. Tosca sailed with full main and No2—as Tosca’s Plimsoll line sits 100mm higher than Soloist’s the boats had a similar speed! The wind eased as we reached East Goodwin and we motored into Ramsgate where many of the Upnor boats were moored—Ian seems to know everybody so we were soon welcomed aboard for a glass and a chat—a great way to end a sail. The evening was a hive of activity, mobile phones were hot as contacts were made with family and friends—we were back from our great adventure.
Tuesday dawned cool and bright and we punched the tide to North Foreland, then with tide under us and spinnaker up we reached down the Horse Channel and 4 Fathoms Channel in glorious sunshine into the Medway. With HMS Exeter passing Ian could not resist dipping his ensign—the huge white ensign on the frigate was dipped in response. Tying up at high tide, 15.00 hrs we unloaded a ton of stores, readying the boat for round the cans racing the following weekend.