Cruiser Rally to France

With lots of fun and laughter along the way

27th May – 3rd June 2017

Cruiser Rally. On Saturday 27th May, 8 boats from Up River Yacht Club set off from Hullbridge/Fambridge/Burnham towards Ramsgate – the first destination of their week long cruise to France. For most of the crews the voyage started out with black skies and thunder and lightning. However once this had passed, a good sail was had by all. The three musketeers; John Luff-Smith (with Derek Underwood) on Footloose, Mark Riley on Indecision and Bob Buckingham on Bacchante) went via Havengore Bridge, whilst the other 5 boats took the coastal route. All were safe in harbour by late afternoon/early evening.

Sunday morning saw light winds for the crossing to Dunkerque during which Mark also gave a lift to a racing pigeon on Indecision, thus attracting the fleets first bird of the week. A mix of sailing and motor sailing saw the fleet arrive safely by early evening. Everyone congregated on Tim’s boat, Bruca, to celebrate arriving safely on foreign soil. Also to toast John Luff-Smith’s birthday and the fact he was no longer Johnny Ramsgate but now Johnny Dunkerque!

Monday was a lay day to explore Dunkerque and fill up fridges with French produce. The afternoon was spent on the wonderful beach (even Gerry Ledger got sand on his toes) and swimming in the sea. In the evening we all had a meal in a restaurant to sample the French cuisine. 

Tuesday morning saw the three musketeers leave early with the intention of drifting down to Calais with the tide, and doing a spot of fishing along the way. That plan was quickly foiled as it was too windy and so they hot footed it into Calais harbour before the wind strength increased. Bob on Bacchante got a ticking off from Calais port control as he closely avoided becoming a P&O sandwich! Closely behind them were John and Marion Jones on Permata who had left later but caught up. The four boats entered the marina as soon as the lock opened and Mark celebrated his arrival with champagne and strawberries.

Meanwhile Gerry, Liz and Penny on Choc Orange, Graham and Michael on Dreamcatcher, Tim, Sam, Peter and Patsy on Bruca and Ian, Alex, Jack, Rosie, Wiggy and Peter on Esmerelda were battling the elements out at sea. The wind strength built to 30+ knots and it was a big sea. Gerry was pleased with his new boat’s performance as it was the first time he had used in heavy weather, but Graham was even more pleased by nearly catching him. The last 4 boats had to wait outside the harbour for a short time to allow a cross channel ferry and a cargo ship to leave. Once in the harbour it was only a short wait for the lock gates to open. Everyone was pleased to be on dry land.

The boats were refilled with French provisions namely alcohol, cheese, carottes rapees, French bread and pastries and a pleasant walk was had around Calais by all. Everyone congregated in Calais Yacht Club for a drink in the evening.

The following morning the fleet split into two. The three musketeers plus Permata left on the early lock opening, bound for Boulogne. The second half of the fleet opted for a lay-in and relaxing morning and left when the lock opened in the afternoon. The first fleet had a very pleasant and uneventful passage, arriving in Boulogne early afternoon. This wasn’t to be said for the second fleet. On route fog descended along the French Coast and the four boats, Choc Orange, Dreamcatcher, Bruca and Esmerelda were engulfed within it. Visibility was less than 50 metres, so all boats had a watch crew for lobster pots and other vessels that were only seen at the last minute. Luckily most had radar which they were thankful for. Even within Boulogne harbour the fog was so thick the crews had to rely on instruments to get them safely into their berths. There were certainly a few celebratory drinks that night on Esmerelda….ask Bob!

The following morning everyone went for a wander through the streets of Boulogne and had a “Plat du Jour” in the old town. This was followed by a walk to the beach where the children were in their element. It was such beautiful weather that quite a few had a refreshing swim.

Everyone was feeling quite sad as it was back to home turf the next day…such a shame we couldn’t stay longer!

In order to catch the best tide, it was an early start on Friday morning, with the slower boats departing as early as 03.00 hours. Unfortunately with not a breath of air, it was a motor across to Ramsgate – which proved to be a leisurely crossing when Derek stepped ashore with his slippers on! John Luff-Smith pulled the second bird of the week after mistaking a free fender for an injured racing pigeon for floating in the English Channel. John rescued the poorly pigeon from the water, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you how he reunited it with it’s owner!

The lack of wind however proved to be rather unfortunate for the crew on Esmerelda as their engine wasn’t pumping water when they set off. On realising the problem they quickly returned to their berth and did all the usual checks but nothing was obviously wrong. They decided to leave Boulogne and sail across, but the Force 3-4 that was forecast never materialized. They finally limped in to Ramsgate at 7.00 p.m – everyone else had been there since 10.00 am! It turned out after taking the seacock off, that despite blowing air through the water intake hose, it was blocked with weed and, as they found out 2 months later, a fishing lure!

The Esmerelda crew missed out on the last night’s group meal in a Chinese Restaurant but they caught up with the rest of the gang in The Royal Temple Yacht Club for one last get together of the week. The following morning everyone set off back to their various anchorages, with a mix of sailing and motoring to get them home.

Another great cruise in company to go down in the history books. A fantastic week was had by all with lots of fun and laughter along the way.

Looking forward to next year’s cruise already!