Commemorative Cruise to Ramsgate and Beyond (Part II) - Paul Gilson

Back in the August newsletter I wrote about the travails of Endeavour and crew in Ramsgate and promised to continue the story of the voyage from Ramsgate to Dunkirk, with new gear box, and our participation in the filming of the shortly to be released Hollywood epic film Dunkirk. Well here goes...

On leaving Ramsgate I hoped all our troubles would be behind us.  The first few miles were a tonic, a cup of tea and a little sunshine. But some tonics have unpleasant side effects. We were happily steaming to France totally unaware of what was coming our way. Almost our sole topic of conversation was about how we would be used in the filming.

The chart plotter refused to work but as the weather was good I would navigate with compass and line of sight.  We passed the north end of the Goodwin Sands and were amazed at the number of seals laying, basking in the sunshine.

With the last of the sands behind us I shaped Endeavour’s head round to a south easterly course. I noticed the sky was darkening, rain started to fall and the temperature started to drop. Larger waves caused Endeavour to move. A strong feeling of foreboding started to creep into me, not again I thought!  The rain stopped but the visibility had dropped to about half a mile. I was now navigating with compass alone. Water started to come aboard and then more water. The wind had increased and with it the waves, helped by a strong flood tide. It quickly developed into another very wet trip for the Endeavour and her crew. The cabin hatch was shut; Colin and Finlay tried to sit on the hold hatches. I stood in the engine room with its hatch as closed as far as my frame would allow. The compass, sat in its box, tried to escape over the side several times. Keeping a straight course was nigh on impossible. I was frustrated but more importantly the crew were not safe being thrown around in the heavy sea. I reduced power and they went below. But reduced power was not an option as I was unable to steer. Through gritted teeth and questioning my sanity I motored on. The cabin hatch was opened many times with the crew bailing out dirty water. What a pair of stalwarts, cleaning out the cabin of water under these extreme conditions.

We had been underway over three hours and I had seen nothing; no ships, no buoys, nothing. I started to question my skills of navigation.  Despite fearing my position and course I altered course to a more easterly heading. This did not produce immediate results. After about half an hour my crew threatened mutiny. Finlay said he could not stay down there any longer as it was making him ill.

Poor Colin was even worse having developed Mal de Mer. Another half hour passed; was that a ferry on our port side? 

I then caught sight of cliffs in the distance on our starboard side.  Cap Gris Nez shone like a beacon dead ahead. The familiar tower of the Calais Town Hall came into view. Changing course to North East and the coast became visible, and yes, it was a ferry on my port side - the DFDS Dunkirk ferry. 

No sooner had we changed course than the weather improved. The waves nearly disappeared, a weak sun could be seen but it was not very warm.

The French coast slid by and in no time we could see the industrial areas south of Dunkirk. I rang our leader, Vice Commodore Simon Palmer, aboard Hilfranor who was waiting for us in Dunkirk. Colin emerged from the cabin feeling better and much happier now we were running with the small waves that pushed us on to Dunkirk.

Simon directed us to a safe berth where he and his crew took our ropes. We were very grateful and he smiled and left us only to return with three glasses and some fine scotch whisky.  He poured three large shots and placed them on the quay. You look like you need these he said. Oh we did, we really did!

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