Paul Gilson's Account of the Dunkirk Trip, Commencing with the Section from Leigh

We were quickly across the sea reaching the channel on the very top of the tide so although it was choppy it was not being made worse by the ebb tide. Fin and Peter were both at the tea making, but nothing was forthcoming. The rest of the boys were sitting on the starboard side of the hatch with their backs to the worst of the weather. They had a little more shelter than one would have thought with the boom and sail keeping some of the weather off them. We were on an east-south-easterly course so the waves were splashing up her port side - and still no tea!

'The gas bottle is empty,' they said as Peter came up from the cabin. Odd, I thought, worked alright yesterday when I checked it.
'Ok, before it gets too rough, open the front of the hold and get out the spare and put down the centreplate. I will ease her down'.
'Will it make any difference?' Graham asked.
'It will slow her down a bit, but will keep her a bit steadier and stop her rolling too violently.'
They did not, at this time, realise just how fast and violent she could roll but they would, within a few hours, know all about it.

We were crossing the Nore and watching a large cargo boat coming out of the river Medway; I had time to cross in front of it but it was so big it looked much closer than it was. She was probably doing 20 knots to our meagre 7. The new gas bottle was fitted - and still no tea!

'I can’t get it to light and the kettle is being thrown off the cooker, Skipper,' Peter said. 'I have a bottle of water here, will that do?' he said grinning.  I changed course and every one settled down talking and drinking water. Spray was being created as waves hit the port side but this was nothing as to what was to come.

At the moment they were only getting damp. We made good progress across the Spile and down towards Reculver. The bad news was still no tea and more spray.

The cabin was closed up so no water could penetrate from the deck. The engine room hatch was also closed. We were water tight. After being at sea some 20 hours I suggested that we had a sandwich and a short respite and we should check all was ok below.
'We're ok,' they said, 'We can go a bit further.'
'No, you don’t understand,' I pointed out. If they did not eat now they would not be able to do so later.

There were some derogatory remarks about my parentage but they reluctantly opened the hatches and released a big bag of rolls that Graham had brought from the cockle stall. I had put Endeavour's stern to the wind and she was sailing back up river on bare poles at 3 knots and out of gear.

Rolls were soon eaten and the surplus was put away. We headed back to sea on passage to the gore channel. The gore channel is a small gap in between the sand banks where you hold deep water to get to the south of the Margate sands. It is only 100 meters wide but ideal for small boats to use. It keeps them from using the main shipping channels and you get a little shelter from the sand banks as you move down the coast. Unfortunately, the sand banks today were not going to help much as we were all but head to wind.

As soon as we were through, I shaped her back to the east holding the sand bank close on my port side hoping that it would give us more shelter but the wind was too straight – no shelter. We also had a bit more tide here; the sea was getting livelier all the time. More waves and bigger ones at that. I dropped the revs on the engine to reduce the speed, no need to make it worse than it already was. Nearly every wave put spray across the boat now. Some of that spray was starting to become solid and green splashes became the norm.

We passed the south-east Margate buoy and I was now having to guide her round some of the bigger waves. She was putting her nose under and green water was coming aboard and running along the decks.

The boys were struggling to sit still, their hoods were covering their faces but I could hear them laughing as heavy spray and green water splashed over and around them. The centreplate was now doing its job, we were rolling and pitching, but less than it could be. They were pushing themselves back on to the hatch cover as every wave tried to push them off. I was getting covered in spray by virtually every wave. Looking through my glasses was like being in a fog and I was constantly wiping them.

As we neared Margate, a familiar-looking coloured boat came into sight - the Margate lifeboat. I was at this point very near to turning back as I thought that this was as much sea as Endeavour could put up with. Yet as we passed a yacht that appeared to make much less fuss of it than us, I though I would give it a little longer. With the lifeboat nearby and now taking pictures of us, the boys could see just how rough it was. Her hull was disappearing in the troughs and it appeared to us she was shearing about all over the place. I wondered what they thought of us all, out on
an open boat with the crew only sitting on the hatches. I knew what I would be thinking.

We had only another 20 minutes to go and we would be turning round the North Foreland but that could be the worst 20 minutes yet. I tried to get Fin to get the camera out and take pictures but he said, 'You must be joking. I can’t even stand let alone take a picture.'
'All right, keep your hair on. It would make a lovely picture.'
'Can anyone see a red buoy or a beacon?'
'Yes, on her nose,' was the reply.
'That's the Long Nose - once round that the wind will be on our quarter and we will be over the worst.'

The lifeboat had left us and we were on our own. With that the biggest wave of the trip reared up in front of us. 'Look at the size of that bastard!' I exclaimed. Nobody looked as they held on and I took Endeavour behind it. Every wave now ran along the deck. After what felt like an age, we rounded the foreland and were bound south. For the first time in over an hour I could see clearly. My glasses were clean and Endeavour was riding high on some big waves that were now coming from the northeast. The banter started again. It may have been happening all the time but I could not hear it.
'Cup of tea, Skipper?'
'Oh, ok, you’ve twisted my arm.'
'Check if there is any water down there please.'

We ran down past Broadstairs and on to Ramsgate.

At last a cup of tea came to hand; well not quite true, something warm passed my lips. We had made it. I checked into the port control on the VHF and was given a berth to head for. There were already many little ships berthed around the marina. Unlike us they had come down over the weekend when it was calm. We were soon berthed and stage one of the exercise was completed.

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