The Longest Day 2019

Photo: Mark Rutley (
 160 miles in 22 hours!

In May Endeavour set a new record for a voyage traveling from Leigh to Portsmouth in just over 23 hours for the 160 mile trip to be part of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings commemoration.

We believe that the crew aboard for the epic journey were the oldest – so far! For the return trip the crew was Andy Wood, Paul Gilson and Chris Bailey, our three main skippers. For Chris it was his last aboard the boat.

Dunkirk Little Ships had been invited to escort veterans into the Solent on their way to Normandy. The boats were also the first non-naval vessels to moor in Portsmouth's brand new Historic Dockyard. With a series of events in the Solent up until June 6 it was clear more than one crew would be needed.

At 8am on May 28 skipper Andy Wood with Chris Burls and John Cotteridge as crew Endeavour set off. The plan was to spend one night in Brighton but a poor weather warning meant the crew decided to press on overnight. The wind behaved, but the rain did not and dawn revealed three very wet and tired sailors. Twenty two hours after leaving Leigh Endeavour arrived at the Navy Dockyard to discover the moorings were still under construction with nothing to tie up to.

So, off she went to Haslar marina, the other side of the harbour, which became home for two days. On the 30th May Paul Gilson and Finlay Marshall took over the boat and at last got her to the Dockyard where she joined three ADLS boats, Caronia, Mary Irene and Elvin. While at Haslar Paul and Finlay met several veterans of more recent conflicts, some of whom were suffering Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, once among service personnel they became more at ease with themselves.

Moored near us were two WWII gunboats and three fast motor launches all fully re- stored and heading for Stokes Bay, near Gosport where they planned to make fast runs. We were invited to join them where thousands had gathered on the beach.

The gunboats and launches roared up and down the Solent at 40 knots with spectacular washes thrown as they turned. We learned that at those speeds fuel consumption was two gallons to the mile!

Endeavour and the Dunkirk boats Coronia, Mary Irene and Elvin then ran up on the beach, just as they had done in 1940 at Dunkirk.

“Anyone want rescued?” asked Paul as the crowd applauded. Our effort made the local paper with a picture.

The following day other Dunkirk boats arrived having been stuck in Brighton for several days. The new dockyard teemed with visitors many of whom had witnessed our beaching efforts.

The following day there was a service on the quay side with several hundred veterans on the large pontoon next to HMS Warrior. Later we escorted the first passenger ship out of the harbour with veterans bound for France. HMS St Albans escorted the ferry and the gun boats and navy patrol craft followed them.

As the convoy left us we carried on to Cowes on the Isle of Wight and the Royal Yacht Squadron for lunch the next day.

What an experience; the Dunkirk ships all berthed in the Squadron’s own little harbour!

The RYS boatman who helped us moor spoke to Paul as we were about to leave. He said, “Sir, if I may say so, the Endeavour is the prettiest boat we've ever had here. “Proud to see you here and what your boats represent.”

On June 6 Paul, Andy Wood and Chris Bailey sailed for home in company with Mary Irene. Her owner, Tony Woollard became ill so the boats stopped in Ramsgate for one night.

Endeavour arrived home safely the following day.

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