With time on our hands we decided to take off to Oxford in our car for a few days break from the boat and as Rhonda and Michelle had tried to get to Oxford when they were travelling the area in 2001 but could not get into the centre of the Spired City due to a one way system and obscure signage, we thought we would well master this problem. Despite it being 4.30pm on Friday when we arrived, I tell you it is no wonder it is a university city as you need at least one degree to work out this ring road system I can promise you. After about 45 minutes we flagged it and drove out some 15 miles until we arrived at Woodstock and while we sure weren't ready for any big music festival like they had at Woodstock USA this little town is quaint and amazing and took our fancy so we found a nice B&B which was warm and comfortable and allowed Harry to stay as well.
20th March, 2009
We made it, we made it, Bonjour Mesdames and Monsieur’s wherever you are around the world today.
Following a full week of beautiful spring weather and of having some great tradesmen working on Somewhere, the electrical problems all seemed to be solved with some beautiful modification work carried out under the control of Geoff the co-owner of A.C. Marine which is aimed at us being completely safe and able to enjoy all the electrical features that the boat should have been up for. After a quite frantic morning by Phil Somerville, the magic auto-electrical marine engineer contractor to get any of the loose ends tied up on board, around noon on Thursday 2oth March, Stefan (the skipper and other co- owner of A.C. Marine Ltd said “pack up, we are off tonight if the last of the jobs to be done on Somewhere are completed”.
Well, you can imagine Rhonda and I going flat out into pack down mode as this was the day we seemed to have been waiting for such a long time. We had some large cartons which all the loose breakables went into and all else was stowed in the cupboards and all the deck stuff tied down securely so by 5.30 pm we were ready to set off at the scheduled time of 6.0pm but of course, as we all know there had to be hold ups and in this case it was awaiting the new heavy duty mooring ropes still being cut, spliced and lashed, so it was all capable hands being applied to the job etc.
At 6.0 pm Rhonda and Harry set off in our car to make their way to Dover so she would be ready to get the car ferry over the next day. The boat was ready to go at around 6.30, so after a round of good byes to the great A.C. Marine staff that we will miss really as they are a great team, we were off in a hiss and a roar literally as we needed to catch the falling tide lower down the Thames.
It was a night of fine clear skies so navigation on the river was straightforward for Stefan and Phil who are very experienced so my job was chief cook and bottle washer. It is amazing how far we had to travel as the river winds back and forth seemingly forever with three locks to navigate and at one where the original owner of the boat was waiting to wish us well and to pass on the last of our mail. It was great to see Ross and we sure hope he and his good lady wife will join us for a few days in France at some time as we are doing just what they originally wanted to do.
Once clear of the locks we entered London City proper and thoroughly enjoyed all the sights by night and hopefully the pictures we have included will give some idea of the great sights. At around 2.0 am when we had cleared the tidal control gates which assist in holding back spring tides etc when the Thames is flooding and the city had slid behind us I had to head for a kip, as I was truly stuffed after all the excitement and getting a dinner for us plus making endless cups of tea etc. I awoke at around 5.30am to find us mooching along at around 3 knots as the terrible channel fog had rolled in and was getting thicker so as we were due to move out further onto the river delta etc and as we don’t carry radar we were forced to hug the coast of some of the worlds largest sand banks so as to avoid the shipping channels, as you just can’t believe how much traffic is crossing that area. At one point I counted 15 ships in naked view so you can imagine how unimpressed any of them would have been to find a little Dutch barge pottering across their tracks at 6 knots best speed. When Stefan checked in with the marine radio even they were not impressed with us being out there in these conditions but we sure weren’t to know it was going to blanket us with fog. They told us to drop anchor and stay put until around 9.30 am when the fog was due to lift. I thought, great we can get some proper sleep but no the skipper ordered Phil and I to stay with a sharp lookout while he had a sleep. There is no justice eh!!!!! I have to be honest and admit getting some more kip after an hour or so while Phil kept watch and at around 10.0 am the fog lifted so we did the same to the anchor and set off again. I have to be honest and admit I had no idea of how long it would take to get out to the channel.
Rhonda and I talked on the phone and while she had a nice nights sleep in Dover and had caught a ferry after sightseeing etc reported that her sailing was smooth with bright sunny conditions so it looked good for us once we could get far enough down the coast to actually cross the main shipping channels. Hour after hour we plodded down the coast and it wasn’t until around 2.30pm that we could make our way across and by then the wind had got up and about a meter chop on top of a low swell made the next few hours pretty uncomfortable really. As Somewhere is so flat bottomed you can imagine how she rolled and many times the prop was out of the water as she shuddered her way through. It was a case of checking everything was well tied down and just hanging on and smiling.
Play the Video to see how the crossing went.
Having Stefan and Phil to control the trip was great and Stefan is just a marvel at knowing the routes and conditions etc en route. He has done the trip so often I believe he knows the channel like the back of his hand and his only insistence was that there be plenty of food and drink aboard to which he sure dealt to with relish.
Originally he said the trip would take between 18 and 24 hours but due to the fog and the conditions it took us 27 hours to cover this distance. I can only say to anyone who reads this blog that I sure would not advise taking the journey without a fully professional skipper.
At around 9 pm we entered Calais harbor amid a flotilla of cross channel ferries so had to wait our turn then swing on a buoy until the bridge into the Bassin Ouest or yacht basin was opened to allow us in. It was great to see Rhonda waiting for us and after tying up we had a very welcome drink before Stefan and Phil took the car which Stefan had purchased from us and headed off to catch the 11.o pm sailing back to Dover.
It is amazing that despite us having all our documents like passports for us and Harry along with all the boats registrations and certificates we were told we should have ready for the authorities in readiness for our arrival nobody came near us and Rhonda said that the same lack of rules applied when she drove off the ferry.
We unpacked some of the basics then collapsed into bed to try to get back to a balance after so many hours of being up and going at such a rush for the past day to awaken to the most beautiful day you could imagine so we set off for a walk along the promenade and beach front where Harry was allowed to run free on the beach and to paddle in the ocean. Even though it was only 9.0 am there were groups etc up on the beach playing various forms of football and rugby along with other sports so it was quite a sight really. Across the road the huge car park had been cordoned off to allow motorized Go-Karts to race about in gay abandon.
We had a French breakfast at a cafe where they couldn’t speak English and our few words of French didn’t help a lot but in the end we got what we wanted and it was great. The rest of the day was spent unpacking and cleaning inside and out as you can imagine the whole boat needed a good spring clean following its journey and having trades people aboard for so long. I still need to do the wheelhouse as the teak has gotten stained and marked so a big job beckons.
Yesterday, Sunday, we went for a walk through Calais proper only to find that most of the shops didn’t open at all and the ones that did stayed closed until afternoon. The streets were almost bare until after lunch when it seemed to be the time for folk to take to the streets and walk through the many parks etc. We visited the local War Museum which is set in an original bunker built by German occupational troops and was set up into rooms, each depicting many of the scenes and events of the time from the Nazi occupation and murder of so many French civilians to the D Day landings and ongoing ruin of this city. It sure makes one realize how lucky we were in New Zealand to have avoided an invasion of hostile countries etc.
Monday was spent finishing the main cleaning of the boat and setting up our personal stuff and then Rhonda made her way through the city to find suitable phones and email hook ups etc. It is all different here and is costly too so a new budget has had to be drawn up.
The day started out fine and warm but as the day progressed the weather turned really miserable and by around 6.0 pm the wind was gusting to 60 kms plus and even though we are in the Yacht Basin the wind howling down to meet the incoming tide had us bouncing around like a cork.( Yeah 45 tonne cork).
I was doing the dishes and happened to look up to find us swinging at around 35 degrees from the jetty and with the wind howling behind us I could envision us hitting one of the many fishing boats which had also tied up near us unless I could quickly work out what had gone wrong and then how to get the boat back to the jetty etc. It turned out that the heavy duty aluminum cleat on the jetty had snapped letting us drift so it was a case of firing up and putting the boat in hard reverse with the rudder jammed in the opposite lock and slowly she pulled back and got her bum over to the position where I could get more ropes secured to other cleats etc. Well believe it or not but 3 other cleats snapped off during the night but due to my multiple tie offs we didn’t drift but sure didn’t sleep much either as one of the cleats which jointly secured our nearest neighbour was a fishing boat bigger than Somewhere. When you consider that the floating pontoon we are moored to developed a rolling swell of about a meter, you can understand how much pressure was put on these cleats and why we spent such a jumpy night. I slept on top of the bed fully clothed with all the emergency gear near to hand but the morning dawned and we were ok, however, more similar weather is due again tonight so it will be on alert again. So much for a quiet night but we will get by and tomorrow could well be a lovely fine day again.
Play the Video above to see how close we came