The 86th Calais Rally

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Submitted by Pete Hampson on


The 86th Calais Rally pontoon party

When I heard that the Little Ship Club Temperance League, of which I am a committed member, was going to foreign parts to engage in missionary work I, of course, jumped at the chance to lend a hand.

So it was that I motored away from Burnham on Crouch in Silver Pearl on a clear Thursday evening together with crew Mark “H2O” Hynds and Hugh “more water” Daley in calm, windless conditions despite the forecast of gales that was given 48 hours previously. Calais was the destination (this being the 86th Calais rally) where our teetotal ministrations were so sorely needed and as we crossed the Thames estuary with nary a problem, my reflections on the good work that we were going to perform kept me warm long into the cold night.

The forecast was for the wind to build slowly from the West to F4-6. By the time that we had crossed the SW Sunk (currently showing a lot less water on the track recommended last year on – I would be careful until an updated chartlet is produced) the wind was gathering nicely, so off went the donk and we sped along with a well-reefed main and a few rolls in the genny.

Far Star left Burnham shortly after us and sped past us in the Crouch, so I was pleased to be able to identify her in the grey morning light off North Foreland several cables off our port beam. By the time we had reached the middle of the Dover Straight TSS we were just abeam of each other, allowing me to take some nice photos. As the wind faded slightly, we relied on the motor to get us in to Calais in time for the first bridge of the tide at 09:30 BST.

Friday was a fairly quiet day, catching up on lost sleep in the afternoon before an excellent dinner Au Vieux Fourneau with Jill, Charlie and Emmy: their €20 menu is great value. By morning, however, I found that I had caught a headache from somewhere. The suspected culprit was the delicious grape juice that we were served over dinner which may have been deceptively rich. No matter, because the pontoon party (for the promotion of temperance) was about to start. Little Ship Club battle flags were duly hoisted on foredecks, and patio furniture was temporarily requisitioned from the deck of the wooden hulk seemingly abandoned further up the pontoon. Special credit goes to the crew of Hard Seed who designed and fashioned a dispenser for their bottles of juniper-enhanced water on their winch handle. Combined with quinine water, to keep the malaria at bay, and with a slice of lemon it really was most refreshing.

At the evening dinner we took our places on a table with the crews of Mon Amie and Shimoni who were all great company. The dinner was well attended with 11 LSC boats represented plus another 6 boats from the RNSA. A heroic appearance was put in by Chamois, picking up a mooring in the outer harbour as we all watched (no pressure). Several members took advantage to brush up on their signalling techniques using make-up mirrors and the setting sun. It was surprising to see how many gentlemen LSC members had the necessary equipment to hand. Much kudos to Tina, Ian and Ron who changed into glad rags before pulling oilies on top to row from Chamois to shore, entering to applause from all present. After-dinner speeches were delivered with aplomb by contributors including Terry Corner from the RNSA, Norman Hummerstone and Dr. Jean Plancke. Norman also introduced the Hon. British Consul for Calais, Antoine Ravisse, explaining that if you ever find yourself in trouble and with no money in Calais, then he is the person to call. However, in Antoine’s words, he doesn’t have any money, and you don’t have his phone number.

Unfortunately I caught a little too much sun during the pontoon party earlier, and the resultant sunstroke left me with little recollection of the remainder of the evening. I awoke in a weakened condition that, fortunately, was much alleviated by the bacon sarnies on the pontoon. An orange-flavoured tonic, curiously named after a successful 1980s Eurovision act, also did much to reconnect mind and body. By midday our charming French hosts had prepared a buffet and speeches were delivered by Bertrand Fetel and Eric Duriez of Les Voiles de Calais, and from the Mayor of Calais.

We left Calais in the early afternoon, returning to Burnham via Ramsgate with reasonably compliant winds and fair weather all the way.

All in all a hugely enjoyable weekend with many thanks to the organisers Norman Hummerstone and Jill Moffat, and to Tony Brighton and Emmy Hettena on Mon Amie, Mike and Val Birch on Far Star, and Jonathan Hague and the crew of Hard Seed for giving up their galleys for the production of bacon sarnies in the absence of HMS Puncher and for generally organising Sunday morning sustenance.

As for the success of our temperance drive, I can certainly guarantee that there was a lot less alcohol sloshing around Calais by the time we all left and therefore it was clearly a triumph.

Little Ship Club attendees: Ocean Dancer, Greenwitch, Kazbek, Mon Amie, Far Star, Silver Pearl, Hard Seed, Chamois, Blustery Day, Shimoni, and Alchera.

Pontoon Party