The Calais Rally demands stamina and perseverance

Charles Quayle's picture
Submitted by Charles Quayle on

 ...not the sailing, the liver.

While others stayed in Blighty to celebrate HM’s Jubilee, we elected to invade one of the Crown’s former overseas possessions. What the rally lacked in numbers was made up for by the intensity of celebration. It all reinforced The Little Ship Club’s motto – boozing in good company.

The passage from Ramsgate was head to wind virtually all the way across until we turned east along the French coast, after the wind went round 180 degrees during a squall.  We barrelled into Calais as night fell.  Luckily, even though we had to wait outside for a departing ferry, we arrived at the inner harbour just in time for the hourly bridge opening and shot straight through the gap to raft against ‘Hard Seed’, whose crew had clearly already enjoyed a good dinner. We had a quiet meal on board with a couple of bottles of red wine.

It all went downhill from there on.

Saturday started with a leisurely trip to the local market for the obligatory baguettes, cheese, paté, etc, followed by the obligatory refreshing biere blonde or two in the sunshine at the nearest brasserie.  The obligatory Beer Call on HMS Puncher lasted longer than usual, perhaps because of an inability by then to factor the difference between UCT, BST and Local Time.  Then the obligatory hosting of URNU for drinks on board, except that most only got as far as ‘Chamois’, elegantly and conveniently moored next to the gangway.

I perched in the cockpit of ‘Silver Pearl’.  The hospitality of Pete and his neophyte crew, Mark and Justin, was in inverse proportion to the size of the boat. After more obligatory beers, a hardy few made it to the far end of the pontoon to ‘Hard Seed’ for the gin optics.  Jonathan had discovered a new gin, ‘Copper House’ distilled by Adnams of Southwold at 40% proof.  That went down very well, several times.

Suddenly it was time for the formal dinner. A kir or two beforehand, white wine, Medoc, and champagne with the dessert – flaming Omelette Norvégienne (not eggs, the French equivalent of ‘Baked Alaska’ but soaked in alcohol and torched) - followed by port, allegedly donated by the Rifles, and mercifully short speeches. The RC offered a few words of thanks to Norman and then to our hosts in fluent French, which they seemed to appreciate. We reverted to the conversation and red wine.  Afterwards, we departed in a downpour and followed in the wake of Alec to the fisherman’s bar – much consternation, it was shut!

So back to the Marina bar for more beers – well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? Alec was already well ensconced. At about 01.00 Local Time a large catamaran was seen entering on the last gate and attempting to mate head-on to ‘Silver Pearl’.  Skipper, crew and I rushed down and made serious clucking noises, plenty of room on the other pontoon etc.  Eventually they relented, driving off like the Ford Escort owners they turned out to be. We returned to the bar and had a few for the road until 03.00 hrs when the heavens opened.

Sunday dawned dull and bleary.  We didn’t quite make Church Parade on Puncher, but were rewarded by the surreal but genuinely nape-tingling sound of “Jerusalem” sung at full belt from across the water, the White Ensign hanging limply in the drizzle from an RN vessel on French territory. Ah, it makes you proud to be British.

Bubbly and bacon on board, again for longer than usual since most had elected to sail the following day given the forecast.  We watched from the fly deck as a small boat rafted up ineptly against ‘Silver Pearl’ without putting out any fenders.  Pete was surprisingly relaxed by then.

So back to the Marina bar for more obligatory beers and the prize giving. What to do afterwards other than more beer and watch the Jubilee sail-past on TV? Another surreal experience, a live BBC TV relay with various unrecognisable French minor celebs being interviewed.  If you thought the BBC commentary was rubbish, you should have seen the French version.  At one point Karl Lagerfeld was opining, on what who knows?  Presumably HM’s fashion sense, or the lovely uniforms we do so well?  Maybe HRH Kate’s body?  Later we all went for an excellent €18.50 menu in town, with yet more wine.

Monday was quiet on board but boisterous outside. There was much comparison of weather web-sites and grib downloading with ‘Far Star’.  The fleet rose 30ft from spring low tide in the shelter of the marina to be buffeted around at the top of the wall.  Puncher’s nav officer was consulted and the fact that they had decided to wait until midnight was the clincher. It was a lay day, so obligatory beers.

Early evening was spent very pleasantly on ‘Chamois’ where Ian and Tina hosted the pontoon party in their traditional snug but light saloon.  Gabe produced some dark, foul smelling but immensely potent Dutch digestif which tasted like a cross between liquid Fisherman’s Friend and aviation fuel.  Others stuck to red wine.  Off for steak frites and a relatively early night.  Some elected to leave on the midnight tide so, after warping off a mad Swedish solo yachtsman in his Calvin Kleins who was as quick to shed his lines as his clothes, we helped ‘Silver Pearl’ depart, a mad German solo yachtsman in a 55ft Beneteau arrive, and then turned in.

The remainder of the fleet left slightly biliously at midday on Tuesday.  The marina suddenly became the M25 at rush hour as everyone tried to do the same.  We had an uneventful and dry crossing, motor-sailing back to Ramsgate in less than 7 knts of wind.

Of course, all of this is rubbish since if I remembered it I can’t have been there.