Daleks v Napoleon in St Vaast and Cherbourg
It was all my Mothers fault
I blame my mother. I really do. She must have dropped me at birth and in scooping the mess up she must have got someone else’s DNA mixed up with mine. There is no other reasonable explanation for my yearnings to one day disappear over the horizon on my own boat. The nearest anyone in my family had ever got to sails was when the shops plastered it across their windows in January. I didn’t even have a water birth, just a plain old push, grunt and here I am world, ready or not.
A young Dalek
I was born in Scunthorpe which is hardly the nautical centre of excellence. It is to sailing what Stephen Hawkins is to deep-sea diving. At least with a few weights on Stephens chair he has more chance than Scunthorpe has.
I think that I had a normal childhood although at five years old my parents bought me a full length Dalek suit. Now I could dominate the world. I had no opposition. Action Man may have had roving eyes but my sisters Tiny Tears doll could only wet herself and cry.
Yet here we are in Cherbourg, having sailed some six or seven hundred miles since January and we are enjoying it more each day. I haven’t yet resorted to the pink trousers a lot of sailors wear but I do have the wind-swept hair, the stubble and the favourite pair of shorts. I am even beginning to learn how to sail a bit and the crew are shaping up nicely.
We are now cruisers through and through which means we stay in port in bad weather or the wrong wind. When sailing we only adjust the sails when they make too much noise or it drowns out the music we have playing in the cockpit. Having said all that, a strange phenomenon occurs when you see a boat going in the same direction as you. It is the equivalent of road rage and you just have to overtake it.
St Vaast and a drying lock
The other day we left St Vaast at the same time as two other boats and it soon became clear they were going to Cherbourg as indeed we were. The sails were up and the race was on. I tweaked lines continually but when in close proximity you sit back and drink tea with your feet up pretending you are doing nothing. I know I am not the only one as a naval sailing boat was seen with the full crew sat on the roof around a table all in dinner suits as they passed another boat. I am still thinking of a way to beat that one.
St Vaast entrance
Well back to reality. We left Trouville for a ten-hour sail to St Vast, a beautiful little port on the Cherbourg peninsular. As we crawled out through the lock in Trouville a Dutch boat in front of us ran aground. We would liked to have helped but because of the lack of water and strong tides we couldn’t.
Timing was everything(which is not our good point) as the channel to the lock at St Vaast dries out so much you cannot even sail a paper boat up there. We were pretty close and only grazed the bottom once on the way in.
St Vaast seamen’s church
In the town which surrounds the harbour are wonderful quaint streets filled with bakeries, cake shops and butchers each one displaying some wonderful fresh produce. The fish and encrustations here are brought straight onto the key side where you can buy them very cheaply.
We bought a huge amount of giant cooked prawns from a shop for about 3 pounds and they were wonderful with a local loaf, still warm from the baker’s oven.
Fenders overboard in Cherbourg
We left St Vast to sail here to Cherbourg racing with the other boats. We all entered the harbour at the same time although I will swear I was in front. As we put the fenders out Angelina got total brain drain and forgot how to tie them on. As we looked behind there was a long line of white fenders bobbing happily in the water as they fell off the boat one by one. Just as we recovered them another boat steamed towards us coming close alongside. A Dutch voice shouted “Is that you Mark”. It was Hans, a long time e-mail friend. He was delivering a boat from the Med back to Holland and we met him right in the middle of Cherbourg harbour. It was a wonderful moment and we will meet again as he has a beer in the fridge for me.
Abbey Road in Cherbourg
Although I have sailed to Cherbourg before with Aiden we are discovering a whole new town. Each night we have been treated to free blues concerts. Tonight it was, and I kid you not, “Little Bobs Blues Bastards”. Strange people these French as stood next to us was a woman with three terrier dogs. Nothing unusual about that, unless you have them in a pushchair! Having said that, we were in stitches listening to a British boat having trouble being understood by the harbour master. For some reason the skipper began to repeat his message in English, but with a French accent!
Today we went to “Le City de la Mer”, next to the marina. It was a wonderful experience of all things under the sea. My highlight was going on the “Redoubtable” a French Nuclear submarine with sixteen missile silos. Now if I had this instead of the Dalek suit I really could have dominated the world.
As we prepare to leave Normandy for the Channel Islands I have to say my preconceptions of the French have changed. They are very a friendly, family orientated nation who love talking and socialising. Food appears to be their greatest love and it is all fresh and very good. There is no such thing as health and safety and very few rules.
Their national hero is also Napoleon, another man like me planning to take over the world but he lost. If only his mother had bought him a Dalek suit when he was a child!
D-Day in Normandy
On a more sombre note as we sailed to St Vaast we passed the beaches of the D-Day landings and it was impossible not to feel humbled and saddened by the sacrifices made by so many brave and no doubt scared men.
I once wrote a poem about such men. I hope you read it and think of them, just for a moment as we did.
Darling It’s Time to Die
The soldier knew that his time had come and he would die this very morn,
He had even been given an allotted time to go of one minute past the dawn.
An inner calm descended upon this man in the final moments of his life,
As he recounted the unfulfilled dreams he had promised to his dear wife.
The last letter he would ever write was still moist with the tears that he cried,
The words that he wrote would always be there long after this day that he died.
He made her pledge to remind their boys of his love and to kiss them each day,
He vowed to watch them as they grew from the place he would eventually lay.
All around him in these forsaken trenches men and boys alike were crying,
They knew as well as he that their moment had come to start their dying.
The ladders were set and at the sign of the flare they would go up over the edge,
Prayers were muttered to keep them safe and to religion unbelievers did pledge.
The light of fear filled the sky as over they went with men dropping all around,
The battle did rage as they marched on and on to the guns deathly rattle sound.
Through the mud he went till the bullet did hit and he knew his time had come,
Then he heard a voice plead “Daddy don’t die” and knew it was that of his son.
Again he went through the field filled with poppies watching as those around fell,
Knowing that soon a small piece of lead would bring release from this living hell.
The frightened screams were all around as deaths metal brought him to his knees,
When yet again he heard his sons appeal “Don’t go daddy come to me please”
With an inner strength he rose again to see mustard gas explode where he stood,
Finally he fell prostrate once more and his crippled body lie still in the mud.
The pungent smell dug down deep in his lungs and brought a tear to his eye,
And for one last time he heard his wife’s sweet voice “Darling it’s time to die”
May they sleep in peace.