Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'Apple Charlotte', part 6

'Apple Charlotte' at Dover

Tuesday, 4th August

Well, it was the day for crossing the Channel to Dover. The forecast was for variable winds at force 3 or less, moderate visibility with fog patches, becoming extensive. The prospect of the latter was not good, because there would be many ships passing through the Strait of Dover, and several cross-channel ferries between Dover and Calais, the very route we would be taking. However, previous forecasts had predicted fog patches, and although we saw only one, it had not bothered us. The unanimous opinion of the UP River skippers was that we should go for it.

The sun was shining and the sky was blue; therefore we put to sea at 0820. From the start, it was obvious there would not be enough wind for sailing. The larger yachts forged ahead; meanwhile we kept our outboard at half throttle, which enabled ‘Apple Charlotte’ to cruise at a speed of 3 knots. As the crow flies the distance between Dover and Calais is about 22 nautical miles. In the event, fog patches did not materialize, but there were a good many ships passing through the shipping lanes. At 0920 the Sealink Ferry, ‘St Anselm’ overtook us, and from the opposite direction, twenty minutes later, the Townsend Thoresen, ‘Pride of Free Enterprise’ passed to our port side.

Archive photo of 'Free Enterprise'

Somehow, ‘AC’ drifted off course towards Folkstone and at 1430 the harbour entrance bore 330 degrees. Our new course for Dover was 065 degrees. As we plotted our position on the chart, ‘Horsa’, a Sealink ferry, headed across ‘AC’s’ bow for Folkstone. When we were two cables from Dover Harbour’s western entrance we took good note of the signals, knowing full well, to keep clear until two red balls were displayed vertically, and only then with permission could we enter. This was really important because the cross-channel hydrofoil was in operation, and at speed, her foils would cut cleanly through our fibreglass boat. Even if she wasn’t travelling at foiling speed, she would be a real danger. The water is always choppy around Dover Harbour, so waiting around for permission to enter can sometimes be a bit hairy. As fortune would have it, we did not have to hold station for more than ten minutes until the little man in a black suit waved us in. Had we possessed a VHF set the whole affair would have been much easier. Nowadays, it is imperative to communicate via VHF.

As soon as we entered the Harbour, the Duty Launch appeared, and her skipper took us to where the other Up River boats were anchored, i.e., outside the 2 metre line to the southeast of the Yacht Club. The open anchorage at Dover is renowned for rolling yachts whose skippers are foolish enough to take advantage of a free stop. If you are staying for more than one night, by far the better option is to raft at the inner harbour outside Granville Dock, but of course, there will be a charge. On the other hand the facilities are good, including hot showers.

Despite the rolling, we loved being at the busy harbour, because there was so much to see. We had had a rotten night at Calais, and by comparison, Dover was almost like a feather bed.

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