This was probably just one of the best nights sleep of my whole life and I woke fresh and raring to go and because we had caught up so much time then we weren’t nearly in so much of a rush this morning. We had time for breakfast and then we headed north again towards the port of Dieppe in Normandy and an afternoon ferry crossing home. Twenty-four hours previously I don’t think any one of us was that confident of making the English Channel by Sunday afternoon so this was a real bonus and we drove steadily the final three hundred kilometres first past Le Mans and then Rouen and on to Dieppe just after lunch time.
As we drove the weather continued to deteriorate and there were steel grey skies and patches of squally rain. And it was cold, this was the end of November and we were getting closer and closer to home. We arrived in Dieppe with plenty of time to spare, purchased our tickets for the SNCF Senlac cross channel ferry, parked the car and went into town. Dieppe is an interesting little place but it was raining and miserable so rather than walk around the streets getting wet we found a bar instead and had a beer or two and a light lunch but didn’t eat much because our plan was to have a meal on board the ferry.
It was really cold and rather stupidly we just didn’t have any suitable clothing. We had all packed for Portugal and southern European temperatures so we looked a bit silly in Dieppe in November in t-shirts and hopelessly inadequate little nylon jackets. It was very very cold and we could see from the seafront that conditions in the channel were not that good so we were probably going to get a great deal colder before we got home. It looked so bad that three of us were minded to abandon the crossing and wait until tomorrow but Tony had a private medical appointment the next day for a minor operation on his hand and as it was paid for he wouldn’t agree, so we were compelled to carry on.
So we made a plan! We would be first on the ferry and get a good seat in the bar in the warm where we could have a drink and a meal and enjoy the crossing home and we returned to the car and made sure we got a first place on the boat. After half an hour or so we started to drive on to the ferry and because there was a very strong wind blowing this was by no means an easy passage.
Even in the protection of the harbour the ferry was swaying dramatically from side to side and the staff had to be very careful about getting vehicles on board. One driver in front lost his exhaust as the boat pitched at the wrong moment and metal ramp reared up and attacked the underside of the car. Richard got us onboard safely and the green Escort was directed to a perfect place where we sure to drive of first in Newhaven.
On board we went to the bar, found a seat and ordered beers and settled in ready for the four hour crossing. Even though we were in the harbour the boat was already pitching from side to side which made walking with a pint of beer in hand a little bit difficult but we really had no idea what was about to happen. A member of the crew told us that there was a force seven gale and if it reached force eight that we wouldn’t be sailing anywhere.
Wind speed is measured on the Beaufort Scale that was developed in 1805 by Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort who divided weather conditions into twelve categories for the purposes of reporting consistency. Force seven is a near gale, force eight is a gale and so on all the way to force twelve, which is a hurricane.
The ferry cast off and now that there was nothing to hold it to the land it immediately started to roll even more dramatically. Anthony was the first to go and without an explanation he left the lounge in an almighty rush and that was the last we saw of him for the entire journey. Tony was perfectly alright but Richard and I felt a bit queasy so we finished our drinks and went outside where we hoped the fresh air might be beneficial.
Conditions were really bad and things didn’t look good and the ferry was finding it difficult to even get out of the harbour but when it did then matters took a turn for the worse. Officially, according to the Beaufort Scale, in a force seven, sea heaps up and white foam from breaking waves begins to be blown in streaks along the direction of the wind. Well, it was certainly heaping up today and spray was coming up over the sides and once outside the protective walls of the harbour the ferry started to bob about like a helpless cork.
Photograph by: Newhaven Dieppe Ferries- Paul Smith / 1985-senlac-02