NARRATIVE

OF THE CRUISE

TO BRITTANY & GUERNSEY

2nd to 13th September 1957

Marabu's Navy Days

Marabu 1957
Marabu 1957

Rear Admiral G.O. Naish had planned in 1956 to charter Marabu after the end of the 1957 ocean races, and had begun collecting his crew as far back as September 1956, but it was not until three days before we sailed that it was finalised as follows:

 

Rear Admiral George Naish (aged 53): Skipper

Commander Robin Jenks, Royal Navy (aged 48): Mate and Navigator

Shipwright Artificer fourth class Alan Facey (aged 26): Boatswain and Shipwright and Mate of the Watch

The Honourable James Coleridge (aged 47): Chief Steward and Cook

Sub-Lieutenant Simon Winch, Royal Navy: Mate of the Watch

Patrick Naish (aged 16½): Assistant Boatswain and Shipwright

Billy Mohr (Norwegian) (aged 17): Assistant Chief Steward and Cook

Michael Goodwin (aged 17): Assistant Navigator

Apprentice Robert Tiarks (aged 12) and Robert Jenks (aged 9½): 

Dinghy and Cabin Boys

The majority of the crew lacked strength, stamina and experience, which made it necessary to plan the cruise with care, depending not only on conditions of weather, wind and tide, for Marabu had no auxiliary engine, but on what could be expected of the younger people and middle-aged gentlemen in adverse conditions.

 

Monday, 2nd September, 1957

The crew assembled during the day, embarking their own gear, the yacht’s stores and gear and testing the battery charging engine. The Reverend Geoffrey (Vicar of Lyme Regis) and Mrs. Tiarks brought their son aboard at 15:30, and we were later visited by Captain and Mrs, David Goodwin, and Captain and Mrs. John Lamb and their young son Peter with his terrier.

 

At 16:50 Simon Winch, who had not been able to leave until he had closed his cash account at HMS Daedalus, arrived amidst slow handclaps and photography; ten minutes later we gathered way, sailing out of Haslar Creek.

 

We had a fine beat in a West wind Force 3, with a fair tide, to Cowes, where we arrived at the buoys at 19:10. We came alongside Cymbeline without even crushing a robin’s egg, only to be sent away with a rebuff from a furious yacht hand, who rushed up from below and alleged that the paint on his ship’s side was wet. We eventually secured alongside a motor cruiser called Carita.

 

Tuesday, 3rd September, 1957

Up at 06:00, after a good breakfast, with the rain clearing, we prepared for sea. Landed two pressure cooker lids for urgent minor repairs and waited impatiently onboard, with fair wind and tide, for the shoppers to return so that we could get under way.

Dinghy back at 09:20 with repaired pressure cooker lids and fresh milk. Hoisted aboard and slipped from Carita at 09:30. Hoisted mainsail and gave Marabu just enough headway to clear Cymbeline (that rude
yacht ahead).

 

We had a slow reach clown to the Needles with light south-easterly breezes and a fair tide. The weather report had promised us south-westerly to westerly winds up to Force 5, but after rounding Needles at noon we picked up a fine fresh south-easterly wind Force 4 which gave us 8 knots across to Casquets. We had much seasickness aboard and we all felt that something had been eaten which set us off, for some succumbed who had not been sick for many years and it was not really rough. But a quartering sea always claims its victims and only three of our ten survived. Morale rose amongst those who were not completely out when we made our landfall by sighting Alderney at 19:00. We sighted the Casquets Light at 19:40 when it switched on.

 

Carried on west of Guernsey until the wind began to die away soon after midnight, but with the ghosting genoa we managed to keep going slowly, and with a fair tide covered good ground until 05:00 when the breeze died right away.

Wednesday, 4th September, 1957

The south-easterly breeze had carried us over 100 miles towards Brittany in seventeen hours at an average speed of nearly 7 knots and so we could not complain. After about half an hour’s threshing about with slatting canvas, we began to feel a breath from the south-west, as promised by the latest shipping weather report, and it was not long before we were ghosting along towards the Roches-Douvres on our designed course, although we were now on the opposite (starboard) tack.

 

Dawn saw us coming up to the Roches-Douvres and some people began to wake up from their coma when we put some bacon on to fry, the sea now being calm. After passing the Roches-Douvres we began to pick up the Brittany coast and to renew our study of H.G. Hasler’s excellent book to decide whether to anchor off the IÎe-de-Bréhat or to go right up to Lezardrieux. At the junction of the two channels, the decision was made for us by the wind, which was very light and not free for the narrow passage to Lezardrieux.

 

On a dying breeze we just got out of the east going flood into the Rade de Bréhat, and let go the kedge anchor for a late lunch off the Port Clos in a dead calm.

 

On thinking it over, we could not have been luckier with the wind and tide to be where we were only
24 hours after leaving the Needles, tacking only once between coast and coast.

 

After lunch three hands landed for shopping, and two sounded round for a good spot in deep water and good holding ground in which to anchor for the night. But before we could re-anchor in accordance with this plan, we dragged the kedge in a puff and accepted the kindly assistance of a passing IÎe-de-Bréhat ‘penny-sick’ motor ferry to get into better holding ground and anchor with our bower. We did not lose our kedge as we had it on a tripping line, which was buoyed.

Even so the Skipper did not feel comfortable in our new billet as the wind was freshening from the south-west; we had little or no shelter and the tide seemed to be strong.

 

Therefore having studied Hasler’s book on Brittany, he made the decision to short tack through Le Ferlas into the Lezardrieux channel. The Le Ferlas channel was only a cable wide in places, but the half-tide dangers were steep too and well marked.

 

Tacking to port into the Lezerdrieux channel at Loguivy the wind headed us as it came up the steep-sided estuary and forced us to tack the remaining five miles to Lezardrieux on a falling tide. At one point we lost a mainsail batten while tacking, but we had been watching it coming out and getting dinghy, oars and rowlocks ready. The dinghy hand cast off and recovered it while Marabu wore round and took him in tow again.

 

Morale rose as we approached a really safe haven even though our progress slowed down in a dying breeze and an ebbing tide. A picnic party of French girls bathing put fresh life into a tired crew. Regret was expressed that there was only one pair of binoculars on board.

 

As night was falling, we anchored in six fathoms at half-tide and broke out our prefabricated curry for a good solid meal before turning in to sleep soundly, well satisfied in reaching a really safe haven with excellent holding ground. In 31 hours sailing time we had covered 150 miles.

Thursday, 5th September, 1957

Cleaning ship, resting and reconnoitring the town occupied the day, which ended with a stupendous meal at the Hotel du Commerce at 750 francs per head. This was enjoyed by all except the very young, who turned in on board.

 

Friday, 6th September 1957

A quiet day in Lezardrieux, where we had decided to remain, for the weather promised to be unpleasant outside. Very little work was required to be done round the ship, but we had a little anxiety about our anchor because we were swinging about a good deal on the flood tide and the back wash, sometimes tide-rode and sometimes wind-rode. Veered cable and had mizzen ready for hoisting to bring our head to wind if required. Got the kedge and warp on deck before nightfall in case it should be needed. The crew then spent the rest of the day in front of the bar at the Hotel du Commerce. Full gales and Force 10 storm forecast for the Northern Irish Sea with 963 millibars in area Rockall. We were apparently going to get
off lightly.

Saturday, 7th September 1957

We sailed at 10:30 intending to put out to sea, round the Les Heaux Lighthouse, and enter the Tréguier Estuary to spend Saturday and Sunday nights in that old cathedral town. We had left Billy Mohr inshore to do some shopping at Tréguier, having heard that it was a better spot from the crew of the Dartmouth

50-square metre Pegasus.

 

Unfortunately the wind fell light behind the walls of the estuary and we made very slow progress going out. This made us a little later at the entrance than we had planned. As we came on the wind our working mainsail split across the upper cloths from luff to leach in a Force 3/4 breeze. We felt rather baffled.

 

We had Billy ashore, Simon and the small boys feeling sea sick in the ocean swell, and the Skipper on the wheel, leaving Robin Jenks, Alan Facey and two public school boys to lower and take the main off the tracks in preparation for bending on the trysail. None of us had seen this done before. After the mainsail came down, we found the ship easy and manageable in a much lighter breeze under working jib and mizzen, but there was a heavy oceanic swell coming in from the west. We needed all possible speed so we made a headsail change and got the No. 2 genoa on her. This gave her about two knots or perhaps three towards the north north-west, but the situation did not look at all good as we had to get 3 miles west of our present position on a foul spring tide before we could turn down into the Tréguier approach channel.

 

We were not quick with our trysail as too many bolts were ungreased and stubborn, but we eventually got it set with no false moves. It did not give us much more speed or chance of getting to the westward, so the Skipper began calculating next moves. Too long out there trying to get to the west in a dull breeze, would prevent us getting bring back into Lezardrieux that night. Also if we hung on too long and lost the last of the flood tide we could get into the estuary only but not up to Lezardrieux, where high water was at 17:30. The Skipper therefore decided that if there was no shift of wind by 15:30, we would try our hand at getting back to the anchorage we had left that morning.

 

At 15:30 we tacked to the south and had a fast, interesting and rather tricky reach down the narrow Moisie Passage into the Grand Chenal. First we were lucky in improved, visibility to locate the Moisie beacon at the outward end of the passage. The spring flood on our starboard beam caused the Skipper to head up for a very fierce shelf of rocks, but the beacon, 25°on our port bow, was held steady on the land background, meaning that the tide was working for us, but it did not look at all good to the lookout forward. When we reached the Moisie beacon, the tide came almost astern and we headed for the stick beacon at the channel’s narrowest point, not 100 yards wide. After passing that very close the Skipper stationed Robert Tiarks on the stern to tell him how the two beacons astern were keeping in line. By this time the tide was going strong in a south-westerly direction, i.e. up to Lezardrieux. On reaching the Vieille de Trou at the bottom of the Moisie passage, the Skipper felt the full force of the flood up the Grand Chenal to Lezardrieux on his port side, and his ‘course to steer’ seemed most peculiar.

 

All this time Alan had been stitching away at the main with ‘outward bounders’, in order to try and get it fit to tack up the Lezardrieux channel, but it was not needed because we were able to fetch up there on the starboard tack under trysail, genoa and mizzen, the wind being a good deal more westerly than on our previous entry.

 

On anchoring at 18:30 we sent Patrick ashore to hire a taxi and find Billy Mohr in Tréguier and get him back with his shopping. The rest of us dried sails, squared off and broke out the curry again while the Skipper landed to send a telegram to the Captain Coastal Forces, HMS Hornet, saying that the damaged working mainsail was too rotten to make a satisfactory repair and requesting despatch of the racing mainsail to Lezardrieux. Madame Sophie of the Hotel du Commerce passed the message on the French telephone net while the Skipper sat in the kitchen nursing the baby and eating a dozen oysters.

 

Sunday, 8th September, 1957

The Skipper landed to do his dhobying in the communal tank and go to church, while the rest of the crew cleaned ship. By 11:30 it was a glorious sunny day, the first we had had By noon all were ashore except the Mate, Robin Jenks and the two small boys. Robert Tiarks fell in fully clothed, and so the Skipper, in order to propitiate the Sea Gods, threw him in again, By 13:00 all dhobying and clothing were bone dry.

 

‘Make and mend clothes’ was the pipe. It was hoped that the area of high pressure, over Biscay was slowly moving north to embrace us. In the dog watches we received company in the anchorage. First of all Robbie, the Royal Military College Sandhurst 100 square metre came in from Dartmouth with Major Purser, R.E., and a crew of cadets. A little later the big topsail schooner Hoshi, belonging to the Island Cruising Club of Salcombe came in, skippered by Miss Judith Russell. Some of ours met some of theirs up at the Hotel du Commerce where we cleared the tables and danced after our dinner. The Mate’s silken neck scarf was added to Madame Sophie’s collection of ‘cravats’, and waitress Rene’s heart was added to one of our young men’s collection.

 

Monday, 9th September, 1957

In spite of the non-arrival of the mainsail, the Skipper resolved to sail for Guernsey as conditions of tide and wind seemed to be ideal. We breakfasted and washed up and prepared for sea with more than usual purpose and speed. Michael was landed for more wine and to present our old burgee to the Landlord and his Madame. He brought back a telegram from HMS Hornet, which made the Skipper spit blood. It said that our sail would be embarked in that night's Southampton to St. Malo ferry, arriving St. Malo at 07:00 Tuesday. Would we collect? The Skipper had no intention of getting down into St. Malo bight in the threatened bad weather and during spring tides; and to collect from there by road or rail would have been a long and expensive journey. So we sailed at 10:15 for Guernsey, and at 10:18 were foul of Hoshi’s kedge warp, as we gathered way before getting our CQR, anchor to the surface. We soon winched up our anchor, passed a rope round their kedge warp, cleared and slipped again, losing only five minutes.

The wind and tide were fair for Guernsey, and we averaged 8 knots down the estuary and 7 knots across to St. Martin’s Point in perfect conditions, with a south-westerly wind, Force 4 astern. For forty minutes we had to stand off and on off the entrance to St. Peter Port where the ‘Red Flag’ indicated several steamers leaving harbour; but as the breeze freshened to Force 5/6 this was a blessing in disguise, for it ensured a shake-up of our tacking drill. When we finally entered harbour at 18:15, we had to hand the genoa as we were going much too fast and the Skipper manoeuvred with great skill among the closely packed yachts under trysail and mizzen only, a strange rig! But by careful use of mizzen he brought us between two yachts, Gryffin and another, and we anchored with just enough water under us to stand the spring fall of tide. We were just in time to clear up and get below before it started to come on to blow and rain hard.

 

The Mate landed at once and rang the Duty Staff Officer at Portsmouth, in time to get the mainsail transferred from the St. Malo boat (loading at Southampton) to the Guernsey boat due in here at 0630 tomorrow. We then turned in, some landing for a beer or two, well content after an extremely lucky and successful day.

 

Fifty miles in seven hours, snug in harbour before the worsening weather, mainsail re-directed to us, and the crew at least learning to wash up quickly. But amongst our crew there was still need for much improvement, for only five of us are working seamen as yet. Both small boys now have their sea legs, and ate well on the voyage to Guernsey.

Tuesday, 10th September, 1957

At 06:30 the Mate and Billy Mohr landed to wait for the Guernsey packet boat, and sure enough our mainsail was in the first luggage carrier to be hoisted out. They soon had it lowered into the dinghy and ferried out to the yacht, with both of them having to sit on top of it and the dinghy seemingly in danger of sinking. After breakfast the Skipper landed to look up Captain and Mrs. de Jersey and family, and the rest of us bent on the mainsail with great glee. We felt the successful interception of this sail at Guernsey to he one of the best moments of the trip.

 

We also bagged and stowed the working main and dried mizzen staysail and genoa and generally cleaned up decks. Next we veered our cable, tailed it with three warps, until we could drop right down on the Southern Railway Quay after the packet had sailed at 10:30. The old Skipper in charge of the port authority water hose was so pleased with our manoeuvre that he gave us two tons of water for the price of one, i.e. five shillings. James Coleridge came off with a fine lot of fresh food, and after lunch we piped down for the rest of the day.

It was arranged by the Skipper that Simon Winch, whose stomach seemed to be seriously upset, should go to England on Wednesday boat and Miss Lorna de Jersey, aged 16½, should take his place in our crew to England, Simon had been unable to get over his serious seasickness and the Skipper felt that he must try and strengthen his crew.

Wednesday, 11th September, 1957

From now on we were plagued by adverse weather reports and the whole of Wednesday and Thursday were spent at anchor in St. Peter Port, hoping to sail twelve hours later. Anchor watch had to be set on the Wednesday night. The fair tides were at about 06:00 or 18:00 and, as the gales came sweeping up the Channel one after the other, we kept on postponing our departure to the next tide and reporting our intentions to Portsmouth. Meanwhile some of us had much needed baths at the de Jersey’s lovely homestead and at the Yacht Club, and many of us did some useful shopping.

 

Thursday, 12th September, 1957

James Coleridge left on the 10:30 packet to England on Thursday as he was having trouble with his chest. The Skipper took a party over to Sark in the ferry for the day. Although there were gale warnings on all coasts on the 13:40 weather forecast, there were signs of a slow improvement in the English Channel area.

Friday, 13th September, 1957

The Skipper after listening to the midnight shipping forecast had made his plan for a promised slight moderation of the wind, which was blowing very hard from the north-west. We prepared for sea having turned out at 05:30. Skipper and Mate then listened attentively to the 06:55 English land areas forecast, which confirmed our belief that the weather was slowly improving. The three Dartmouth 50 square metres and Nimrod from Portland very wisely decided not to leave harbour and looked somewhat askance at our preparations for sea. At 07:05 having put a hot meal inside the crew, the Skipper called them all together in the saloon to tell them of his plans and intentions, and to ask for ‘Any questions?’ Instructions for lifejackets, lifelines and other safety precautions were promulgated. The young faces looked grim but determined when the briefing was over, but they all knew the dangers and exactly where they stood and what was expected of them individually and as a team. We therefore weighed and proceeded at 07:20 to the north-eastward up the Little Russel, where the tide was beginning to flood with us up to Alderney. If the 07:45 shipping forecast had promised gales again we intended to put back, but fortunately this was not necessary for Wight, Portland and Dover were the only areas where a Force 6 wind instead of a Force 8 gale were forecast.

Our rig was No. 2 genoa and mizzen, with a double-reefed mainsail, ready if required, but not hoisted. Then began a really fabulous Channel crossing. While in the lee of Guernsey we were making 5 and then 6 to 7 knots through the water, but as we came into the Alderney Race and then into the English Channel our speed climbed to 9 and 10 and then close on 11 knots, the ship’s rated full speed, and all this under mizzen and genoa alone. The tide had reached 5 knots under us passing Alderney, and we had an anxious few minutes finding a gap in the confused sea and overfalls before we were literally spewed into the English Channel where the tide was running eastwards across our tracks. The wind was Force 6 gusting to 7 on our port beam, and later on, slightly abaft it. The rapidity with which we dropped Alderney and then the Cap de la Hague out of sight was evidence of our fine progress. Most of us had our sea legs and there was only minor seasickness aboard. The Skipper, as usual at his strongest at sea, knocked up an excellent lunch of tomato soup and potatoes followed by ham sandwiches, and we all grew stronger. Each helmsman sang at the wheel from exhilaration as we creamed along, sometimes planing down the seas. After lunch at noon the Skipper turned in for a nap, his instructions to the Mate being the time-honoured and parodied orders of the old tea-clipper days, ‘Don’t take a stitch of canvas off her! Don’t carry anything away, and call me if I come on to blow.’

Robin Jenks, steering without company in the cockpit a couple of hours later, was able to show his relief at St. Catherine’s and Dunnose Head growing out of the horizon on the port how, and the effect was good and immediate on a dozing crew.

 

Off St. Catherine’s where wind was against tide, we had a very unpleasant hour, and two large waves tried to wash the crew out of the cockpit. By 16:15, however, we ran under the shelter of Dunnose and all was over bar the shouting.

 

At one time we had thought it would be unnecessary, ironically enough, to hoist the mainsail, the interception of which had been so neatly carried out at St. Peter Port on Tuesday, 10th September, 1957. But as we came under the lee of the Isle of Wight, we hoisted first our mizzen staysail, and then the main with its double reef to keep our speed up. This wonderful wind held true, and after rounding Bembridge Lodge we were able to point up to Haslar water tower and weather the Spit Fort. We thus avoided entering the entrance channel, where the spring tide was at full ebb, until we were opposite the Royal Albert Yacht Club. Here the tide was strong against us, as indeed it had been from Bembridge, but our magnificent speed made light of it, and we swept in past HMS Dolphin and Wylie’s house to make our first tack of the day astern of the Foudroyant. In the entrance to the harbour opposite Blockhouse, we tore through our sister ship Capella’s weather, and one of our lads could not resist hailing her with ‘Eleven and a half hours out from St. Peter Port!’ 

Ten minutes later we were alongside at HMS Hornet, greeted by the faithful Sub-Lieutenant Peter Hughes. Over ninety miles through the water, and another fifteen over the land tide-assisted, in twenty minutes under twelve hours, and all on one tack, except for the last quarter of a mile to our berth in Haslar Creek. What a fine way to end the cruise, and on Friday the thirteenth too, which made it even more fabulous.

 

Tail-piece by the Skipper

The Marabu’s cruise of 1957 will certainly not be remembered for glorious sun and fair weather, for with the exception of that one Sunday at Lezardrieux, there wasn’t any. We will, however, long remember this cruise for the fast passages we made, and our temporary (touch-wood) triumphs over wind, sea and rain. These triumphs were not made without some pain, hard work, hard words and seasickness. In the end, however, as we lay once more ‘in the haven where we would be’ we experienced that glorious sensation of comradeship and victory that comes to the sailor home from the sea.

 

Sailing, and living in the confined space of a yacht, is a matter of teamwork and thinking of others. One careless or false move in the cockpit may send one of our shipmates on the focsle over the side, and in a seaway this may be the equivalent of manslaughter. One thoughtless or foolish act may bring danger and gross discomfort to every other member of the crew. I rejoice that by the time we reached Gosport again on Friday, 13th September, 1957, we had become welded into an efficient crew, worthy, almost, of our fine ship, the Marabu.

 

‘Haven’t we, together and upon the immortal seas wrung out a meaning from our sinful lives?’

Joseph Conrad

George Naish, Rear Admiral, 22nd October, 1957.

This article and photos kindly provided by Robert Tiarks