This short article is about the Grafham Flying 15s’ legendary crossing of the English Channel.
It was written by Ann Davies. I’ve copy-typed it from the original, keeping the same typesetting (tabs, bold etc.). The piece was published with a couple of photos. I’ve obtained digital copies of these from Geoff Parkinson, one of the crews (still sailing at Grafham). The first photo was with the hearse, captioned ‘No room for duty frees!’. The second photo was of the boats running towards a ferry, cropped with the closest FF centred, captioned ‘Does he have Starboard Skip?’ (yes, Skip for some reason, possibly a typo which should have read Ship) 1990’s picture quality I’m afraid.
I have other photos from Geoff as well, i.e. the boats being launched at Dover. The seafood supper looked like a boozy affair!
Nick Heath and I are keen to try the crossing with others but this will require considerable planning, including organising a couple of guardships. Perhaps 2016 or 2017?
By the evening of 25th June, the planning by Simon Needs and Co had become a reality in more ways than one. Les Rant’s boat ‘Reality’ and Joe Dormer’s ‘Vitamin Sea’ were moored in Dover and five Flying Fifteens were rigged and ready on the slipway outside Dover’s Royal Cinque Yacht Club. Inside 20 sailors made final arrangements; flags and flares were distributed, last minute instructions and times were issued by the Godfather, Customs forms were nearly completed and a toast was drunk to the weather forecast.
26th June 0730:
Black ties had been stowed in the bowels of the escort boats and the fleet was being launched. By 0815 all the Fifteens were on the water and the trolley dollies had parked the cars and trailers and joined ‘Reality’ and ‘Vitamin Sea’. 0845 saw us sailing out of Dover with the good wishes of the Harbour Patrol and the serious sailing began with a F2 SE virtually on the nose.
Unfortunately as the white cliffs diminished so did the wind and as we reached the shipping lanes our speed dropped to 3 knots and it was decided that we should be taken in tow.
The party spirit prevailed and an early lunch (mainly liquid) was taken. Dry suits were abandoned for shorts and shades. At 1200 wind was visible on the water and up went the sails, tow ropes slackened and we were sailing again. For the next two hours positions changed, the French coast came into sight and a new excitement rippled through the crews as the armada approached Calais.
The lights changed to green, white, green and by mutual consent ‘Our Leader’ led the way in. With 3-4 hours [sic.] to wait the Fifteens moored up behind the big boats and crews relaxed. Some celebrated with tea on board, others joined the shore party in search of the hard stuff purveyed by Jacques in the Calais Yacht Club.
By 1930 all the boats were safely moored in the marina and Monsieur and Madame Les Patrons of the Hotel de la Plage, Wissant drove us in a minibus and converted Citroen hearse to our final destination. Nothing could have been more French. At 2100 an unrecognisable group gathered for the celebration dinner. Uffa would have been proud!
Saturday was spent relaxing and enjoying a variety of activities from volleyball to kite flying, walking, cycling, sunbathing, sleeping and swimming.
After an early breakfast on Sunday we started our return trip. The boats had rested well and by 1000 we were towed out of Calais. With a steady F3 from the NE the Flying Fifteens flew their spinnakers and made good time, having to slow down for the support boats. There was plenty of movement within the fleet with the occasional course change to avoid commercial traffic in the shipping lanes and the return passage into Dover was delayed by the imminent arrival of the Ostende ferry. A mad dash ensued as we followed the ferry into harbour rather too closely and the first water washed our decks.
The trip was fantastic fun in true Uffa tradition and a unique experience for those involved. It was also financially rewarding for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children which will benefit from the sponsorship money raised.
3402 Ian Stowe [sic.] and Ann Davies;
3216 Nick Heath and Graham Wadeley;
3254 Peter Joseph Xanier;
3208 Richard Marshall and Geoff Parkinson;
2931 Simon Needs and Tim and Judith Spark.
Author: Ann Davies
Reproduced from Club News and Events, Grafham Water Sailing Club, 1992