Saturday, 22nd March
We passed through the Alderney Race during the night, and our Watch had just missed this event when our wake-up call came at 0330hrs for our watch to begin at 0400hrs. We were amply compensated however, as the sunrise we witnessed on this morning was just as stunning as the previous evening’s sunset. The comet and stars gently faded into the light, and the rising sun lit more and more of the foreign coastline ahead.
The sea was as flat as a mill pond as we continued towards the Bretons coast, so it was decided to practise a man overboard drill. A dummy, affectionately known as the Accountant, was jettisoned and when the man overboard alarm – 7 short then 1 continuous blast on the ship’s whistle – was sounded, all hands rushed to their muster stations. As the dinghy is stowed aft it was our responsibility as Mizzen Watch to launch it, and the Boatswain and Cook went off while the Doctor readied his medical kit. Once the Accountant had been rescued and was safely back on board, our Watch had to hoist the dinghy back aboard and stow it away again.
Our arrival to the walled port city of St Malo in Brittany, northern France, was as spectacular as ever. I got to take part this time as we manned the yards, and we all sang sea shanties that the Mate had taught us during the 0900hrs briefing. And when we ran out of shanties? We just sang any song we could think of! We were up on the yards for about an hour altogether, waiting for the lock gates to open, then close again, the lock to fill, and the gates on the other side open to allow us into the dock.
As we climbed down from the yards a mad/drunk/both Frenchman in a pseudo military uniform provided entertainment by shouting French obscenities and suggesting we did strange things with various parts of our bodies, until the Doctor told him “Je suis bien, merci!” and he walked off, still shouting to himself.
We conducted the usual harbour duties: mooring the ship, putting up the gang plank and doing ‘spaghetti runs’, which involve going around the whole ship and tidying all of the lose ropes into neat coils. We then had the next installment in the inter-watch competition: rowing the lifeboat across the dock and back against the clock. This we also lost, and I must admit that I was a bit disappointed not to be part of our rowing team.
Shore leave was allowed until 1500hrs, and a few of us went to visit the old town within the city walls, and changed our money into francs with which to buy postcards and stamps.
Later in the evening we were allowed more shore leave, to return by 2330hrs ship time, so we all went out to the local pubs to ‘splice the mainbrace’. Brittany is one of the Celtic nations, and there were a great many Celtic bars and Irish bars. The two of us crew who were Welsh were made very welcome as fellow Celts, so it was hard to get back for the end of shore leave. On return to the ship I tried to get a little sleep before my next watch.
Sunday, March 23rd (and our Watch Officer’s birthday)
I was on harbour watch at 0100hrs, then back to bed at 0200hrs. We were woken for breakfast, then given a packed lunch and more shore leave to enjoy the small city before we left harbour to once again head back to sea.
Our number 8, Charlotte, and I took a walk through the town. We stopped in a patisserie along the way for delicious freshly baked snacks, before continuing to the Musee Internationale Du Long-Cours Cap-Hornier in the Tour Solidor. This 14th century building housed a collection tracing the history of voyages around Cape Horn, including models, nautical instruments and objects made by the sailors during their crossings or brought back from foreign ports. The museum, invoking thoughts of travel aboard extraordinary tall ships at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, seemed a very appropriate excursion for us.
After the museum we made for the small beach, where we sat sunning ourselves while we ate our lunch and wrote our postcards, before heading back to the old town to search for postboxes.
On returning to the ship we discovered that we had acquired a new number 13 for our Watch. Steve had been travelling around the world from his home in New South Wales, Australia. He had bought a bicycle in Greece, and from there he had eventually cycled all the way to St Malo, ready for a ferry to England and the next stage of his journey. Steve had worked as a crew member on chartered tall ships in Canada, and had come over to admire our ship. He had got chatting to the Captain, and as we were short of crew, the Captain had offered him and his bike passage to England which he gladly accepted. A much more fitting end to a cycle journey across Europe!
We left St Malo as spectacularly as we had arrived, with people singing up the yards. Then we set course north again, headed for the Cornish coast.
The weather was turning rougher again, up to force 6 on the Beaufort Scale which means that long waves begin to form, white foam crests are very frequent and some airborne spray is present. The increasing waves meant that there was some more seasickness, although by now most had found their sea legs, and yet again we spent a bumpy night at sea.