Classic Boat

FIRST CHANNEL CROSSING

As we headed out into Lymington River just after midnight, the light from my headtorch cast its dim red glow over the bleary face of George, my non-sailing friend who had been kind (or blissfully ignorant) enough to join me on my first attempt to cross the English Channel, enticed by promises of copious wine, cheese and moules frites. The seas that lay ahead of us were no longer a neat line on a map on my dining room table, but were real, vast, cold and pitiless. It was an unsettled midsummer’s night, with sporadic thunderstorms forecast over the south of England and a spring ebb running, propelling Mahjong, my 1969 International Folkboat, towards the Needles Channel alarmingly swiftly. Our plan was to make it into Cherbourg before nightfall.

I had sailed as a child in Cornwall and, after a long break, had noticed an irresistible urge to “sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts” growing again within me, and I bought in 2017. The low freeboard, graceful sheer and long keel of the Folkboat were alluring to me in an age of plumb bows and sterns, bathing platforms and voluminous ‘owner’s suites’, as was the idea that, tiny though a Folkboat may be, there were no shores to which one could not point its bows, entered the Jeremy Rogers yard in Lymington one autumn in slightly shabby but reasonably serviceable daysailing condition and emerged in spring as a genuinely offshore-capable vessel, with an interior lined with teak salvaged from a merchant navy ship sunk during World War One, and an inboard electric motor in place of the old outboard that used to hang awkwardly from her transom.

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