The Dieppe Dash is run annually by the Brighton Marina Yacht Club as both rally and race, and we decided to enter to complete our first Channel crossing in company. Our first Channel crossing! We had been buying the items required on the list over the previous months, studying surface pressure charts days in advance, everything looked perfect – a comfy 18kt SW wind forecast, dropping to 13kts during the day, good news for us novices, and we weren’t racing, so putting the engine on if it got too slow at the end wasn’t going to disqualify us from winning the prize! Skipper’s briefing the night before went well, and everyone was excitedly chatting about the following day’s events. A couple of beers, a last look at the weather, a check that we had the courtesy flag ready, and off to bed we went.
On the day:
We get up at 04:30, and slip the ropes at 05:20 – exactly as we’d planned – under the most amazing sunrise! We motor out of the marina waving cheery goodbyes and exchanging shouts of ’See you in Dieppe!!’ to the racers preparing to leave (starting gun was at 07:00). We even have a large bottle of prosecco chilling in the fridge to celebrate our arrival in France!
We get the sails up smoothly, Walter (the cat) isn’t too scared, I’m not too scared, and nobody is seasick. It is indeed a comfy 18kt wind and we are making a nice 5-6kts. The wind direction has changed to Northerly, so we aren’t able to stick to our Course-To-Steer – painstakingly worked out the previous evening – but we are making a good speed, getting our log entries done, and feel like real sailors while discussing our arrival at a foreign port. It’s all going so well!! 2 hours already sailed! 20kts… 25kts… Getting quite windy. The racers have started now, but we are steaming along, making 7kts at some points – wow, we will be there by lunchtime!! 3 hours in and 30kts… This really is quite a strong wind. The sea is incredibly rough – 3m waves – and we have too much sail up and too little experience in these conditions. We’re heeling over a bit much (the rail is under, and our headsail regularly joins it and brings up a load of sea to dump on the deck, just in case the waves crashing over the bow weren’t enough). We decide that we are going to steer to the wind, rather than trying to stay going in the right direction for Dieppe, just for comfort reasons. Despite this, I am seasick, I am also rather scared. Jamie holds it together much better than me, but neither of us are in a position to go to the mast and reef (which, – yes, we know – we should have done ages ago…). Needless to say the log has also gone to the wall. Some of the racers have passed us now, but we hear several radio calls for forecasts, and see a couple of boats turning back. We look down into the cabin and survey the chaos caused by extreme heeling over, and it really *is* chaos down there – it will have to wait! Walter is so terrified that he has hidden in the cupboard and wedged himself in. We are also not having fun. We look at each other, realise that ‘we are supposed to be doing this for fun’, and make the difficult decision to turn for home. We turn the engine on and drop both the sails as quickly as possible (not that quickly in the case of the head sail…), but the main in its new stack pack drops like a dream and pays for itself in those 20 seconds. The stack pack also has the advantage of keeping the (massive) sail all together, rather than it blowing everywhere while trying to flake it manually – I think that would have been the final straw. We start off heading for land – perhaps we could go to Eastbourne for the night? – but with waves still crashing over the bow, we quickly realise that we really just want to get home! The boat is been absolutely solid – the crew is definitely the weak link on these seas! We turn towards Brighton and immediately things become a little calmer, we are no longer fighting the waves, but rather having a more comfortable ‘surf’. There is still a good roll though, and we both are a little chilly and have to brave going below to put on jackets and gloves. We talk about the fact it’s a bit of a shame that we turned back – in fact… it’s not really too bad now… shall we….? Uh. no!! Decision made – the right decision we are sure, and keep going. It takes a couple of hours to get back, but we pull in to the marina behind another retiree around midday. We get back to the berth, breath a massive sigh of relief and start the clean up operation! A broken glass (our one final piece of glassware that we couldn’t quite bear to throw away; decision made for us!), cat litter and food everywhere (I know, what were we thinking leaving that out?!), sea water from the waves that had crashed over us, a chipped phone screen, laptop on the floor, charts and logbook soaked through, generally, everything is everywhere and Walter takes a long time to come out of hiding… We clean up… Then we drink the entire bottle of prosecco…
We see a couple of other retirees around the marina, but most of our acquaintances from the yacht club are in Dieppe (we believe). We go to the Yacht Club and book the ferry to Dieppe for the following morning! We WILL have our weekend in France! We found a cheap hotel and texted a friend who sailed over on Silver Fox, one of the race boats, to tell her we’d see her at the party on the Saturday night. We got a response: it was a dreadful trip – very rough, didn’t arrive until 21:00, lots of severe seasickness, several people getting the ferry back – all sounded pretty miserable! Added to this, there was a gale forecast for the Sunday, and as we pulled in on the ferry on Saturday afternoon, we saw several of the boats leaving!! In fact, there were only 4 or 5 boats there by the time we’d walked round to the Dieppe Yacht Club! We chatted to a few folks, who all agreed that we had made the right call by heading back – it was good to hear the experienced sailors agreeing that it had been a tough trip, and that turning back had been the right thing to do. Kathy had not returned on Silver Fox, so we spent the next day with her wandering round Dieppe before her ferry home. Dieppe is a really lovely little town, with a lovely harbour area, as well as a fishing port and fresh fish market. The beach area is similar to Brighton (stony and windy) and was the site of the Canadian tranche of the Normandy landings, and there is a big fort up on the hill with great views over the town. We had some amazing meals including the best Moules Frites we think we’ve ever had, a little bistro meal (cassoulet and a steak tartare), and a Fruits de Mer platter to name a few.
So, we made it to Dieppe; unfortunately not on RR, but she did teach us a lot in a few hours! At least we know that she won’t let us down!