“One ship sails east and another west with the self-same winds that blow. ‘Tis the set of the sails and not the gales that determines the way they go.”
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox
I first saw those lines embroidered as a sampler in a restaurant in St. Michael’s, Maryland, and they were attributed to a Colonial rhyme. Later, I was told they were from a much more recent poem, but I prefer to think of the sailors from Colonial times – or earlier – learning lessons about life from their sailing adventures. How often do we, even in large organizations, give up on something just because the winds seem unfavorable?
Editor’s Note: See Part 2 HERE
There are parts of the world where tidal streams can run fast – 12 knots or more – and one of these is the Alderney Race between the Cherbourg Peninsula in France and the Channel Islands. They also have significant overfalls, which create other problems. For small sailing vessels, this can be very exciting, since their speeds, even today, are generally 6-8 knots – and in olden days, square-rigger speeds were about the same (with the exception of warships that could achieve 12 knots.) What that means is that it’s possible to be pushed back by the stream, even as you’re trying to sail forward – so the only thing you can do is to try to anchor, if you’re caught out. Better to learn to read tide tables, and plot your route very carefully so that you get to the Race at just the right time for the stream to carry you, rather than buck you. There are several sailboat races from Southampton in the UK to Alderney, and it can be very exciting for the participants and interesting to hear comments about performance in the pubs later. This requires considerable knowledge. And it really is analogous to the way corporations need to consider the details of their operating environments.
We did more cruising than racing, as Kantele was a heavy displacement cruising cutter, but we did occasionally race with friends.
From Brighton, our favorite places to sail were the Bay of the Seine – Normandy – to harbors such as Honfleur, Deauville, Trouville, Ouistreham, Caen and St Vaast. One of the joys of sailing to such places was the food! Not only in the little restaurants, but buying it fresh from the markets, because we could cook it on board. Normandy is known for its mussels, oysters and fresh fish, its cream with everything, and its apple and pear sorbets (avec Calvados or Poire William.) There are many British and American tourists, who travel there to see the Normandy Beaches from WWII – and the museums dedicated to those came from afar to help. Almost every little village has its square, with American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Flags around a memorial honoring those who died.
But that means that the locals also have preconceptions about what Americans eat. Although we love French food, Kirk and I do like “Steak Frites” (steak and French fries) occasionally. It was amusing to go into a little restaurant and order that, and have the “Madame” sigh deeply and ask “bien cuit?” (well done), only to have us say “Non, bleu, merci” (very rare.) That changed the whole atmosphere. I do need to acknowledge that while I can speak a little French, it’s not as good as it used to be! We found that sailing into these places and then living as the locals lived gave us unique insights into the cultures. We watched a guy with a large garbage truck not only handling it all on his own but then sitting down to eat his lunch on the back of the truck. It was the nature of his lunch that caught our attention – a huge onion and a bottle of red wine!
But the markets! They were wonderful. We’d often spend hours looking at the fruits, vegetables, meat, cheeses, fish, breads and other wonderful food. We didn’t buy any live chickens or ducks, even though they were available in many places. To us, that was far more interesting than other forms of shopping, and purchasing (back then) tape cassettes of French music and singers that were difficult to get, even in England.
We also love history, and so we went to old churches, castles and other places of interest – mostly on foot, or via buses, where we squeezed in with the locals. One time, because of thick fog, we had to leave Kantele in the French harbor, as we did not have radar – and even if we’d had it, we would have been a bit reluctant to leave the harbor that day. But we needed to get back to London for business. We took a bus to Dieppe, then a ferry from Dieppe to Dover, and stayed with friends in London until the following Friday, when we went back to France. This time, there was a problem with the trains, and we ended up sleeping on wooden benches on the station platform in Rouen, waiting for public transport to get back to the harbor. But it was all part of the fun.
For a proper vacation, we ventured up into the North Sea – stopping at places in France (such as Boulogne, Dunkerque), Belgium (Zeebrugge, Oostende) and the Netherlands (Middelburg, Tholen.) We also went by train to Brugge (one of our favorite places in the world,) Leuven and Antwerp. The historical parts of these cities are fascinating and incredibly well-preserved. You can be in parts of these cities, and when there is a period free from traffic noise, you can just imagine what it must have been like several centuries ago. Arriving by sailboat, and being in old harbors just adds to that. Brugge and most of the other cities are old and preserved beautifully. Middelburg was completely razed during the war, but its citizens rebuilt it exactly as it was, using the bricks and lintels taken from the rubble. They did a magnificent job, and it became a favorite city of ours. Sitting in the enclosed courtyard in the Abbey (Abdij) with no traffic and only the occasional pedestrian, we could have been back in the 12th century.
From there, we went back down the canal to Vlissingen and sailed across the N. Sea to England, making land at Harwich, and sailing into the River Orwell and up towards Ipswich. We berthed at a marina on the Orwell at Woolverstone – close to famous Pin Mill. The Orwell is a beautiful river, and the area very rural, although it is getting more built up now. The people were very friendly and welcomed us into their pubs. No pasties, however.
We really enjoyed our stay there, and decided that we might take a year or so, and keep Kantele in Woolverstone – which we did. That’s one of the advantages of living aboard. You can take your home almost anywhere. But while we were there we did get a rather unwelcome visitor. More next time…