“OK. We’re a bit short handed, but the two of us should handle her. We’re both experienced.” said Jim in agreement.
They set of from Middleburg into a sunny day with a moderate sea; ideal conditions. By the time they had cleared the lock, the estuary, and the shipping lanes the wind had veered and got up to a force 5. It then increased to a force 6, and coming from the south by then, it was blowing them up into the North Sea.
An hour later conditions had deteriorated greatly. They lowered the mainsail, substituted the foresails for a storm jib, and fully reefed the mizzen mast, with just enough sail to hold the head to wind.
“There is nothing for it. We’ll just have to hove too and until it eases”
The wind had gone up past 7 and was now a full 8; then 9, a severe gale blowing from the south. George lashed himself to the wheel and Jack to the rigging. The rain was not falling it was travelling horizontally, stinging their faces. From the binnacle you could not see the front of the boat.
It’s a good job she’s a good boat. She’s built like a tank,” exclaimed Jack.
It was about four hours later that a small bird; a fiercest, no bigger than a wren came aboard out of the blue, went through the clipped back cabin door, and sat on the radio facing George, shitting all over it, and twittering continuously. He must have been blown out from the continent. He was much more frightened of the weather than George.
Darkness came and went. The little bird was still twittering, as he had been all the way across the North Sea. The wind was now easing slightly so they decided to make west for the English coast. It was still too rough to consult a chart, but there could only be England in their way.After about another hour’s sailing, the bird was suddenly up and away. They could not see a coast but the bird must have known it was there, for 10 minutes later the Lincolnshire coast appeared out of the haze. ‘Some lucky twitchers are going to have a great sighting to boast to their friends,’ thought George.
It was still too rough to consult the charts, but they knew if they followed the coast south, and watched the depth meter they would reach Dover.
Jack came back to the cabin and radioed the harbour master. “Are there any ferries coming out? We’re exhausted. We’ve been fighting this storm for 14 hours. Can we come straight in through the eastern, commercial entrance?”
George could hear a loud woman’s voice at the other end. “Nothing’s going out in this weather!”