Sailing (and Surviving) the English Channel
A retired British couple that set out on an improbable journey in a tiny canal boat with their whippet, Jim, share their tale.
Terry Darlington's offbeat memoir, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne, recounts how he and his wife Monica sailed from Stone, England—along the Thames, the canals beneath Paris, the Saône and the Rhône—to southern France.
Read an excerpt from Chapter 5: Mindful of Honour: Calais to Armentières below, and check out a slide show of photos from their voyage.
A man who has just sailed the Channel in an inland boat against informed advice does not need to assert his dignity. I felt Olympian. The pontoon was working against the harbour wall and a fat man in a white T-shirt was jumping up and down, and a thin man with a Zapata moustache was treading his feet like a heron. Both were over six feet tall.
The fat one raged—You know what you have done, English, you cannot hide. Monsieur, I said, please explain. The heron came up close and shouted pungently—You lie, English, you lie, you are perfidious—our dinghy was here and now you are here and you have stolen our dinghy. He drew his arms back like a disco dancer, moving from one foot to the other, preparing to knock me down.
What nationality are you, messieurs? I asked. Belgian, they said. Have you been drinking? I asked. We had dinner with our friends on shore and you have stolen our dinghy and we cannot get back to our boat, they shouted. Now listen, messieurs, I said. I am English. In fact I am an English gentleman. English gentlemen don't tell lies. I looked straight at the fat one—I am telling you that I know nothing of your dinghy, and wish only to help you in your misfortune. He looked back—My God, you are telling the truth. Now let's go on board and have a whisky, I said.
We got on board and Monica got out the whisky and I went through to the engine-room with the fat one and started the engine and cast off and switched on the big brass tunnel light. The dinghy was drifting along the wall on the other side of the basin. We sailed across and soon the huge Belgians fell into their boat and paddled away into the darkness.
Did you have a chat with the heron? I asked Monica. Yes, she said—he told me it was very good whisky and it was a privilege to meet us. He said he had disgraced his country and his family and himself and he loved our Queen and fancied the Duchess of York, and then he started to cry. He didn't finish the whisky but said he would return. We left the half-glass on the kennel for a couple of days and then I drank it