Mayday, Mayday, Mayday...this is the "Joker".

Spain or further?

My dream is to sail far out to sea. I have been sailing ever since I can remember. In 2012 I bought my first sailboat, a Defender 27 called Joker. A short time later, at the beginning of 2013, I planned to go on a big trip with my 8.10 m long boat. I wanted to go to Spain alone or even further, let's see where it takes me. On the boat I have my peace and quiet, my space, my time to live my life the way I want to.

So I set off from Holland in the direction of Belgium and France. On the way there, my lights suddenly stopped working at night. I didn't let that put me off and continued on my way. Near Zeebrugge, the jib halyard broke when the tide capsized and the foresail rushed into the sea. I took a break in Blankenberge to recover from the incident. Then it was on from Belgium to Calais, France. Shortly before entering the harbour, I noticed that two frost plugs on the engine had sprung a leak and the water was spraying into the boat, the bilge was full. I immediately stopped the engine, raised the sails and closed the valves. Unfortunately, the wind started to die, so I got stuck in front of the harbour entrance. Fortunately, a sailor came and towed me to the jetty. I stayed in Calais for a few days to repair everything, so I couldn't sail any further.

I met lots of people, was invited out and had great evenings. After I got my boat in shape and fixed all the leaks, the journey continued to Dover. I liked the place, I stayed 14 days to discover England by train. I went to London & Canterbury. Then I felt like sailing further. I went to Eastborne, but I had no idea in Dover that this could be a nightmare. I sailed until Beachy Head, then the wind died and fog came in. The engine started to sputter, when I opened the engine hatch, water was coming towards me again, I pumped the water out of the bilge every 5 minutes, the engine wouldn't start. Luckily I spotted a sailor who called the rescueguard for me. I was towed 20 minutes later and arrived at a place called Rye. I was taken to a pier where I was told that the "river" loses a little water at low tide, what they didn't tell me was that it goes completely dry. For the next 3 days I couldn't sleep for long, my boat kept touching down on the concrete ramp where I was lying and threatening to tip sideways. So much for having my "peace and quiet". Completely overtired but also with hope, I was then towed to the shipyard, where they looked at my engine, which had flooded, and repaired it. I was warmly welcomed by the English, everywhere they already knew me and addressed me by name. The shipyard gave me tea with milk and biscuits. The shipyard owner said: I would never leave Rye again. As days became weeks and then months. Due to the worsening weather and the poorly overhauled engine, I decided with a heavy heart not to sail any further towards Spain and to turn back.

The next day I left with the first high tide. On board was an Englishman I met in Rye and took to Dover. I made the mistake of relying on the weather forecast from the shipyard 3-4 Beaufort. At first the trip was pleasant, but that changed abruptly when I noticed that we were sailing into a storm, the gale-force winds were getting stronger and stronger. The Englishman became seasick below deck and I held the tiller in my hand against the wind and waves. Things got really serious when the waves came in from the other side due to the capsizing tide and started to crash over the stern. Due to the fairly low stern, every third wave hit the cockpit. I secured myself with a lifeline and raked myself to the railing to avoid being washed away from the boat. 2 nautical miles from the port of Dover, I asked the Englishman to announce us over the radio.

But the seasick Englishman only shouted: "Mayday-Mayday-Mayday." Completely insane!! I immediately snatched the radio out of his hand, I would have loved to shoot him one. However, in the midst of the effort, I couldn't care any more about the guy and had my hands full keeping the boat on course. My fellow sailor below deck, who was going crazy and managed to shout for the whole world over the radio. In my mind, I could already see the rescue helicopters coming towards us, which would now be on their way after the "Mayday call". What would the operation cost? My whole bank account would be drained just because of that damn radio call. But first Dover. Just get there. No matter what the cost. Even if I was ruined afterwards. But there they were again, those helicopter noises. They were getting closer and closer. Or were they flying past us? Did they hear us at all? In any case, there was nothing on the radio. Or do you send a rescue cruiser right away? Or even an extra one? Oh God, who is going to pay for that. Fortunately, the guy below deck finally gives up, is completely finished with the world. And I can now concentrate on steering. Soon it was done, Dover was in sight. At the entrance wall, I felt a bit queasy again, because the wind and waves pushed the boat dangerously close to the walls of the entrance. At least the engine was running. When I went to the harbour office, the harbour master first asked me how many days I'd been there and shook his head in disbelief when I told him I'd just arrived. He said I wasn't in my right mind to be sailing in such weather with such a small boat. The Englishman I had taken along made a remark in passing in Dover that he would never set foot on a boat again. I spared myself any comment and was glad that his distress call apparently fizzled out; probably in his panic he had not pressed the talk button on the radio...

In Dover, a friend from Germany visited me. We sailed back to the mainland after a few days. From Calais we went to Belgium and towards Germany to my home port in Düsseldorf.

Conclusion: In the end, I have to say that it was a long, beautiful, adventurous trip full of experiences, and despite all the mishaps, I had no regrets and got the boat back on the water as quickly as possible. A thorough overhaul took place later; in 2014 I installed a new and more powerful engine. I repaired a few things and spent a carefree season in Holland.

My dream of crossing the Atlantic one day remains. 🙂

Yours, Hendrik



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  1. Thomas Kersten April 25, 2023 at 12:51

    Fortunately, the sailing trip turned out well. You kept your nerve and of course you know how to sail and what to do in these situations. Nice experience report. When you read it, you know it was like that....


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