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Old 15 July 2001, 12:30   #31
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Good reading.

Would be interested to learn of the boat/ equipement spec for some of the crews, or better still a site for pictures.

Particularly keen to see how you managed to get so much stuff/fuel on board.

Chris h

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Old 15 July 2001, 16:59   #32
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HI Nick and Chris, thanks for joining.

Will post some picks up when we get them back.

The popint about gear is a good one - I'll do a wrap up at the end when we can have a good look at how we coped with it all on TS - there are yet more valuable lessons from the gear stowage point of view! It's funny, I thought I was quite well organised until we tried this one!!

Still, we're on our way north....


Day Three
IOM – Kyle of Lochalsh, Skye (via Hell!)
Distance approximately 230 miles

Refuelling was scheduled for 8am, with a bowser organised for the quay. There was quite a bit of activity by the time the bowser was ready, which bode well for an early start. Team Ribex was on a trailer on the slip with ‘Eddie’ the local mariner dealer doing a demonstration of impromptu servicing. Other boats were ‘cyling’ through the refuelling process. Time dragged. I wondered off to find a shop open (not easy on the IOM on a Sunday) and stocked our chocolate store for the long run north.

Eventually, all the crews were sorted and Jan could issue the morning brief. Basically the same as yesterday, we would run with Team Ribex, Gemini being paired with Grey Seal, with Yes Dear in support of the flotilla. It was rumoured that Black Max had made it to Pwllheli in North Wales and that Spirit with Cyanide were back in the running from Milford with a new engine fitted.

Our little flotilla of four plus one, slipped the ropes at about 11 am (late again!) and turned to run up the west side of the IOM. There were several Ribs in support, with a couple having come over from Ireland the day before. A great effort and much appreciated – sorry that I don’t know their identity to share with you here. The sea was approaching calm, which was a tremendous luxuary after the last two days. The spray rails were swishing rather than crashing and the sun was out.

The augmented flotilla blazed north at about 20 knots with Gemini navigating. After about an hour, the supporters peeled of and the old team settled to the day’s work. Boring sea, no land to look at, just sit there, think, plan and wait for something to go wrong!

The easy conditions gave the film crew a chance to get around the fleet and do their stuff. My navigator, Russell jumped on yes dear for a while to have a fag and a chat – a manoeuvre we were able to perform at 20+ knots thanks to the training I had received from DMP on their Lowestoft course. It was good to practice the high speed interaction with the big Ribtec in moderate conditions, to ensure that all were OK with the procedure before we might need to do it in nastier water – besides it looked good for the film crew!

Team Ribex had problems with their engine mounts on the mariner – no doubt caused by the punishment of the first two days, Grey Seal had problems with her trim and so the pace was kept moderate. Phone discussions were progressing to organise support for Kyle that night to sort the boats “Just get a top mariner engineer to the pontoon and they can do the work overnight” was overheard – we wondered at the pull needed to achieve that for a Sunday night - but give HMS his due, they got it sorted.

The weather slowly deteriorated as we headed north – we had been warned that the Mull of Kentyre (spelling?) was ‘the worst bit o water in the UK’ – a claim we were to hear many times for many places over the next few days! She did indeed look moody, and I’m sure she can be a bitch, but today she just boiled gently to let us know as we slipped by in calmish seas and deteriorating visibility.

We headed north into the Sound of Jura and things started to stiffen up a bit. The seas were starting to rise, the visibility was now down to less than a mile and there was drizzle – must be Scotland! There was a bit of trouble finding the entrance to the Sound of Islay and by this stage we were back to fairly regular stops for engine problems with the two Ribcraft. Just before the entrance to the sound, Grey Seal run over a lobster pot and snarled the prop. The fleet hove to and what was to prove one of the funniest moments of the trip ensued.

Steve Harvey and Andy Haffenden from Team Ribex sorted the problem. They tried desperately to cut the ropes without going in the water, clambering all over Grey seal with knives clutched in teeth like pirates. The fleet circled with a mixture of interest and frustration while progress continued. Cassy, who was helming Team Ribex at the time of the incident, swiftly moved the Ribcraft in to help, just as Steve stood up on the rear sponson of Grey seal after yet another overbalancing act. She nudged the side of GS and Steve was all but in the drink – a timely hand to the A frame saved him, there was an exchange of glances and some micky taking starting, when the stern wave from TR caught the two bots and in he went!! Russell, who was back on Yes Dear, for yet another fag, commented to the camera crew, who had missed the incident!! That it would have been worth £250 to them on you’ve been framed – the most they were likely to make from the whole endeavour! There were smiles and laughter all round and just what we all needed. Now committed, the lads quickly dealt with the snarled prop in an efficient manner – well done, their dry suit sponsors would be proud!

The fleet set off again and Tom very nearly repeated the same incident on the next pot in his path!. It was a light hearted moment, but a serious situation really and was a further harbinger for me about the state the crews were getting into.

In the growing gloom slipped between Islay and Jura and gathered as a fleet. Nav was now becoming more important, as was station keeping. The crews were getting tired after the long and boring day – it must have been about 7.30pm by now and there was still a long, long way to go. We firmed up the plan to stop at the Puffin Dive Centre just outside Oban to refuel. We had set up our land support for a visit to Oban anyway, and I was in doubt about the push on the Kyle given the hour and the state of the crews and weather. A conflab with Jan, and it was agreed to make the call at the PDC. A call was made (incredible that a mobile worked out there!) to release Rob to head for Skye, and to make arrangements with PDC to stay open late for us.

We set off again, the seas were now more serious, a following sea of 2m had developed in the evening gloom as we run up the Firth of Lorne. Further stops for TR and / or GS bought the pace down to a dreadfully slow 12 – 15 knts.

We crept into Puffin just as it was getting dark (10ish I think) and the long process of fuelling commenced. GS had a problem with her steering which Jan sorted I think. It seemed to take for ever to fuel the boats and Jan pulled a stroke of Genius, by arranging fish and chips to be delivered by taxi.

It was now late (11ish), raining, dark with a building SW wind. Decision time. Well there wasn’t really much of a decision anyway, TB and GS were dead set on pressing on – they had mechanics waiting at Kyle “ to start work first thing in the morning” Jan quickly squashed that, insisting that the work was done overnight, so as not to hold the fleet up – a phone call got the poor lads back out of the pub for the long wait!

I must admit, I was not in favour – the crews were evidently tired, it was cold and wet, we had boats with problems that had plagued progress all day. It was a 4 plus hours to Skye and we had a nasty headland at Ardnamurchan to pass. On to of that we had two minors with the fleet – 12 year old Tom and 15yr George – oh yes, more of him in a second!

To mitigate this view, we were chasing a bad forecast to get round the top of Scotland before the weather got there, we had mechanics and accommodation sorted for Kyle and we had a fair degree of support in the shape of Yes Dear. The flotilla wanted to go, so I agreed – though my professional judgement as an outdoor instructor said it was a bad call. I would rather have stopped the night and gone early, the mechanics were only three hours by road away – it would take us longer than that top get to Skye. Jan thought it would go, so I agreed to it – I’m still not sure it was the right call and a bit weak of me, not to argue for safety - a sign of the state we were all in perhaps.

The plan was simple – Gemini would lead and nav, the rest of the fleet would follow line astern with Yes Dear brining up the rear and doing back up navigation. Russell jumped on the Ribtec to work the nav – he had a similar system on our boat. This left me alone on Tigershark and was an error of judgement – he was obviously keen to help after the boring and frustrating day. But it left me alone with no relief and no back up if we had to deal with anything.

Oh yes, back to George!!. We had just finished fuelling at Puffin and were eating the chips when we saw a set of nav lights go by at 25knts – we couldn’t be sure, but we thought it the Humber, Black Max. A quick radio call produced nothing, but then Toby like a man possessed, leapt into the Gemini and roared off into the night. He returned 5 minutes later with Black Max on his stern – a good effort by him, or she would no doubt have been alone in Oban for the night. Mark Beeley and George Harvey had make the passage solo from North Wales in one hop – a marvellous achievement, we clapped them in, the crew of Tigershark, particularly pleased to see them after their help on the first day.

OK back to the story. We set off, rounded the island off Oban and struck out in very low visibility and constant drizzle for the entrance to the Sound of Mull. Within 5 minutes a call came over on the radio saying one of the boats was down. I was about two boats back from the front, but TS had really good comms and I knew that the radio on Gemini was playing up. She was running on into the gloom and we had the very real danger of splitting the fleet before we had got going. I opened the throttle, raced to catch them and hauled them up. This was going to need some concentration if we weren’t to end up all over the west coast and the papers!

The fleet got going again and I slid in behind Gemini, knowing I had good comms and the power to chase her down if need be. What I didn’t have was another pair of eyes to keep watch on the trail of boats to my rear. Several of the boats had nav lights down, so it was quite hard to distinguish particular craft from the trail of fairy lights weaving way behind me. What was worst though, was Gemini’s own lights – no white steaming light! All I had to follow in the heavy drizzle was a slight glow reflected on the tubes from her lateral lights and an occasional glimpse of her navigation screen. My best chance was to stay within her wash line where the stern wave was breaking – this was perilously close and it became hellish trying to hold station and judge speed through the visor of my helmet – squinting through pebble dashed eyes was no better – this was going to be a long run.

We made good progress with very little upset all the way along the sound and round Ardnamurchan through a lolling swell, that was quite hard to judge with no definition in the dark. The long run up the Sound of Sleat continued with several near misses as boats nearly run over me or I over Gemini!!. She had a mad five minutes while they tried to rig the steering compass when the entire flotilla was weaving away like a gaggle of ducklings following their father home from a good night at the pub!

We made it though, all the fleet running into Kyle at about 3 am together. A magnificent effort of steady seamanship in very demanding circumstances. At one point, I’m sure I nodded of at the helm! No sooner were we in, then GS and TR were being halled from the water and the tingle of spanners and swearing danced on the light evening breeze – I d’dn’t give a f**k though, I was off to bed!


Opinion
The punishing pace from the first two days was really telling on the fleet by day three. The mechanical problems, combined with crew fatigue were starting to stack avoidable incidents and near misses in our way. We were making things worse for ourselves by the consistently late starts each morning – something was going to give and give soon. Black Max, typified the effort being made by half the entrants to catch up. Solo passage making of dangerous length and risk taking was pushing the trailing teams, who were caught in a spiral set off by the nature of the first leg. Engine mounts and trim problems were the obvious weak points on all the engines and failures were coming thick and fast. It was only the support of manufacturers and local dealers that were keeping many of the boats in the game. As a fully independent, we were feeling very vulnerable – a mechanical failure and we were on a trailer home with absolutely no reserves. That night in Kyle, I thought the event hang on a knife edge. With GS and TR fully repaired, the pressure would be back on top beat north before the weather would close us down. Team Spirit, Bangor Challenger and Team Aldiss were all well up against it – it was hard enough staying with the pack, let alone trying to close ground.

Looking back, I still think it was the wrong call to run on from Oban. I am a little concerned that I got caught up in it all. We were very fortunate to get the fleet through without further mishap. But as I have said elsewhere – it’s a fine line…. I did resolve to myself though, that I had to start reasserting my own discipline and leadership – getting bowled along with marginal calls is not my style and I felt I did not exercise due influence on the debate or decision at puffin. Still we were in Scotland – at least the GPS said we were, not having seen any of it yet, it was hard to be sure. Tomorrow, Cape Wrath, if we get out of bed and get away before lunch!

Tigershark and I had been to Kyle twice before, both times we had suffered a breakdown, would tomorrow be our Waterloo?……




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Old 16 July 2001, 06:31   #33
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OK.....*well done* to them all.

Anyone know what the fuel bill was???

D
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Old 16 July 2001, 09:29   #34
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This stuff from Tigershark is brilliant and gripping. Next installment soon PLEASE.
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Old 16 July 2001, 14:19   #35
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Brian, I see you are getting the hang of the "one armed" typing then!!
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Old 16 July 2001, 14:42   #36
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To second Brian's comments, More please Vernon!

I'll give the Team Spirit story when you've finished so as not to break to flow of your narrative.

Only thing I will add at this juncture is that you left Port St Mary at 11.00AM and we arrived at 4pm the same day so at that point we were 5 hrs behind!

Alan (Cyanide).
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Old 17 July 2001, 16:22   #37
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Hi, this is Alan from the Nisoft Bangor Challenger. I'm just typing up our story of the event and will post it after the Cyanide one.
I have to agree with you, Vern, about allowing myself to be "bowled along" as there were a couple of times when my own personal call would have been different to the collective's. BUT we finished, not bad for two 50 year olds in a 15 foot boat. Next time give me >5.5 metres and/or <120 miles per day!
P.S. how do I post photos?
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Old 17 July 2001, 20:51   #38
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Don't stop now!!! I can imagine being there...my feet are starting to ache...
One question...why the late starts?
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Old 18 July 2001, 13:47   #39
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Have been away on business for a couple of days - will try and get the next instalment up later tonight

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Old 18 July 2001, 18:25   #40
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Day Four
Skye – Scrabster
160 miles (ish)

We were in the beds at our B&B just long enough to get the sheets warm!

The crews gathered on the pontoon at Kyle for the 9.00am RV that was agreed. We arrived to find both Grey Seal and Team Ribex sitting on the floor in the car park of the local hotel! Black Max was on the slip on it’s trailer with the normal daily checks being carried out. They took BM out most nights and went all over the boat, checking and prepping it for the next day. Mark and George benefited from having a very large Willie (ha ha) as their support driver. We soon coined the fraze “everyone need a Willie!” as he was totally reliable and could get a trailer in and out of places most people would struggle to get a shopping trolly.

I chatted with them as the three of them swarmed over the boat with spanners and other bits and bobs – I remember watching them check the engine bolts and thinking to myself , we must do that tonight. George was very competent. He was a superb helm in all sea conditions, obviously with loads of stamina and would volunteer and muck in – a real credit to his father and definitely one to watch for the fututre.

Once BM was prepped and launched the trailer was free to recover GS and TR from the car park. Teams were still fueling and generally sorting out as 9am slipped past 10am and moved relentlessly towards the normal 11 am yet again! Perhaps fair enough on this occasion as we all arrived at 3 in the morning, but frustrating yet again. There were mutterings a starting as some of the crews were consistently ready on time and the late starts were pressurising the event and potentially jeopardising our chances.

It was impressive that they had managed to organise mechanical support at Kyle for three ion the morning, it was even more impressive that the engineers has replaced the engine mounts on Team Ribex and repaired the trim and tilt on Grey Seal (at least I think that is what they did). Russ and I laughed the laugh of nervousness, knowing that any failure we could not repair for ourselves would almost certainly finish our run for us.

It was good to see the fleet growing again, and we all had a sense of expectation as the fleet put to see late morning. The run up the west coast towards Cape Wrath, saw the fleet doing 15-20knts through a substantial following sea. The weather was clear, we at last had something to look at – what a view the west coast is.

All appeared to be going well, and I was starting to relax about my ‘history’ with Kyle. It’s interesting to comment on the differing driving style s of the crews. Some, would open the throttle to set the desired speed and more or less just sit and ride it out, while others, myself included, tended towards a more active style. Constant throttle work to keep the nose level and the prop in the water, combined with steering adjustment, to drive the boat around the troughs and peaks in the seas. Admittedly, this was easier to do, without the added pressure of trying to hold a bearing on a long transit. I comment, because, it seems to me that when you are sitting (I use the phrase loosely!) on a rib in substantial seas, it appears that everyone else’s boat is coping better with the conditions, then your own! Several people had already remarked how well Tigershark appeared to be riding the seas, we however, thought it to be like riding in a landrover with square wheels over a giant piece of corrugated iron!

We certainly paid a lot of attention to doing all we could by way of loading and driving to minimise the fatigue and stressing on both the crew and boat. So our driving style was a bit more active then some. Funny, though, it didn’t seem to make that much difference to our pace against the other boats until the seas became more challenging. I was genuinely surprised and impressed by the speeds that the five meter boats were making with only 50 horses to push them on.

The boats that appeared to ride the seas well were definitely the Gemini, which appeared stable, but wet and was definitely underpowered, even with her 60hp mariner. Black Max, a Humber attack (I think) was a very good sea hull and a fast boat, she did however pick up quite a bit of damage to fittings etc with Willie making a couple of runs to Hull. The two ribcraft had suffered engine problems, but apart from a seat failure on TR they hulls appeared to be very solid, with both boats looking very lively in the seas. Bangor Challenegr – also a Humber, though I don’t know which model looked steady as well – she also was the only small boat with side by side seating for the crew, which looked to be more sociable, but crampt. I have no idea how the other boats performed as I can’t recall running close to them in anything other than reasonable seas, but Team Spirit (who’s hull I cant remember) didn’t appear to have any failures with the boat other than engine and nav pole.

Anyway, here we were blasting through a following sea up to Cape Wrath, being very active with the helming of Tigershark, when Russ taps me on the shoulder and says the phrase that I had been waiting days to hear “ You had better stop and have a quick look at this…” I hove too, with an immediate evaluation of towing options etc from our remote position, before I even knew what the issue was. After the lessons on day one, immediate priority was to make sure that someone else knew we had stopped to look at a problem, before the three minutes it would take for the fleet to lose us had elapsed. This done, Russ directed my attention to the engine – oh no!

The top bolts holding the engine to our wonderful support bracket, were dangerously loose, with the whole rig flexing by at least 15mm! Why the f**k didn’t I check them this morning when I saw Black Max do it? – I had made the mental note to do so and I certainly had lots of time to do it!! – fool. We carried quite a comprehensive tool kit on the boat, but I knew I only had one spanner that would fit, and I would need two to tighten the bolts back up, that if I didn’t drop one to the bottom while trying! Yes dear lolled over with mixed blessing – they are merciless in taking the Mickey – I dodn’t know where this culture develop from? They and the film crew with them, who just live for moments like these! But they did have spanner – the most useful of all fittings on a Ribtec. Not only does he know a thing or two about engines, but he had more tools with him then a snap on salesman. After much banter and offering of expensive salvage deals, spanner found the spanners and we tightened the bolts back up. Crisis over, but a most valuable lesson learned again! But for Russell’s diligence in noticing the engine flex we could easily have lost the whole thing off the back of the boat at any moment! Needles to say, I spent the next couple of hours going over all our maintenance and prep routines to revamp them – a close shave.

At the morning brief – Jan had proposed the plan that the fleet would run up to Cape Wrath, stop just short, then if conditions looked iffy – the Gemini and Tigershark would pair up and take up station off the headland, while pairs of boats came through. The thinking being that if a boat had problems, we had the power, space and rig to either recover the crew or assist in holding the boat off until the big ribtec could be brought up on station to effect a proper recovery. Once the fleet was safely round, the ribtec would come through bringing up the rear.

We slung our towing rig ready for deployment. The whole rig lives in a bag which is cable tied to the double A frame, so it can be found and deployed quickly even if the boat is swamped. The basic towing kit is a 30m length of rope, a sling, which is clipped to the two towing eyes on the transom – one each side of the engine. This gives a bridle to attach the towing rope to that keep it clear of the back of the engine. The towing rope is then clipped round this bridle so that it floats fee and can run either way along the sling to find it’s own position. We then feed the end of the towing rope through ether a loop or an eye on the boat to be towed and then bring the end back onto our boat. The navigator, then takes a turn round the engine support bracket with the rope end and holds it. The towing rope is not tied to the boat being towed, nor is it tied to ours. To escape all the crew has to do is drop the rope and we can drive clear of the other boat and recover the line. The crew also has a knife on then in case of any snagging. This system works really well. For Cape Wrath, we rigged it all up and just clipped the sling to the top of our A frame – if we needed to deploy, we could rig a boat to be towed in a matter of seconds.

As it happens, Cape Wrath was in a good mood, if a little lumpy, so the corner was turned with no incident. All that remained was a 40 mile beat across the top to Scrabster, the hour was good, the seas were lumpy and following, so the boats set off and were soon scattered all over the place.

We made a tactical error, by running too far off shore and took a bit of a beating in the larger seas. At one point, I leaned forward to Russ and asked him to be easy on the bow as we were hitting waves a little hard for my liking, he came back with a score of five on to me for today by his reckoning – two minutes later he drove Tigershark into the bottom of one of those holes that just suddenly appear (like lobster pots I guess!) and the next thing I saw was green water coming at me over the top of Russell’s head! As he is over six feet tall and was standing at the time, I had just long enough to think – this is going to be a bad one!

Bless the old girl, she bobbed straight back up, spewing water over the top of the tubes and settled in the sea, full to the brim. At the same time I yelled to Russ, to keep the revs up and make way. The engine was still running, I wanted to keep it that way and maintain some steerage while we let the bailers do their work. Russ responded as well as the boat and she quickly emptied. Its an experience I have had a couple of times now, but it’s always unsettling, because it’s dramatic, it always happens when conditions are serious (by definition, they must be to find a hole that will take the boat) and it takes good awareness and discipline from the crew to recover the boat without stopping dead in the water. We had passed the test on this occasion, but I think Russ was a little shaken (it was his first time in the green room and quite a wild place to try it out!)

We decided to run inshore after that and the rest of the run up to Scrabster was more or less uneventful. We reached the friendly little fishing port at a reasonable hour with Black Max the only boat in ahead of us.

We got the boat fueled and sorted with the new improved, fully detailed daily check of absolutely everything at least twice with bells on!! Everything was sorted and stowed by 7pm, all the boats were in.

The hour was reasonable, we were all jolly to have turned the corner and it was time to go on the piss! Things were looking up at last!

A table was booked for the restaurant by the quay and crews went off to get changed – actually most of us went to the bar. It was time to be social and things were shaping up for a good night.

The crews from Grey Seal, Team Ribex and Black Max were staying up the top of the hill at Thurso and didn’t make it back for the evening do. However, the rest of us, set too to sort the world out, if you know what I mean. Bangor Challenger, Yes Dear, Team Gemini and Tigershark were all in the bar and muttering of late starts and delays soon became the topic of conversation. I wouldn’t say that the crews were revolting (well actually…..), but there was determination to sort the start times out. There was also much discussion about the run down the East coast, the proposed use of the lay up day and the tactics to be deployed. One proposal from Jan that was gathering support was to split the proposed 230miler from Berwick to Wells with a stop over in Whitby and use up the rest day that way. This would ease the pressure and give the boats chasing a chance to close the main fleet. A discussion point for the next morning when all the crews were present. Business out of the way, we got on with some drinking, despite the protests from Bangor Challenger, who didn’t like the idea of beer at all!!?! – if only.

Opinion
We had all had a good day and needed the shorter leg to recover. Spirits were lifted by turning the corner and the prospect of running south. However the event was starting to feel like it was splitting into two camps. Some crews were becoming frustrated by the late starts and it didn’t help that the crews were billeted in different places at Scrabster – it’s a shame we didn’t all make it to the meal that night.

Jan had asserted himself well as the leader but Hugo was due to rejoin the fleet tomorrow at Berwick – that would be an interesting dynamic. We were aware that Steve and Jo were briefing Hugo by phone and representing his views back at the morning briefing – entire right. Hugo was keen for the fleet to run onto Wells, chiefly because there was a large reception planned and they were expecting us. This had the potential to cause some tension within the fleet unless it was handled well. Yet again, tomorrow would be an interesting day.


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