British boater tells of dramatic escape from French harbour

Mark Leach was trapped for two days in St Vaast before attempting a dramatic escape

A British boater that was trapped in St Vaast Harbour in Normandy by the blockade by French fisherman has told MBM of his dramatic escape.

Mark Leach, 44, from Oxted in Surrey, entered the harbour in his Neptunian motorsailor on Saturday, but when he tried to leave on Monday, a rope spanning the harbour entrance was raised, barring his escape.

“They let you in, but wouldn’t let you out. The French could go out, but not the British,” Mark told MBM.

When he attempted to leave on Monday, Mark approached the rope and waited for it to be lowered. When it wasn’t, he tied his boat to it and waited for the harbourmaster to intervene.

But before he could, a French fishing boat came alongside Mark’s motorsailor and began pushing his boat into the harbour wall.

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“They squashed us,” Mark said. “They then lowered the barrier to let the fishing boat out, but when we tried to follow, the boat reversed and smashed into our bow.

“At the same time, someone lit a phosphorous flare and threw it at us. Luckily it missed the deck and went in the water. The fishing boat was also spraying us with hoses – they soaked us, the boat, everything.”

Fed up, Mark said he walked to the harbour entrance and cut the rope with a knife, falling into the harbour in the process.

“When I was in the water, they tried to throw chains at me and a fishing boat tried to mow me out of the way. The actually hit me with the bow of the fishing boat.”

The protesting fishermen then barred the harbour entrance with a chain.

“We were stuck. I phoned the British consul in Cherbourg and he did nothing. He didn’t come down, didn’t see us, did nothing. And the French police did nothing. We were just abandoned there really.”

Eventually the fishermen relented, and today opened the harbour entrance for half an hour at 12.20pm French time, Mark said.

“All the boats raced out – about 25 of us left, and then they raised it again. There are no real laws. The French fishermen do what they want.”

Photo: St Vaast Harbour in happier times



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