Confession: Seeing red (diesel) on a Channel crossing

In this month’s Confession, we hear how a routine job almost ended up with disastrous consequences on a Channel crossing

Crossing the Channel is relatively easy: First fill your tanks with red

diesel, half fill the water tank, stock the fridge and that’s about it. When

ready, consult enough weather forecasts until you find one you like.

Navigation is pretty straightforward, too: France is due south from

Chichester and St Vaast a smidgen to the left.

The tricky bit can be timing the entrance to this harbour, which is

gated and the French don’t believe in GMT or BST, of course.

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Instead you calculate the passage time and remember to translate the

hours to UTC and FST before allowing for the tidal coefficient. Missing the

gate can mean a long wait at anchor.

The passage is thrilling and, for me, there is no feeling quite like

that of being in the open sea out of sight of land.

On a good day the Isle of Wight is visible from about mid Channel but

the French coast always seems to come into view much later than expected.

As we enter French waters, it has become a tradition to hoist the

courtesy flag and sing as much of La Marseillaise as can be remembered: “Allons

enfants de la Patrie…”

It appears to be something of a truism that few wives like boating. Mine

actively dislikes everything about it.

I am sure it is partly the motion thing but also the fact that her

bedroom at home or a hotel room is a lot more spacious and comfortable, and

then there’s the bathroom.

I happen to think my boat is very comfortable, an Aquastar 33 with two

of everything – two cabins and heads, outside and inside helm positions and a

wheelhouse in the middle with lots of teak joinery and plush seats.

Anyway, it was decided that on longer passages an old friend and I would

cruise together, my wife joining us at the destination.

A few years ago, we duly set off as dawn broke and were afforded a

wonderfully cheering display as the sun rose over Chichester.

We enjoyed one of the rare really smooth crossings to St Vaast and spent

several sunny days based in that delightful port.

It is true that if you wait there long enough you are bound to come

across someone you know and I have proved it.

Contemplating our return I looked at the fuel gauges and although the

weather and sea state looked favourable, I decided to put a few litres of

expensive euro diesel into each tank, just to be on the safe side.

So before returning home I stopped at the fuel berth and put 50 litres

in the starboard tank.

My pal took the hose to do the same in the port tank as I strolled to

the capitainerie ready to pay when he had finished.

It was only after an hour into our return passage that I noticed the

fuel gauge on the port tank was a lot lower than the other and before much

longer the needle was at the red zone.

I was puzzled but in a smooth sea let the port engine idle and continued

on one engine, only using both engines in a confused sea near home.

And that was that. Several weeks later, however as I was washing up in

the galley, the tap water turned pink and shortly afterwards the marina manager

came running to say I was filling Chichester Harbour with fuel.

It then dawned on me that my crewmate, who had a talent for being

unlucky, may have inadvertently put 50 litres of diesel into the water tank.

The harbour authorities took no action as my pollution wasn’t

intentional but it has taken years to cleanse the domestic system and I still

occasionally sense a whiff of diesel in my tea.

Suffice to say the water tank filler cap now has a bright coloured sticker

as a reminder of what goes where.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


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