Author Archives: Rich Boakes

French Hurricane 1999

Exactly ten years ago…..

We knew a storm was in the offing. We were living aboard ‘Bolero’ a Moody 376 sailing yacht, in the marina at Les Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France

But our minds were full of two other things as we approached the “New Millenium”.
One was the much advertised ‘Millenium Bug’ which was possibly going to return all clocks to zero, and render unusable all the navigation instruments on which we had come to rely…… The other was the ‘Mare Noire’ (Black sea). A few days earlier, the oil tanker ‘Erika’ had sunk of the west coast of France, spewing oil into the sea and onto the coastline. We had volunteered for duty searching the rocky shore for oil-damaged birds, equipped with huge gauntlets and cardboard animal carriers, and our trusty Brompton bikes.

Now, as the wind began to strengthen, as a precaution, we doubled up all the shorelines on the boat. The wind was getting up and there was an air of worried anticipation everywhere.

We took a walk to the end of the pier…or as far as we could get …..mountainous seas were breaking over the famous wall, from alongside which the sailors in the Vendee Globe Solo Circumnavigation Races, leave and return.

The impending storm took over as the prime the topic of conversation…. but our coffee break in a favourite bar was spoiled by an electricity cut….. We returned to the boat for an early meal…. ‘In case it gets too difficult to cook later on’

At seven pm, as we were finishing the washing up, there was a crash and the boat heeled hard to port.

Donning wet gear, we dashed on deck to find that we, and several hundred other boats were being flattened by the strongest wind that we had ever experiended, either at sea or in port. The port rails were in danger of being trapped under the pontoon… the likely consequence being holing the hull and then sinking.

For two hours, I was on the deck and Dave on the pontoon, both trying to get fenders in place to protect the hull. My shouts of ‘Mind your hands’…. became … ‘mind your arms’… then ‘mind your legs’ … as the wind and waves got bigger and stronger.

Then at nine pm, came another even louder crack. Looking up, I saw that all the boats on the opposite side of the pontoon (none of them occupied) were drifting away towards to sea, along with their sturdy pontoons.

Dashing below, I called the ‘Capitanerie’ on the radio, to report this latest calamity. (It had not ocurred to us to call for help for ourselves and our own boat)

Within minutes the heaving pontoon was swarming with strong young men. They tried in vain to rescue the drifting boats and gave up, and turned their attention to us and our predicament. What a relief!

Extra long lines and chains were brought to secure our boat and the pontoon to the shore. But then as bits of masts and radars started flying around, M. Jean Archambaud, the Port Captain, declared the marina a ‘No Go Area’ and we were taken ashore by strong hands, leaving our beloved home to the mercy of the storm.

Only two boats were occupied that night… the couple on the other one quickly left to stay with friends and we were offered a bed aboard the lifeboat alongside the sea wall. We politely refused as we thought it likely that it might be called out… but we were given bedding from it and put into ‘the clubhouse’ for safety. (Indeed, there was a ‘shout’ at midnight and the lifeboat was out all night)

Our refuge was a glass walled octagonal building. We spent eight cold wet terrifying hours in it, watching chimneys, trees, TV aerials etc etc, flying by…. then at daybreak, with the wind now down to just a gale force eight…. we dared to creep outside and go to see how ‘Bolero’ had fared.

Amazingly, she was afloat, with only one broken stanchion to show for her night of horror. We had really feared to worst, and had expected to see mooring lines leading down to her watery grave!

Elsewhere was total devastation

Dozens of large yachts and their accompanying pontoons had been washed away… mostly landing in untidy heaps on the other side of the marina, where the Vendee Globe yachts line up so proudly every four years before their circumnavigations.

Most of the boats lined up on the hardstanding were flattened, telephone lines were all down. Trees were uprooted. Chimneys and roofs were gone. Boats were sunk. Cars were overturned.

Once the storm had abated, we became aware of just how fortunate we had been. The strongest wind of the storm had been recorded just south of us at Oleron. At nearby La Rochelle, pontoons and boats were washed ashore where they demolished the marina headquarters, with great loss of life.

In the aftermath, we were the fortunate ones. On land, there were no telephones, electricity or water supplies for days… but we were self sufficient. We had solar power, a wind generator, a diesel generator, full water tanks and a boat full of food. And a mobile phone charged from an inverter.

We were happy to try to repay our saviours from the storm, as they endeavoured to sort out their broken marina, by providing cups of coffee and snacks all day.

By December 28th, the folk were getting their acts together, fallen trees were sawn up and roads were cleared. People were on the move again. We had many visits from local people, offering accommodation, washing facilities, drying rooms, meals, etc etc.

The best invite of all was from former neighbours in the marina the previous summer…. they asked us to join them for their fabulous millenium meal…. Twenty people at table for a feast that lasted 48 hours!

Ten years on… and it all seems like yesterday!

Injured greyhounds on the run

Yesterday saw the last ever greyhound race meeting at the Swansea Greyhound Stadium.

Fears had been expressed about the welfare of some of the greyhounds whose owners might not wish to continue to care for them.

All the animal welfare charities agreed to combine forces to ensure that temporary shelter could be found for any animal who needed it, and after the last race, there were people at the stadium ready with mobile kennels to take any unwanted animals to a safe place.

Many animals were saved.

Sadly though, two greyhounds were turfed out by their owner to fend for themselves in the very cold night air, and the busy streets of Swansea.

Many volunteers from various animal charities have spent hours today, searchimg streets and fields looking for these two poor greyhounds. We know that they have both already been hit by cars and are injured. This could lead them to try to shelter somewhere… as dogs do….and the first frost of the winter is forecast here for tonight…. but they need veterinary attention as soon as possible!

Our best hope is that some kind people have taken them in to care for them….
If you know of their whereabouts, PLEASE contact
http://www.greyhoundrescuewales.co.uk/og2009/og2009.htm
and they will ensure that the dogs get the medical help that they urgently need

Please share this and help us to try to find these poor innocent animals.

Diane Levy has lost her Boxer Dog….from Malaga!

The following article appeared in this week’s “Costa Blanca News”. If anyone knows a Diane Levy, possibly in Malaga, but also possibly now in the UK, please draw her attention to this………

‘Angel’ falls off a lorry
Málaga dog found in Somerset is being nursed back to health

By Dave Jamieson

It’s not everyday that a dog falls off the back of a lorry, but that is just what is thought to have happened in the case of a Spanish dog found in the south-west of England. Since Angel was found straying in Somerset, the local county council’s Animal Health and Welfare Team have been working with local organisations to help get the dog back to full health.

Angel, a pedigree boxer, was handed in to the RSPCA after being found in a car park in Taunton. She was found to have a microchip linking her to an address in Málaga, more than 1,300 miles (2,100 km) away from Somerset. She was registered in Spain 10 years ago but attempts to contact her previous owner, named on the microchip as Diane Levy, have proved unsuccessful and it is suspected that the dog entered the UK illegally on the back of a lorry.

The county council has a duty to make sure any animals suspected of coming into Somerset in breach of current UK rabies laws are either placed in quarantine, deported or destroyed, but luckily for Angel, the South Western Boxer Club volunteered to take responsibility for her and support her six months in quarantine.

Club secretary Glenda Tibbots, said, “When she came to us she was very thin and had black patches on her side with no hair there. She has had an operation to remove a big lump on her eye and is putting on weight. She is an absolutely super dog and needs a one-to-one home, so at the end of the six months we will try to find a new home for her.”

If anyone recognises Angel or can shed light on how she travelled from Málaga to Somerset, please contact Glenda on 0044 1278 785 071.

The rain in Spain.

I have to admit it…. we are in the throes of another wet and windy summer here in Wales. People coming here on holiday have complained about the wetness… understandably. But why do we always put ourselves down?

When I lived in Switzerland, it was not unheard of for the first snows of the winter to leave people caught out and stranded with total chaos for a day or two…just like here….. but there it was accepted as normal…

When I lived in Spain and Portugal, Autumn downpours regularly caused enormous floods (no adequate drainage) and long power cuts….. everybody accepted it.

As we start yet another drizzly weekend in August, I was amused to read the following in ‘The Costa Blanca News’, an English Language local paper about the rain in Spain this week, and the accompanying chaos:

“BENIDORM town centre was brought to a standstill on Monday as a combination of bad weather and an influx of thousands of vehicles saturated the town’s access roads.

The unexpected rain meant many people from other parts of the province opted for a day out in Benidorm leading to a massive overload of vehicles coming into the town.

This led to parking problems in just about every part of the town, forcing many drivers to drive around in circles looking for a space.

Ongoing work on pedestrianising some town centre streets has taken away hundreds of parking places and all of the underground car parks showed they were full for most of the day.

In Dénia continuing roadworks and breakdowns in the water supply network saw thousands of motorists caught in traffic chaos also on Monday.

A combination of road closures, excavation work, rain and hordes of families looking for a parking place was more than enough to totally disrupt traffic flow and heat tempers to boiling point.”

Ah well! Time to get the wellies out again and take the dog for a nice long muddy walk along the estuary, I think! At least the gardens and the countryside benefit from the wetness.

Re-celebrating the four minute mile

Left to right, Chataway, Banister, Brasher

Left to right, Chataway, Banister, Brasher

It is fifty five years since the young medical undergraduate, Roger Bannister became the first person in the world officially to break the magical barrier of the four minute mile.  As a child of a home which did not yet have the luxury of a TV set, I heard the news on the radio, and later watched the exciting event on the Pathe Newsreel at the local cinema.

A couple of years later when I was a pupil at Colwyn Bay Grammar School in North Wales, we had the honour of a visit from one of Roger Bannister’s pacemakers, Chris Chattaway.  It was a hot summer’s day, and Chris gave us a sort of ‘masterclass’ in athletics.  At one point, he asked me to be the timekeeper for a track race and handed me his own personal wristwatch to perform the task.

I idly turned the watch over and was thrilled to see the inscription on the back.  It was the very watch presented to him by Roger Bannister himself as a ‘Thank-you’ for the assistance in breaking that barrier!

Another of the pacemakers on that day was of course, Chris Brasher who later founded the London marathon…  which both my son & daughter in law have successfully completed. And, if I am not mistaken, I believe that my son actually ran in a half marathon alongside Chris Chattaway, and managed a reasonably similar time…. though of course, the one was quite a few years older that the other by then!

Once the barrier had been broken, more and more people were to break the four minute barrier, and I myself was present in the crowd at White City when it happenned in the early sixties.

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