Logistically, our preferred option for trip was by sea. With sailing times that made my arrival rather close to the Sunday preach at Spurgeon Church, I was concerned that the regular passenger ferry might not be sufficiently reliable. That is when I made the approach to Channel Island Lines, and was generously invited to go with them in their guest cabin.
My fear, though, was that my inner-ear problems might let me down. Twelve hours at sea was tempting providence, and I wasn’t keen to be mopping the decks to prevent anyone slipping over in my yesterday’s food! Thankfully the weather has smiled on us. I slept well from 2130 until 0600, waking only two or three times, which is certainly less than at home!
There is also something a little mysterious and comforting about the ship’s engines accompanying your sleep through the velvety night. Perhaps the child in me is reminded of my faithful cat who once used to protect me in bed with her purring reassurance.
Sometimes the gentle swell became more turbulent. In the small hours we had had to cross the tide race near Alderney. From the comfort of the bunk, you imagine narrow straights and maelstroms haunted by the deep with its memories of shipwrecked mariners.
Dawn broke over Jersey, our first port of call, and the Pilate was soon aboard to observe the First Officer as he more than proved his worth for a licence to take ships into St Helier.
This part of the Brittany coast has the largest tidal range in Europe. The land mass of the Islands double in size when it’s a Spring tide such as today. I disembarked by reaching over from the ship to clamber up the few metal rungs leading up to the quayside. When I was to return a couple of hours later, I had to follow a subterranean passageway to get to the ship, 9.5 metres lower than before! You can imagine the navigational expertise involved in following the charts into harbours with such variable approaches.
St Helier is a mixture of British stores and French café atmosphere. Streets have modern English as well as unrelated alternatives from the Old French dialect. A main shopping precinct is situated in King Street, which is aka rue de Derrière – not a word you would use in modern French to denote ‘back street’! On the same street, I withdrew some money from an HSBC cashpoint and immediately realised my mistake. All of it would have to spent here; it’s not legal tender on the mainland even though the notes have the Queen’s head on them. Fortunately some helpful cashiers exchanged them for sterling.
I wondered what provision Jersey has for merchant seafarers. I understand there is some limited Wi-Fi in parts of the dock, and there are some ship visiting volunteers. I asked in the Tourist Office. The lady didn’t even understand the term Merchant Seafarers, let alone how they might be provided for. I looked for possible churches that might be involved and peered through the doors of St Paul’s. Some third-age folk were having coffee in the modern foyer and invited me in. They knew of the volunteer ship visitors, associated with another parish, but when they found out that I used to pastor a church in Saint-Malo, France, they immediately asked me if I was acquainted with one of their active members who used to live there. And so it came about that I was reconnected with him and presented with the possibility of visiting their church again on a future.
With a rising tide providing just a metre and a half clearance below the keel, we left Jersey at 1400 hours, anticipating an arrival in Guernsey at 17.30. With much of the cargo unloaded at Jersey, the ship is rolling a little more… but no sign yet of needing to get the mop out!