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The Normandy Klepper Challenge & Stella Anne

Portland - 20 Sep 14 Offshore

Stella Anne (owned and skippered by RNSA Portland member Simon Duff) acted as safety and support boat for the Normandy Klepper Challenge, which comprised three collapsible canoes, such as were used by special forces, to be paddled non-stop to the Normandy beaches during the 4th-6th June

It was ultimately enacted on 18th to 21st June, the planned event for 4th-6th having been cancelled due to bad weather.

The 'paddlers', Rich, Colin and Ben (all ex Hereford chaps) joined Stella Anne with their Kleppers and a MIB (Medium inflatable Boat) on Wednesday afternoon and proceeded to assemble canoes and MIB. The support crew of Geoff, John and Gary (Geoff and John also ex SF) mucked in and at 1830 the Klepper, named Tonga, chosen to make the whole journey, set off with Colin and Ben paddling. Stella Anne sailed 10 minutes later and RV'd with Tonga outside the breakwater. Weather conditions were benign with a light breeze and some small waves and swell.

Over the next 28 hours until 2230 hours on Thursday, Stella maintained slow speed on a heading such that Tonga could follow in or out of the wake, generally in the right direction!

Every 4 hours the support crew hauled the MIB up alongside Stella and made ready to receive Tonga alongside for crew change. One paddler was replaced in turn so that in effect the chaps were doing 8 hours on and 4 off. Re-supply of water and energy foods was conducted at this time. The paddler going off duty would then have some high calorie hot food quickly and then try to get some rest/sleep down below before the start of his next shift, which must have seemed to come round all too soon ! During this time the weather had become wall-to-wall sunshine with very little wind and only a lazy swell.

Sadly this condition didn't last, as at 2300 hrs on Thursday night, when about 15 miles off Arromanches, the wind suddenly got up and within half an hour the conditions, with F5-F6 winds and increasingly rough seas, made it necessary to recover Tonga and her crew. This was done with some difficulty but finally Tonga was brought on deck and the paddlers made comfortable below.

Skipper and support crew then spent the rest of the night steaming back and forth off the Normandy coast, trying to keep the ship from pitching and rolling too much. Day break brought some relief with slightly less wind but still a rather short and confused sea. The decision was made to proceed to Arromanches and anchor just inside the Mulberry breakwater where it would be safe to re-launch Tonga. The opportunity to launch the second canoe was taken, so at 0700 hrs two Kleppers set off to paddle to the beach. The culmination of the Challenge was reached at 0755 when they landed, stretched their legs and took some photos. Mission accomplished!

Subsequently, on their return to Stella Anne, the Kleppers were recovered on board and the paddlers, deservingly elated, began to relax.

Meanwhile support crew weighed anchor and got the ship underway back to Portland. First part of the passage was slow due to wind on the bow and lumpy seas but by mid afternoon the conditions once again became perfect and a lovely cruise back to Blighty ensued, with Stella Anne securing alongside the pontoon at Portland at 0645 on Saturday morning.

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