A while ago we made the decision to move Ruby May to a new home. Last week, the day finally came to slip lines at MDL Chatham Marina for the last time and head to our new base. An incredible (speedy) sail from Chatham to Eastbourne, saw us take in the Red Sands towers, and the SS Montgomery wreck for the last time. We had an amazing sunset, and sunrise, and got the best send off from the resident seals at Margate Sands. The memory that will stay with me forever though, was of the most incredible marriage proposal en route, from my partner in crime, and soul mate, Hodge.
Read on to hear about our life changing couple of days on the water.
Leaving Chatham Marina for the last time
Both Hodge and I have always been based at MDL Chatham Marina, he has previously kept boats there, and we both did a lot of our own sail training on the Medway. We’ve kept our new boat there for the last year, and have both explored the area extensively. With many many passages to Wolverstone, Burnham, and all of the gems along the east coast. We also both teach from Chatham. With that in mind, we were ready for a change. A new stomping ground that would offer better access to the French coast, new weekend sails, and some new experiences.
Having stopped at Premier Marina, Eastbourne a few times, we decided to make this our permanent home. It ticks all of the boxes; Great facilities, excellent bars and restaurants nearby, some fantastic local day sails (Brighton and New Haven), good access to the Solent, and the West Country, and of course the North Coast of France.
Hodge and I agreed, that in order to maximise the tides and shorten our Friday pm passage, he’d slip lines and position RM in Queenborough, and I’d meet him there with the children (post school). He slipped lines, and made his solo passage out of the lock and down the Medway.
I met him on the ATL at Queenborough, where we were waved off by the fantastic team. We’ve had so many family trips to Queenborough and made some great memories. It really did feel like the end of an era. In the beautiful sunshine, and with 20 knots of Easterly breeze, we slipped and headed out into the estuary.
The estuary holds so many fantastic memories, and as we head east we pass the SS Montgommery, its masts poking out of the water as they have done for the last 80 years. Next is the Red Sands Towers, looking spectacular in the evening sun. We get up close and whizz past with the tide, our sails pinned tightly, thanks to the head wind.
Next we motorsail past the Margate Sands windfarm, turning back to get a last look at the wind farm from the stern of Ruby May. It looks spectacular with the setting sun behind it. The tide is still pushing out and we are doing a steady 8-10 knots. The Margate Sands are really exposed, and on the bank we spot upwards of 200 seals! I’ve seen a lot of seals over the years, and indeed on this very sand bank, but nothing quite like this. The sand bank was thick with plump grey bodies, basking in the evening sun. We’re headed for Dover and keen to make good time, but decide to do a loop to get a closer look.
I tack us round and keeping a watchful eye on our depth gauge, get in as close as possible. Some of the seals charge towards the water, others appear close by, swimming around the boat for a closer look at us, and hundreds more stare at us from the shore. Their beady, black eyes bulging and whiskers twitching. They’re a noisy bunch. We give them a final wave, and head off on our way.
Before long, we’re bearing away and heading around North Foreland, putting the wind behind us. With the engine now off, we silently surf down the front of the glorious waves, making some of the best speeds we’ve ever made. The conditions couldn’t be better!
With a star filled sky, we test out our new tri-light. There are surprisingly few other vessels about. The TSS (seen from afar) looks quiet, and as we make our way past Ramsgate and towards Dover, there’s a noticeable lack of ferries.
A couple of miles from Dover, we radio in, and get a green light. Making our way through the port, and into the tidal marina, we pass three P&O ferries, tied up near the Wick Channel. Quite a site, and a reminder of the terrible news that had broken just days before.
We tie up at 10pm, scrub the deck (which was red with Saharan sand!), settle in for the night and set our alarm clock for an early start.
Sailing Dover to Eastbourne – a passage I will never forget.
Slipping lines at sunrise, in order to avoid the shallows of the tidal marina at Dover. We get an instant green light, and make our way out of the Port of Dover. I love the port, and I love sunrise – the perfect start to any day.
The easterly is still blowing strong, and the waves are pretty significant. We clip on, and leave the children asleep below deck, in the comfort of their sleeping bags.
Once we’re a mile or so offshore, we turn West. There’s 20-25 knots of downwind breeze. We are flying! A steady 9-10 knots, and a favourable tide see’s us pass Folkestone and then Hythe in no time at all. We spot the unmistakable silhouette of the nuclear power plant at Dungeness, and before long, it comes and goes.
We’re all on deck, enjoying the sunshine and the amazing conditions. Surprisingly we’ve not seen any other vessels today. When we spot a high speed motorboat on the horizon, about 5 miles off Eastbourne. A pan-pan crackles out on the VHF, and we listen in. But the next call that comes is most unusual… “Ruby May, Ruby May! This is Eastbourne Lifeboat, Eastbourne Lifeboat”, Hodge answers and then we realise that the high-speed vessel is the lifeboat itself and it is coming straight towards us!
The lifeboat instructs Hodge to switch to channel 06, which he duly does. They ask if we’re reading them clearly. I wonder what is going on. Is someone in danger? Do we need to help? What is this about?!
The next message comes through… “Ruby May, Eastbourne lifeboat! Is there a Samantha onboard?”… you what?? Me?… yes, I’m here, but why do they know of me, and what do they want? Has there been an emergency on land, is someone trying to reach us?? A million thoughts whizz through my head. I take the VHF…
“Eastbourne Lifeboat, Ruby May! You are now speaking to Sam”
“Ruby May, Eastbourne Lifeboat! Good. We have some signal flags that we would like you to read back to us, are you good with signal flags?”
What the what??? Signal flags! This is completely bizarre…
“Eastbourne Lifeboat, Ruby May! I can do that, I’m not that great with signal flags, but I will give it a go!”
With that Hodge disappears below and appears with an almanac to help me out. It’s my birthday in a couple of days, and I start to wonder if this is a birthday surprise. Hodge seems to be somehow in on it, and is acting slightly suspiciously…
“Ruby May, Eastbourne Lifeboat! Please hold your course and speed, we are going to come along side”
We furl our headsail, put our engine on, and duly hold our course, with Hodge taking the wheel so I can focus on the flags.
The lifeboat is incredible. I’ve never been this close to a lifeboat at sea before, and hope to never have the need again! It is noisy, and quick and it completely dwarfs us. There’s a lot of crew on deck, looking smart in their infamous yellow foulies. At mid-ships four crew are standing smiling and holding a whole arrangement of flags. I laugh and look at Hodge, what on earth?! I grab the almanac and attempt to decode it. There are 4 flags in the first string, then 3, then 5, then 2. This is a lot of flags to decode…
I turn to Hodge for help, feeling the pressure under the gaze of the entire lifeboat crew. He reaches in his pocket, as I thumb the almanac, and pulling out 2 flags, he says “I’ll give you a clue. Here’s a yes and a no flag”.
Oh my goodness, really, could this be… the penny drops.
“is it? Is it…?”
In my head I’m piecing together the clues… The 4, 3, 5, 2 pattern, a yes or no… is it really?…
“Is it, will you marry me?!” He nods, as the VHF comes alive…
“Ruby May, Eastbourne Lifeboat! Please can you tell us what it says?”
“Eastbourne Lifeboat, Ruby May! It says, ‘will you marry me’!”
“Ruby May, Eastbourne Lifeboat! What is the answer?”
“Eastbourne Lifeboat, Ruby May!” It says, ‘will you marry me?’, and the answer is YES! It is a YES!”
The lifeboat crew cheer, and in a slight state of shock, holding up the YES (Charlie flag) I look at Hodge, he drops to one knee, and with a slight wobble to his chin and a tear in his eye, holds out the most beautiful diamond ring I have ever seen, and asks me if I will become his wife.
Arriving at Eastbourne
We continue with our passage to Eastbourne, the lifeboat is waiting for us near the harbour entrance. We make our way into the lock and they follow. My friends and family are there to meet us, and music blares out on the PA, as the lock office cheer to welcome us in and join in with the celebrations.
What an incredible welcome, what an incredible surprise, and the best proposal I could have ever imagined. We met on the water, and spend much of our life at sea, so this couldn’t have been more apt. It was completely perfect in every way.
It’s champagne time. Here’s to a lifetime of happiness, adventure, fun, laughter and love with my soulmate, Hodge.
This blog is written with special thanks to the wonderful crew and coxswain, Mark Sawyer of the Eastbourne RNLI, and to all RNLI volunteers who dedicate their time and risk their lives to keep us all safe on the water.