Magazine article The Spectator

Three Men in a Boat

Magazine article The Spectator

Three Men in a Boat

Article excerpt

Responding to Boh Geldof's call for a Dunkirk-style armada of small boats to pop across the Channel to pick up those French people wishing to protest at Gleneagles, the Sunday Telegraph last week commissioned me to pop across to Boulogne in a fishing boat. It was to be a trial run. My brief was to report on how easy or hard it is to cross the Channel in a tiny vessel, then try to persuade the burghers of Boulogne to return with me to England in the name of justice for Africa.

Third-generation Dover fisherman Mick Crocker volunteered to take me across in his venerable old wooden fishing boat. But at the last moment there was an insurance problem and he had to subcontract the job to Dave Williams, skipper of a smart yellow plastic 38-foot sea angling boat with a large and powerful engine, called Fire Fox. Good news for me because, instead of taking four and a half hours to do the 23 miles, now it would take about an hour. If I was sick, I wouldn't have to be sick for very long. No such good news for Mick Crocker, however, because as a fisherman of the old school, he normally won't be seen dead in a plastic boat. But we needed his expertise to see us safely across, and the Sunday Telegraph are good payers, so Mick Crocker consented, just this once, to bow in the house of Rimmon by putting to sea in a craft made of plastic.

So Fire Fox is butting her way forwards into one of the world's busiest seaways. Mick Crocker, myself and Dave Williams, proud skipper at the wheel, are sitting in a row behind the dripping glass, eyes straining towards the horizon. This time last week, Dave tells us, he was marlin fishing off Mexico. He was on honeymoon. He fought his first marlin for two hours before it broke the surface and he saw it for the first time. Dave is wearing the marlin-fishing souvenir T-shirt and classic Ray-Ban Wayfarers. He's brown, relaxed and happy. Once we're clear of the port, he presses the throttle forward and we all have to hold on.

Mick Crocker is dressed conservatively in white Adidas polo shirt and kneed navy jog pants. He's holding on tight as if he's never held on tight in his life before and having to do so now is an affront to his dignity. When he's satisfied that this terrible buffeting is the rule rather than an exception, Mick allows himself to make a criticism. …

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