Rough seas update from Newhaven ‘expert’

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As one of the Editors of the Our Newhaven website and their resident ‘expert’ (other people’s words, not mine!) on the harbour and local shipping, let me try to answer the letter from Alan Morris (letters, 22nd July) about his rough channel crossing.

The service was jointly owned and operated by British Railways (1/3rd) and their French partners, SNCF (2/3rds), having originally been set up that way in 1862 by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and the Chemin de Fer de l’Ouest.

There were no less than five passenger steamers on the route in 1954, two British flagged and three French. The British steamers were the Worthing, of 1928, fast approaching the end of her career here at Newhaven, and the Brighton (VI) of 1950.

The French vessels were the twin sisters Londres and Arromanches, of 1947, and the sleek Lisieux, of 1953.

If Mr Morris can recall the nationality of the crew, that would certainly narrow it down but if he was just a youngster speaking to crew members, there’s a good chance that would have been in English, and that the ship was therefore one of the British pair.

Back then, our ships were known as the ‘mailboats’ as the Newhaven-Dieppe route held the Royal Mail contract between the UK and France.

The mail had to get through and so our ships left on time and in the foulest of weather. So I’m not at all surprised to hear the crossing was a terrible one.

Met Office records say the wind that day was westerly at 25 knots and the sea state was rough with a westerly swell.

That wind and swell would have been catching the ship on her starboard quarter, which would have made for some uncomfortable pitching and rolling, though I think the crew may have been exaggerating a little when they said it was the worst they’d experienced. I’ve been over and back in a F11 storm on a ferry with broken stabilisers- now that was hairy!

Anyone interested in the history of the route and its ships will find a treasure trove of information on the Our Newhaven site at www.ournewhaven.org.uk

Andy Gilbert

Tarring Close, South Heighton,

Newhaven