To make matters worse it was cold and our clothing was totally inadequate. The crew were all wearing clothes suitable for Arctic conditions but we were still in Mediterranean attire. The only sensible thing to do was to go inside where it was warm, but once inside I just began to feel sick so had to go outside again almost immediately.
Not long into the journey it started to get dark and that made it even colder so as I couldn’t go back inside without being ill I found a lounger in a reasonably sheltered spot and tried to go to sleep. And I was very successful and when I woke I was delighted to discover that we had been at sea for three and a half hours so must be nearly home. The boat was listing at about 30° so walking was really difficult but I got to the front of the ferry and looked for the welcoming lights of England.
To my horror there were none and when I enquired a fellow suffering passenger told me that because of the conditions the crossing was now estimated to take eight hours!
I was cold and stiff but at least I didn’t feel sick so I went inside and found Richard who like me had remained feeling well by sitting outside. We went downstairs and it was like a scene from the gun deck of HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar. There were no staff on duty anywhere because they were all too ill to work and in duty free bottles of spirits clattered together on the shelves and rolled about on the floor. It was just there for the taking but the last thing we felt like was alcohol so we moved on to the dining room where we found Tony completely unaffected by all of this mayhem and quietly enjoying a meat pie.
Well, that was it for me and as my insides turned over several times I had to find my way back outside fast. People were lying all around, some had collapsed in the corridors and everywhere there were crew members with mops and buckets washing down the vomit. I made it to the outside but only just before I emptied the contents of my heaving stomach over the side but a gust of wind caught most of it and blew it back only narrowly missing a group of passengers all clinging on to the railings and like me wishing for the voyage to end.
I tried to sleep some more, but it was impossible so I just sat with Richard and felt thoroughly miserable. Tony came by several times to see if we were feeling any better but was unable to locate Anthony to check on his condition and none of us had any idea where he might be.
Eventually the south coast of England came into view but it seemed to take an eternity to get close and finally to dock in Newhaven. We were reunited with Anthony, who it turned out had spent all eight hours of the crossing in the lavatory in his own private cubicle and we made our way to the garage deck and back to the car.
The doors of the ferry opened and being at the front we were first off and the remarkable thing was that as soon as were on solid ground and the earth was no longer moving in conflicting directions we all felt instantly better. I was amazed that I could recover so quickly and looked forward to the last leg of the journey home. But our problems weren’t over yet and no sooner were we off the boat than we pulled over by Her Majesty’s customs officials.
They didn’t seem pleased to see us and probably wondered just what we were doing driving this knackered old UK registered, left hand drive car back from the Continent. Their mood didn’t improve much when they enquired where we had come from and after Richard told them Portugal I added the rather superfluous detail that we had driven back through Spain and France. They interpreted this weary response as taking the piss and asked all sorts of dumb questions about alcohol, cigarettes and smuggling in general and then told us that if he wasn’t satisfied with our responses that he could impound the vehicle.
Anthony was delighted with this piece of information and got out of the car, handed them the keys and invited them to take it away. Between us we calculated that it was only worth about £50 anyway, which was way less than the motoring offence fine in Spain, so between us we could easily compensate Gordon for his loss.
Eventually I think it must have dawned on them that we had just got off the ferry from hell and they grudgingly let us pass. But it made us think? Just why did Gordon want this old wreck back anyway? Were we four dumb mules and were the door panels packed with illegal substances we wondered?
We didn’t really care that much we were just glad to be back in England but not looking forward especially to the three hour journey back to Nottingham. We dropped the car off in Rugby and replaced it with something a bit more modern and with the luxury of a fully functioning heater completed the remainder of the journey and in the early hours of Monday morning were just so very glad to be back home and in a comfortable bed.
It had been a very interesting week, we discovered just how tight with money Tony was, how far Anthony would stretch the truth to impress supermarket check-out girls from Leeds and how much Richard and I liked going away on holiday together.
The following year the two of us went back to the villa but thankfully this didn’t involve driving a car all the way back home and we have been away several times since but never back to Portugal. The channel crossing put me off ferries for several years and I didn’t take another crossing until nearly twenty years later, when I finally got over it in 2004 and went to France again using the Dover to Calais crossing, which wasn’t nearly so bad!
Have you ever had a rough sea crossing on a ferry?