11 WAYS TO CROSS THE ENGLISH CHANNEL: When the wind is right, canvas can do miracles.

I recently crossed the English Channel, the arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France. It’s a link between shared cultures and political structures. Oh, and it’s where you’ll find Guernsey ~ that small island between Weymouth,England and St. Malo, France.

I’m a huge fan of the epistolary novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. Believe the hype you hear about this book. It’s an eminently scarfable story (unlike the potato peel pie in its title) about the occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII. But it’s also about the healing power of books ~ their ability to bring people together and help them through the dark times..


I asked dear Captain Jurgen if we could swing by Guernsey.  How far could it be? He suggested I wait for the movie. http://www.movieweb.com/news/kate-winslet-joins-the-guernsey-literary-and-potato-peel-pie-society (delayed until 2013) 

My trip across the Channel? Well, consider me transported.


You may have guessed I didn’t take the Eurostar through the Chunnel, like Queen Elizabeth II and French president Francois Mitterand did on opening day…

…or jump on a ferry.

I didn’t cross in a hot air balloon like Jean Pierre Francois Blanςhard, the French pioneer of aviation and ballooning.  Jean Pierre’s flights started a Balloonomania craze ~ images of balloons were everywhere, even hair was coifed à la Blanchard. In 1808, Blanchard had a heart attack while ballooning, fell from his balloon and died a year later. Lovely Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant, his widow, continued to support herself with ballooning demonstrations until it also killed her. That little lady must have been one no-quit trouper with juggernaut nerves of titanium.

I did’t hop on a paddle steamer…

…and swimming was definitely out. Ditto: water skis. There’s jellyfish and freighters to dodge, bone-numbing temperatures, volatile weather, and powerful tides in this most fickle of seas.

Nor did I take to the air in an autogyro like Juan de la Cierva, father of the modern helicopter…

…or paddle an coracle like Bernard Thomas.


I didn’t soar in a helium balloon like Jonathan Trappe, who zipped across the Channel in four hours, dangling beneath a cloud of coloured helium balloons. He controlled his altitude by cutting the balloons free one by one, with a pair of scissors.

Jet Pack?  Uh uh.

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, nicknamed Rocket Man, flew the Channel using a jet pack. He launched from a plane high over Calais and flew to Dover in just ten minutes, powered by four kerosene-burning engines. I wonder if Rossy read Ray Bradbury’s story.



Me? I read the memoir Three Ways to Capsize a Boat – An Optimist Afloat by Chris Stewart. Stewart is a great storyteller with a rollicking good sense of humor.  So, naturally, I chose to sail across the Channel on a four-masted barkentine, a full-rigged clipper ship. And the trip went swimmingly, which is buoyantly hilarious ~ or ironic ~ because I can’t swim. And neither could Captain Jurgen, he confessed to me over a glass of Prosecco.

Ropes spin and spool.  The crew cranks and pulls. The bridge is open, the Captain plots his course.  I peer over his shoulder.  The haunting strains of Vangelis’s symphony 1492: Conquest of Paradise plays and the first of the sails is unfurls.

Listen as you read ~ . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxl1x8-oIRQ


All I hear is the sound of the music and the calls of the line handlers until every sail is in place. I feel the wind power the ship through the water. It’s spine-tingling.

She’s got her pretty on.  As always.


It’s not far down to paradise
At least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

It’s not far to never never land
No reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy
Of innocence again
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

Takes me away
To where I’ve always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free

It gets the best of me
When I’m sailing
All caught up in the reverie
Every word is a symphony
Won’t you believe me

It’s not far back to sanity
At least it’s not for me
And when the wind is right you can sail away
And find serenity
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me  

 ~  by Christopher Cross


Toni 9/27/12