I’ve had a morning of dealing with rude people: incompetent, belligerent, indifferent, ignorant, confrontational and stupid, which has left me wanting to return to Sark and the kindness and generosity of the inhabitants. The trip could have been a disaster from the outset. My record of travel with Condor Ferries is a long tale of woe, and not me alone, there are many disgruntled and unhappy travellers. Visiting the Channel Islands on an almost monthly basis, it has now become the norm to be delayed or transferred to another vessel, the slower freight boat, extending a 5.5 hour journey in to a 10 or 12.5 one, losing a day or a night in the process. Condor have the monopoly on the route, there is no other option. However, on the morning of May 25th, their actions had repercussions meant that six of us almost didn’t make it to Sark at all.
It was the Saturday of the May Bank Holiday weekend and anticipating heavy traffic, we left our homes early, travelling in two cars to Poole. We planned to have a coffee at the passenger terminal but the café was closed due to staff shortages. One solitary Condor representative was at the check-in desk, juggling travellers, phone, pager and walkie talkies to the vehicle compound staff on another part of the site. A distressed family of five stood in front of us. The parents had photographic ID, but the three children didn’t. They were turned away, unable to travel. The Condor bombshell was then dropped: the new-ish multimillion pound vessel had engine problems and was running on reduced power. Instead of sailing from Poole to Guernsey, then onward to Jersey, it was going to Jersey first. In the original plan, we should have left Poole at 9.15, arrived in Guernsey at 12.15, picked up a little shopping, had lunch and taken the 3pm boat to Sark. Thank goodness we were booked in Club Class – with free refreshments and snacks – as the 3 hour crossing turned into one of 7.5 hours.
I telephoned ahead to Sark Shipping, well aware of their policy of being unable to change bookings or give refunds without 24 hour notice, but was told not to worry, they would re-book us on the 5pm sailing, but It soon became evident, that we were unlikely to make that either. During the scheduled stop in Jersey I spent most of the hour on the phone – hearing half conversations due to interference. The very helpful woman at Sark Shipping told me to go to Condor information onboard the Liberation and ‘demand’ that they let us off the ferry first when it arrived in Guernsey. She also gave me names of two individuals who might run a charter at short notice, so that if we missed the Sark boat, someone may be willing to take us to Sark ‘for a fee’. Sounds drastic doesn’t it? but the alternative – trying to find overnight accommodation for 6 in Guernsey on a Bank Holiday weekend would have been equally challenging.
Then came the realisation that not only would we be unable to stock up on supplies in Guernsey, but that both food shops in Sark would be closed by the time we arrived. I telephoned Julie at Sark’s ‘Food Stop’,
‘Is there any chance you could put together a few basics to last 6 of us until tomorrow morning?’ the interference became particularly bad, ‘maybe bread and cheese?’
‘and some SHSHSHSHSHS?’ Julie said,
‘and some what?’ I asked,
after several attempts I said, ‘whatever you think …’
I had my debit card in my hand, prepared to pay over the phone, but Julie said not to worry about that, to pop in to Food Stop the following day. I expected her to say she would leave our order outside the shop door to collect on our way past, but despite having made her local deliveries in the morning, she was also going to find someone to take the shopping to Coin de Grive! And then the bike hire shop – I phoned to let them know we wouldn’t make it before closing, and to find out whether they would be open on Sunday,
‘No worries,’ I was told, ‘We’ll wait for you!’
and over an hour after they had been due to close, true to their word, they were waiting for us, bikes ready.
Something Condor hadn’t considered when rescheduling the sailing to Jersey first, was that normally, passengers would be getting off in Guernsey and their vacated seats would be filled by travellers getting on in Jersey – so, readers, you can imagine the chaos which ensued when the Jersey passengers embarked to find their seats still occupied! The Liberation eventually arrived in Guernsey at 16.50, allowing 10 minutes to disembark as foot passengers, run down the gangplank, into the terminal, collect our luggage, exit via customs and almost sprint across to Sark Shipping. It says much about the difference in attitude of the two companies that Sark Shipping held on and waited for us! What a relief to be sitting outside on the Belle, in slightly misty conditions but heading to Sark between rocky outcrops and Herm, watching Terns and Cormorants. Arriving at La Mazeline Harbour, we were assisted up the slippery wet granite steps, our labelled bags whisked away by tractor, transported up the hill on the ‘Toast-rack’ bus, along the avenue, collect the bikes and arrive at Coin de Grive to find a box of groceries just inside the door and wine in the fridge.
Tour of house done, rooms allocated, facilities checked out and we hastily packed a picnic and cycled to The Pilcher Monument to watch the sun setting over Brecqhou and Guernsey. It wasn’t a spectacular sky on fire with blazing oranges and purples, but it illuminated the rugged coastline and the contrast of the sky and the sea. It was turning rather breezy and chilly and we returned back to base before light failed and all had a good night’s sleep.
Sunday – and four among us hadn’t been to Sark before. Two set off for the shop. The rest of us prepared another picnic. We headed to the spectacular Isthmus which is La Coupee, although didn’t cross to little Sark on this occasion. Returning, we stopped at Caragh’s Chocolate shop, café and one roomed ‘factory’, the blissful joy of real hot chocolate made from huge flakes of pure chocolate and creamy Guernsey milk plus free cake! it would be rude to refuse! onward to the north of the Island, The Window in the Rock – more of a tunnel through granite than a ‘window’, blasted by one of the Seigneurs to gain a better view – and then down the cliff path and many steps to the beach below. Port du Moulin has a stony, pebbly beach and stunning natural rock arch and caves. Back up the steep, stepped path, retrieve the bikes and head for Epercurie Common. Here it was so windy we had to crouch low in the shelter of a rock to eat our picnic. Another day with plenty of fresh air, and Albert taking control of the kitchen when we returned to base, making a delicious soup for supper.