The longest day

The longest day, also known as the Castles and Islands Challenge.

The Longest Day – The Film

Released in 1962 with a glittering cast (including –John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Rod Steiger) ‘The Longest Day’ was based upon the events of D-Day, the Normandy landings.

Who would have thought that just over 50 years later, there would be such an authentic re-enactment?


John Hodgson (Skipper) playing John Wayne as Benjamin Vandervoort

Tony Blenkinsop (Crew) playing Henry Fonda as Theodore Roosvelt

Iain Robertson (Crew) playing Rod Steiger as Destroyer Commander

Jamie Shepherd (Crew) as Sean Connery playing Pvt Flanagan

Chris Eggers (Runner) as Richard Burton playing David Campbell

Steve Clough (Runner) playing Robert Mitchum as Norman Cota

For the purpose of the re-enactment, Emigre will play the part of the invasion fleet and the Normandy beaches will be played by the Northumberland beaches. The Germans will be played by Chris Burnett and his motley crew onboard C Beagle.

The story line will not exactly follow the plot of the film, and the outcome may also be a little different.

As part of the re-enactment we also had to fulfil a number of race regulations, which if the invasion force had to follow; the outcome of the Second World War may have been somewhat different.

As good as the Durham Light infantry were, I doubt that they would have been up to much fighting if they had run around Château de Falaise and Château de Caen before getting stuck into the Germans.

Anyway, back to the re-enactment; sorry the race.

The Longest day, the challenge-

The Castles and Islands race was first held in 2007 and is based on the Scottish Islands Peaks Race.

Teams of sailors and runners come together in order to attempt a 24 hour challenge.

The challenge starts at Alnwick Castle with a 10 mile run to Amble visiting en-route Warkworth Castle which has to be “circumnavigated” before continuing on to Amble Harbour. At Amble the runners join their boats which are allowed to motor to the affectionately known “sewer buoy”, after which only sail power may be used. Under sail the boats must circumnavigate Coquet Island in a clockwise direction then, in any order, visit Newton Haven, Seahouses Harbour, Holy Island and pass through both Inner Sound and Staple Sound. At Newton Haven, Seahouses Harbour and Holy Island Harbour the runners will complete set runs of 4.5 miles, 6.5miles, and 9 miles.

The boats and crew must return to Amble within 24 hours to complete the challenge.

Basically, the boats need to sail about 60 miles and the runners need to run 30 miles within 24 hours. Easy!

Let me tell you about our heroic attempt.

The challenge started at 19:00 hrs and our runners were on the way to meet us at Amble marina. I think the marina gets its name from the fact that the sailing part of the team ambled down there to get the boat. (Or it could be that the marina is based in Amble, or is this just an amazing coincidence?)

We got onboard Emigre and stowed our kit; which seemed to consist of a large carton of Chile Con Carne (or slightly spicy Bolognese, as Jamie called it) and 2 slabs of Stella Artois.

We put 20 litres of Diesel in the fuel tank and emptied the water tank. After all we had loads of Stella, why on earth would be need water?

We then moved the boat to a more favourable position. It seems like all of the boats had the same idea and we jostled for position around the fuel berth. ‘Sheevra’ got the best spot, despite us threatening to raft outside of her. We then waited for the runners to arrive.

Just over an hour passed and the first runners were arriving at the marina.

‘Trillium’, ‘Sheevra’, ‘ January First’ and ‘C Beagle’ (C Beagle, remember are playing the part of the Germans in this, and are therefore ‘the baddies’)  got away before us, but our runners (The Durham Light infantry) were in hot pursuit.

I am not sure how long I can keep the analogy going, I am confusing myself; and I was there. To recap, I have the DLI running around Amble and Chris Burnett has turned German.  All clear? No…ok, on with the story.

I think we were the fifth boat to leave Amble out of 8 starters. Mid table obscurity. It would appear that all normal maritime regulations are thrown out of the window at times of war, so we motored full ahead whilst making smoke. (This is not artistic licence, this actually happened!)

‘Trillium’ (a rather fast Trimaran) were leading, followed by ‘C Beagle’, ‘Sheevra’ and ‘January First’. Emigre were following and doing quite well.

We reached the ‘sewer buoy’ and cut the engine. We managed a first class spinnaker hoist and the sailing race was on. We were to go clockwise round Coquet Island, before heading north.

All the way to Newton Bay it was Cat and Mouse. ‘Trilium’ amd ‘Sheevra’ were in their own battle whilst  ‘January First’, ‘C Beagle’ and ‘Emigre’ had their own tussle.

The racing was close and the wind conditions were difficult. There were some good gusts followed by nothing. We were getting close to having to make a decision. Do we go into Newton on the way north, or wait until we were coming back down the coast? It depended upon the wind. If there was no wind, we would go in, if there was wind we would continue north with the tide.

The wind died. ‘Trillium’ and ‘Sheevra’ headed in to Newton. They were ahead of us by quite a margin. The wind picked up again and we took a gamble. If we followed them in, we could never catch them; however if we carried on, using wind and tide, we may make up time. We carried on, heading for Staple Sound. It was dark by this time and it was difficult to make out the other boats. However, as we pressed on north, we heard a radio message. ‘January First’ had suffered a complete power failure. They had no electrics and were retiring from the race.

We pressed onwards, powering through the darkness, heading for the Farnes. We needed to make time and distance, before ‘Sheevra’ and ‘Trillium’ completed their first ‘run’.

I know that during ‘D-Day’ the allies had to circumvent tank traps and mines. It turns out, the Germans needn’t have bothered. They should have laid lobster pots instead.

‘Emigre’ came to a sudden halt. (Again! I hear you cry?)

We had managed to pick up a lobster pot in the darkness. The pot was marked by a small floating buoy, and had no flag to show its position, it was invisible in the dark. It was also wrapped around our rudder.

The tide was running fast and keeping us tightly secured on the pot. No matter what, we couldn’t get loose. We watched as mast head lights came north and sneaked past us. There was nothing that we could do.

In desperation and ignoring all health and safety precautions, our bold skipper  John ‘Wayne’ Hodgson leapt into the dinghy. He wrestled the pot clear and got us underway again. We had lost about 20 minutes.

As dawn was breaking, we approached Triton Buoy and the channel into Holy Island. We could see two sails ahead of us, and three behind us, coming through Staple Sound. We couldn’t identify who was who.

At the Triton Buoy we were allowed to motor into the anchorage. As we came in, we saw ‘Sheevra’ and ‘Trillium’ already secured, with their runners ashore.

We deployed our inflatable dinghy and I rowed (heroically) the runners ashore. It was indeed, just like D-Day. If in fact the D-day forces were met by a fisherman and two Labrador dogs!

The runners were away and I returned to the invasion fleet for a bacon sarnie and a cup of tea.

Patriotic Tea

Patriotic Tea

When we saw the runners returning from their first run ashore, I collected them in the dinghy and we set off back south, heading for Seahouses.

We passed through the Inner Farne channel and headed for Seahouses Harbour. It was getting quite busy with trip boats and fishing  boats. Undaunted we carried on. We were sailing fast with the spinnaker hoisted and bearing down on the harbour entrance. The rules exclude us from entering the harbour (imagine if the Germans had insisted on that?) and at the last minute, we dropped the spinnaker, rounded up and picked up a mooring. It was a seamless and (if I say so myself) a majestic manoeuvre.

Of course, we were beaten by ‘Sheevra’ and ‘Trillium’, but we were third boat on the water at this stage.

Jamie, took the runners ashore and went off to spend 20p.

‘C Beagle’ came into the anchorage and got their runners ashore. It seemed like we were a faster boat, but they had faster runners. It was getting close between us.

We knew that we couldn’t catch ‘Sheevra’ and ‘Trillium’. They were ahead on the water and had just completed their last run. We still had to go to Newton.

We had to make as much time as we could, to stay in front of ‘C Beagle’

Our dinghy appeared in the harbour entrance. We let go of the mooring and John ‘not shouty’ Hodgson gunned the engine and at full revs we motored towards the returning runners. Unfortunately, Yachts don’t like going fast backwards. The momentum and force of water over the rudder snatched the tiller from John’s grasp and it swung over violently. It jammed hard. As the dinghy got closer, we managed to free the rudder.

The runners were aboard, the dinghy stowed on the stern and we set off. At this time, we discovered that the rudder and tiller were now out of alignment by about 45 degrees.  We were not sure if there had been any structural damage, or indeed, if we could continue without the ability to turn to port (left).

John, with his expert engineering skills, waggled the tiller back and forth, realised that we could turn to port (albeit rather slowly) if we needed. He then asked me to check below for any water ingress, which showed nothing. He decided that like proper little soldiers, we would press on.

Tiller hard over,but boat is straight!

Tiller hard over,but boat is straight!

We set off for Newton and our last run. Once again we entered the drop off point under spinnaker. We dropped, rounded up and set the anchor in one seamless move. As the anchor hit the water, the runners were in the dinghy, and once more I was rowing them ashore.

The runners returned from a very tiring leg. John had repositioned Emigre, to assist me getting the dinghy back as quickly as possible, and apparently, to remove Emigre from the sand bank she was sitting on.

Once aboard, we set off in a strengthening wind. If the wind could hold, we would get away from ‘C Beagle’ and hopefully close up on ‘Sheevra’.

We were no longer concerned about ‘Trillium’ who we discovered were racing in a different class to us.

We were in second place on the water. If we could get enough of a gap from ‘C Beagle’ we would take second place overall.

We left the anchorage and were making good progress south. We saw ‘C Beagle’ follow us out, but some distance behind. They had made time up on us during the run, but we were faster on the water.

As we got to Boulmer, the wind stopped. I don’t mean it died down, it stopped completely. We were sat in a localised dead spot. There was not a breath of wind. We were motionless in the water.

Behind us, ‘C Beagle’ was still sailing in wind. They were catching us. Then they hit the same patch as us. The patch of dead calm spread out with us at the epicentre. There was no wind anywhere to be seen.

Whatever zephyrs we could catch we did. For the next  four hours, we managed to gain half a mile, only to be swept back the same half mile as the tide took hold of us. We kedged, rowed and drifted for four hours and made no ground whatsoever.

‘C Beagle’ suffered the same fate. They managed to anchor and stop themselves being pulled back north by the tide.

I looked at the same lobster pot for four hours, to see if we had moved. We hadn’t!

Eventually, there was enough wind to sail again. We were making 2 knots through the water.

We were 5 miles from the finish and there was an hour to go. We needed to average over 5 knots to make the finish.  We were struggling to maintain 2 knots. We needed a miracle.

As the 24 hour mark approached we were still 3 miles short of the finish. The wind and tide were against us and we couldn’t get there in time. After 24 hours we could see the finish and smell the fish and chips of Amble.

‘C Beagle’ didn’t make it either. In fact no one other than ‘Sheevra’ and ‘Trillium’ made it to the finish in time.

We motored back to the finish area, where we anchored, in order to wait for the tide. There was not enough water to get over the sill at Amble marina. The race control were kind enough to let us know that the bar was open and the BBQ had started. Once again we could see the prize, but couldn’t get to it.

At Anchor

At Anchor

‘C Beagle’ weighed anchor and headed for the marina. Chris has local knowledge, so we weighed anchor and followed him up the river.

I think Chris’s desire for beer and BBQ may have clouded his judgement somewhat. It is that, or ‘c Beagle’ has grown in draft since he last sailed her.

‘C Beagle’ hit the sill and stopped. Chris got her clear, and with all of his crew hanging from the port shrouds, he had another run at it.

not enough water

not enough water

He hit the sill again. With judicious wiggling and revving, he scraped over and into the marina. We can only assume that he had run out of Stella onboard. He should have taken less water and more Stella!

We followed shortly. Clearing the sill and avoiding any more damage.

We didn’t get a finish.

The event was won overall by ‘Sheevra’

The class 2 event was won by  ‘Trillium’

The running event was won by ‘C Beagle’

It was a great event. The allies won (well done RNYC, for the two winning boats).

I would like to say thanks to everyone who participated.

Thanks to the organisers (CYC)

A special thanks to the Race Marshalls, who were there to greet and time the runners at every stage, and without whom there could not be an event such as this.

Congratulations to those who completed, and well done to those who competed. I hope to see you next year.


Emigre (Nee Kandula) We were so close to finishing second!



The event took all day, took place on the longest day and by the end of it, seemed to me to have been the longest day ever. Other than that, the tenuous link to the film of the same name is at best tenuous. But I needed a theme.

You will also notice there is no reference to ‘Sports Boats’ (Or dinghies other than the inflatable type)

I think I managed to get a ‘heroic’ reference in, for my regular readers.

There is also no mention of kettles, although we did pass close to ‘The Kettle’ anchorage at the Farnes. I missed a trick there.

I also managed to leave out any reference to Jamie and his…..never mind.

The End


Roll credits….. fade to black.