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The Cockleshell Challenge 2012

4 team members

Challenge complete

Fundraising for this challenge has ended so we're no longer accepting donations. Thanks to everyone who supported this challenge.

Total raised so far £0.00

Target £0.00

Total plus Gift Aid: £0.00

Raised offline: £0.00

Team story

[p][span=font-weight: bold;]THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HAS HELPED MAKE THE COCKLESHELL CHALLENGE 2012 POSSIBLE.  THE TOTAL RAISED INCLUDING ONLINE AND OFFLINE DONATIONS STANDS AT £7,773.75 AS OF 7TH DECEMBER 2012.[/span][/p][p][/p][p][span=font-weight: bold;]THANK YOU.   [/span][/p][p]For photos, and messages from our patrons Paddy Ashdown and Mrs Bridget Hasler, please have a look at the following link:[/p][p][url=http://www.facebook.com/OperationFranktonAndCockleshell2012]http://www.facebook.com/OperationFranktonAndCockleshell2012[/url][/p][p][/p][p][b][i]WHAT WE SET OUT TO DO[/i][/b][/p][p][span=text-decoration: underline;]History of the Raid[/span][/p][lt]address[gt]Operation Frankton was a commando raid on merchant ships in the German occupied port of Bordeaux in the Bay of Biscay during the Second World War. The raid was carried out by a small unit of Royal Marines known as the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment (RMBPD), part of Combined Operations.[lt]/address[gt][lt]address[gt] The plan was for six canoes to be taken to the area of the Gironde Estuary[b] [/b]by submarine, HMS Tuna. They would then paddle by night to Bordeaux. On arrival they would attack the docked cargo ships with limpet mines and then escape overland to Spain. Twelve men from no.1 section were selected for the raid; including the C.O., Major 'Blondie' Hasler. [lt]/address[gt][lt]address[gt]Two men survived the raid: Hasler, and his no.2 in the canoe, Sparks. Of the other eight, six were executed by the Germans while two died from hypothermia (two never made it out of HMS Tuna as their kayak was found to be defective). Admiral Louis Mountbatten, the commander of Combined Operations, deemed the raid "the most courageous and imaginative of all the raids ever carried out by the men of Combined Operations'.[lt]/address[gt][lt]address[gt][lt]/address[gt][p][span=text-decoration: underline;]The Plan[/span][/p][p]Our plan is to re-create Operation Frankton as far as it is possible.  Our drop-off point will be exactly where HMS Tuna surfaced in 1942; we will paddle mostly at night borrowing Kleppers (the type of canvas kayak used by Major Hasler's team) from 21 SAS  first  into, and then up the Gironde.  Having made it to Bordeaux we will then walk the 120 miles or so from Blaye to Ruffec, ending up at the Hotel La Toque Blanche, the hotel from which the two Cockleshell Heroes who survived, Major 'Blondie' Hasler and Marine Sparks, were picked up by the Resistance and spirited to Spain.[/p][p]What differentiates our attempt from those carried out by others is that by starting in the Bay of Biscay we will face the same currents that Major Hasler and his team went through in 1942.  It is worth noting that three out of the marines' five kayaks were lost at this stage of the operation.[/p][p]Our team is made up the following: David Fox Pitt, Jimmy, Neil Laughton, Mark Beaumont, Matthew Mays, Andy Hastings and Adam Rattray. We are training for the event at locations that range from Loch Tay to the Thames at Sonning.[/p][p]Our two charities are the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund (Neil served with the Royal Marines and a number of the team are former members of UK Special Forces - Major Hasler was instrumental in the creation of the SBS as well as a commissioned RM officer) and The Stroke Association (our thoughts are with Ian Burlingham and Rachel Inglefield (nee Hall), who are both recovering from strokes).[/p][p]We would be very grateful for any help or donations you can spare. The team is bearing all the costs of the expedition, so any money you give will go directly to our two charities.[/p][p]There are a number of people we must thank for making this all possible: Mrs Hasler ('Blondie' Hasler's widow) and Paddy Ashdown, both of whom have kindly agreed to be our patrons; Christophe and Marianna San Jose for helping us arrange the safety boat; Jacques Despueys for offering to pilot us into the Gironde; Richard Spinks for lending us the Kleppers; Dr Tom Keene for detailing the history of the raid; Paddy Ashdown for his practical advice on the overfalls; Mrs Robertson for putting us in touch with Mrs Hasler; Tommy Gregory for helping with the website; Nigel from Oboe Charters for his help on planning the entry into the Gironde; Stephen Johnson for his expert knowledge and assistance; Lieutenant Colonel Paul Manley and Eton College CCF for help with rations; Rory and Sarah from Cocoa Loco for chocolate support; and Francis Whately of the BBC for his enthusiasm and help.[/p][p]Finally sincere thanks must go to all our wives and children for allowing us to miss part of the summer holidays to recreate the raid.[/p][p][/p][p][b][span=text-decoration: underline;][i]WHAT WE DID[/i][/span][/b][/p][p]Team member Jimmy's summary of the Cockleshell Memorial Challenge 2012 is as follows:[/p][p][/p][lt]p style="text-align: justify;"[gt]I'm pleased to say that we're all now back from the Cockleshell Memorial Challenge 2012.[lt]br /[gt]In summary, we paddled 146km and then walked approximately 100 miles.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]We drove just over 1000 miles from Scotland to Le Verdon, where we waited for a couple of the team who were flying in. At Le Verdon we re-built the kleppers and sorted our kit.[/p][lt]p style="text-align: justify;"[gt][lt]br /[gt]We tied the kleppers to our safety boat in the marina at Le Verdon[lt]br /[gt]and then set out to sea (a couple of hours late) to the exact point that Hasler's original team were dropped off by submarine, approximately 15 miles from the mouth of the estuary.[lt]br /[gt]Because we were late heading off, our plan to arrive at slack water (and at twilight)was out the window; instead we arrived when it was pitch black, just after midnight (roughly the same time as Hasler's team) and paddled straight into the tidal rushes before we knew what was happening! There was a frantic 1/2 hour of trying not to get swept into the Bay of Biscay, working out which way was upstream (the waves come from every direction in the rushes) and a complete lack of communication between our kleppers...but also with the safety boat - so there was a collective sigh of relief when we all finally made it safely (if a little wet) into the calm of waters above the rushes. We bivouacked in some trees and discussed our mistakes![lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]The next 2 days saw us progress up the Gironde estuary, usually doing 2x 5 hour sessions a day and like Hasler, we paddled for an hour at a time with 5 minutes off...how we longed for those 5 minutes and an opportunity to take the weight off our backsides - I never knew sitting down could be so painful! We paddled early morning and in the evenings, right into the night, usually stopping by midnight or 1a.m. We crossed to the east side of the estuary on the 2nd day and were making for some bright lights on the far bank (the estuary is over 4km wide in parts). As we got much closer to the lights, it became obvious that we were, in fact, heading straight for a nuclear power station. I was keen to push on, as the tide was taking us quickly away from the shore....but someone pointed out the wisdom of perhaps not approaching a French nuclear power station at midnight in 3 small kleppers, given the French nervous disposition regarding anything nuclear![/p][lt]p style="text-align: justify;"[gt][lt]br /[gt]As we sat there deciding what to do, a large shadow loomed towards us. It was not the French special forces sent to scupper us but something almost as dangerous - it was a very large unlit channel marker which the tide was propelling us towards at 5km/hour. By the time we'd worked out what it was and where it was (hard to tell in the dark) it had passed us by within a couple of metres - if one of us had hit it broadside, it would undoubtedly have flipped us over.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]Instead, we paddled further upstream but found nothing but kilometres of reeds and mud banks, infested with mosquitos and other assorted biting things. As we scouted along the bank, we passed under strange contraptions, straight out of Burt Reynold's film 'Deliverance' - they were wooden jetties on stilts, reaching out into the mud-plains of the estuary which had large nets on the end, suspended above the water - we assume they're used for shrimp fishing at high tide. We pulled in at one of these and after sliding around in the mud lots, trying to get ashore we finally slept up on the rickety jetty.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]Adam was very good at reading to us from his notes, as we went along (often as we continued to paddle) telling us Hasler's route in minute detail. We made a point of stopping at each point that Hasler stopped at, if only to 'touch ground'.[/p][lt]p style="text-align: justify;"[gt][lt]br /[gt]Although we were progressing well upstream and despite having studied it on Google maps, I hadn't appreciated just how large the estuary was - it could take up to an hour just to get from one side to the other.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]On the second night, we were paddling from Lamarque, on the west shore and had enjoyed an amazing sunset, a fly-by by an otter and were generally enjoying the cool of the evening when we heard a noise worryingly similar to the tidal rushes, if a little quieter. We could vaguely make out a floating boom to our left and what appeared to be a wall of some sort to our right....surely there couldn't be any weirs on the river? Before we knew exactly what was happening we had been sling-shot through a bottleneck of approximately 10 feet which half of the Gironde flood tide was trying to squeeze through. We then watched the light of the boat ahead suddenly turn 90 degrees right and zigzag violently away from us - we then followed suit, as we were also caught in some very powerful back currents. Once again, frantic paddling ensued and we escaped what could have been an interesting few moments.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]We continued upstream, still heading for Bordeaux, which by our calculations we would make by midnight. We passed a few more unlit channel markers but generally the route was uneventful. At about 10pm a large freight ship passed us - we had passed quite a few further down the estuary, during the day. What we hadn't considered was that the estuary was finally narrower (about 500-700 metres wide) and shallower than before. As the wake approached us, it was like most other things - hard to make out clearly in the dark. We expected the 12-18 inch wakes that had passed us during the day....what we got was 6 foot rolling waves! Luckily the wavelength was just long enough that we floated over them, rather than through them but they bounced back and forth across the channel for a good few minutes.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]We passed under the E5 road-bridge - a smaller version of the Forth Road bridge shortly before midnight and then paddled slowly onwards, trying to make sense of exactly where we were. We paddled under a footbridge into the old WW2 submarine pens for a look around which greatly puzzled an onlooker, on his way home from a night on the town.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]We finally pulled up at the Quai des Chartrons just after midnight and tied up the kleppers so that we could pop ashore for a celebratory drink. The French river police that pulled up at the same time were surprisingly [lt]br /[gt]relaxed about us paddling at night with only a couple of lights between us and watched with bemusement as we tried...and failed to get served at any of the bars. The bouncer at the first bar we tried suggested that their dress code included shoes; only one of our group had any. It was also suggested that the combination of my dodgy wing commander/biker moustache; Adam's paddle (which he'd insisted in bringing along for the beer) and our general stench of 3 days' paddling with no shower may have also had something to do with all the subsequent bars we tried having literally 'just stopped serving....desolé'. We contented ourselves with a celebratory ice-cream, before heading back to the floating pontoon where we'd left the boats, under the watchful eye of the gendarmerie. There was talk of getting an hour's [lt]br /[gt]sleep before making the most of the ebb tide. I wasn't too happy about this, as we'd been paddling hard for 2.5 days and had had very little sleep the night before and would have to go back through the 'sling-shot' in darkness again....but after a democratic vote, we lay down on the pontoon for an hour, getting cold and not sleeping, then got back into the kleppers at about 02:00hrs and set off back down the river towards Blaye. We had an uneventful trip downstream, as somehow we'd missed the correct channel in the darkness and instead carried down the larger shipping channel - which meant that we'd missed the sling-shot, much to my satisfaction.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]As dawn broke, we rafted up with the other kleppers and Adam read us more from his notes about Hasler's journey back downstream. We had a very enjoyable 20 minute snooze, still rafted, as the ebb tide carried us [lt]br /[gt]downstream...whilst someone kept watch (not sure who that was!) We reached Blaye at about 7a.m. and having popped downstream to see the point at which Hasler scuppered his own klepper and started his way on foot, we took our boats ashore, de-kitted them and washed them down thoroughly before dismantling them. According to my GPS we had paddled 146km in total. We then got a couple of hours sleep on the quayside before re-organising our kit in preparation for the walking phase.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]The next morning we drove a couple of miles north of Blaye to the spot where Hasler had started his walk and we duly set off, without really knowing what to expect. The French have supposedly created a 'Hasler Route' but on enquiry at the local tourist office where this walk was supposed to start, no-one had ever heard of it. As such, we decided to follow the route map we had as best we could and having consulted someone in their garden about a mile after we set off, we were directed 'along the road for 200 metres, then right over a bridge and through the fields'. Through the fields quickly became struggling through 10ft corn fields and then suddenly became fighting through very thick and overgrown woodland, complete with large thorny bushes and spiky tendrils at head-height. After several hundred metres of French undergrowth, we emerged into a far more welcome sight of vineyards and gently rolling countryside.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]The next 3 days saw vineyard followed by sunflower field and a LOT of [lt]br /[gt]tarmac, as we walked almost exclusively on the roads (as Hasler's team had done) . We covered about 55km the 1st day, continuing well into the night.  By this stage I had developed a small rash on my legs but thought little about it, as it wasn't very painful. The others had a variety of blisters from the hard tarmac and we spent progressively more time sorting our feet out each time we stopped.[/p][lt]p style="text-align: justify;"[gt][lt]br /[gt]In the evening of day 2, we arrived at the farmhouse where Hasler and Sparks had been given shelter and food. We knocked on the door and explained to the owner what we were doing. He couldn't have been more welcoming - and showed us round the very rooms where Hasler and Sparks had warmed themselves by the fire and then slept upstairs. The disused rooms clearly hadn't changed AT ALL since the war and we all felt very moved to have been there; to me it felt as if Hasler and Sparks could have been there the previous evening and not 70 years ago.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]By the end of day two, three of us had had to pull out - one due to plantar fasciitis, another due to severe blisters and sadly I had to stop at about 23:00 hrs on the second day as my rash had got steadily worse throughout the day and for the last 4 hours had been as if someone was holding a lit flame under both lower legs. The rash was purpuric with large haemorrhagic patches on both ankles. It seemed like an allergic reaction and I guessed (wrongly) that it was due to some of the plants we'd encountered in the wood.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]By the time I'd got to the campsite, I was shivering uncontrollably and [lt]br /[gt]exhibiting a strange mix of symptoms, including a temperature of 40C and burning legs even with the lightest touch. I wasn't dehydrated nor did I have heatstroke. I collapsed into my sleeping bag hoping I'd feel better in the morning. Sadly I didn't. In fact I was worse and even walking a few yards was very painful. I had the option of going to A&E in Bordeaux or flying back to the UK - I chose option 2, as I knew an excellent doctor in the same village as Gina's parents. I was back in the UK by 5pm and was in the hospital having my bloods taken by 8pm the same night.[lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]I got a call the next morning from the doctor saying the blood results were back and I had 'Henoch-Schonlein purpura' - a rare situation usually found in children, where the immune system over-reacts to an infection and floods the legs with large immune molecules, leading to vasculitis and consequently the rather unsightly and painful rash I had. There is nothing to do but wait for it to get better. So that was the end of the challenge for me, approximately 45 miles from the end. I'm pleased to say that the remaining 3 guys made it to Ruffec, (where Hasler met up with the Resistance) but sadly celebration was put on hold, as it was a religious holiday and ALL the bars and shops were shut![lt]br /[gt][lt]br /[gt]We had many laughs during the trip, not least at each other's efforts at the French language; we were all continually amazed at how good our army rations were and we marvelled at how lucky we'd been with the weather....but most of all, we all realised and truly appreciated for the first time just how staggering an achievement Hasler and Sparks pulled off. They were a remarkable pair whose indomitable spirit and courage shone through, to get them safely home. To manage all that they did in a cold December, with no warm kit, almost always soaked to the skin and half starved, sets them apart from the rest of us and is a reminder of the lengths some people had to go to during the world wars.[/p]

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Dec 10, 2012

Anonymous

Many congratulations

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Dec 8, 2012

Anonymous

From the team

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Dec 8, 2012

Jim Davy

As promised

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Dec 6, 2012

Anonymous

Bravo, Adam.

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Dec 6, 2012

Anonymous

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Dec 5, 2012

OLIVER STAUNTON

BEST WISHES FROM THE STAUNTON CLAN - SSE YOU AT HANDEL STREET!

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Dec 5, 2012

Helen Hutton

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Dec 5, 2012

Anonymous

Cracking effort gents, looking forward to the talk.

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Dec 4, 2012

Gordon Gray

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Dec 4, 2012

Anonymous

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Adam Rattray

Adam Rattray

David Fox-Pitt and Neil Laughton

David Fox-Pitt and Neil Laughton

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont

James W

James W