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Looking for Elsie

DSC 0103
Ingrid Stellmacher leaving Carteret Harbour

In the early hours of 11th August 1948, two lovers stole a 12-foot dinghy from Carteret harbour in northern France and rowed
14 miles through rough seas to Jersey.  The wooden boat bore the name ‘Elsie’ and the name of her builders who were English:
J Husk Jnr of Wivenhoe.  

Eight years later those lovers would become my parents and the story of my father’s  promise to come back for my mother when the war
ended, and his 14-hour battle with that stretch of water’s unpredictable and one of the world's most dangerous tides in the world, became
part of our history and their legacy.

Sixty-eight years later, I made the same journey my parents made. What took my father 14 hours to row, took us barely 2 hours in a Rib,
and Jersey’s Rowing Club’s competitors just over 3 hours with a 3 man crew in their race across the same waters.  My father’s battle to navigate
Jersey’s treacherous rocks and unforgiving waters that night, to stop the boat from being pushed further off course and out into open sea, was
one my mother was convinced he wouldn’t win at times.

“Blood was trickling from the corner of his mouth” She recounted. “He was tired, the tide was strong, the waves were high, and I thought
that’s it!  We’re not going to make it!”

But make it they did.  And I have often thought about Elsie’s part in that journey.  How she came to be there that night and the woman she
was named after.  For while Elsie appeared at the right time for my parents to make their escape, it was Elsie’s presence that also betrayed them,
alerting harbour authorities of her secret arrival on the island.  Having made it to the last piece of land possible before overshooting Jersey altogether,
my parents came ashore on a small rocky inlet at Vicard Point near Bouley Bay.  
From there the only way out was up.  Forced to abandon Elise in full view, they scaled the Point’s dangerously steep cliffs and made the 5 kilometres
into St Helier.  From the moment they left Elsie the authorities began to search for spies arriving illegally on the island rather than lovers looking for
sanctuary to marry and start a new life. A life that would eventually lead to England they hoped.

Trapped on the rocks where my parents abandoned her, Elise, pounded by the waves, broke up, and all that remained intact when she
was salvaged were her ores and the pieces of her that revealed her name and builder - not a French boatbuilder as I expected 
and the name Elsie was said to have been decorated with a blue star on either -  added later perhaps?

John Collins, a key member of Wivenhoe’s History Group in Essex and authority on maritime history, tried tracing a boat named Elsie built
by J Husk & Sons but drew a blank.

‘It’s possible she had been built by Husk’s but not the yacht itself.’’ Explained John. 
“Husks did build boats and dinghies for vessels that they hadn’t built themselves, often as replacements, and mostly for yachts and
fishing vessels.”

He did find one boat named Elsie though, last registered to a Mr Albert Glandas, fils, in Havre.  Could this be Havre-de-Pas in Jersey?   
The Elsie registered to Glandas was built in 1875 but John couldn’t trace her beyond 1899.  That she would have survived the war years
and ended up in Carteret 51 years later is unlikely.

Peter Hall, Chairman of the Wivenhoe History Group, revealed that a fishing smack by the name of Elise was well known in Wivenhoe,
owned, and raced by Friday Green, who won the America’s Cap and already detailed on Wivenhoe’s History website.       
Could it be the name Elsie was recorded incorrectly and was a second generation Elise from Wivenhoe?  The builder after all is recorded
as J Husk Jnr, not J Husk & Sons? 

Is there someone out there with clues, if not the answer to Elsie’s true identity? The boat and the woman?  
And my parents?  They were spotted at sea heading towards Vicard Point that afternoon and the beached Elsie, quickly found, made headline news
in Jersey’s Evening Post, prompting extra police activity on the island which unlike mainland Britain, had been occupied during the war. 

Three days later, anxious that they would ultimately be identified, my parents, who had stolen a boat, entered the island illegally and made false
declarations registering at a bed and breakfast, gave themselves up.  They were arrested, held in custody, and 4 days later deported to a jail
in France having been banned from going back to Jersey for five years.

The mystery of Elsie remains unsloved but my
parents dilemma of how and where to be together was solved. They married later that year, in the beautiful
county of Kent in England and were together 59 years.

They never returned to Jersey.