Looking for Elsie
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 ‘The 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 unpredictability, one of the most dangerous tides in the world, became
part of our history and their strenght our legacy.
Sixty-eight years later, I made that same journey my parents did. What took my father 14 hours though 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 races across the same waters. My father’s battle to navigate
Jersey’s treacherous rocks and unforgiving tides that night, to stop the boat from being pushed further off course and out into open sea, was
one my mother was convinced they wouldn’t win at times.
“I saw blood trickling from the corner of his mouth” She recounted. “He so was tired, the tide was so strong, the waves so high, and I thought
that’s it! After everything we’ve been through we're going to die here!"
But my father's metal battle with the tides and his own exhustion won through and I have often thought about 'The Elsie’s' part in that journey. How she came to be there that night and who the woman the boat was named after was. For while Elsie appeared at the right time on the righ night for my parents to make their escape it was also Elsie’s presence that 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 is 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 they hoped
to England and settle amongst the British for whom my father had spied for during the war.
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 pieces of her that revealed her name and builder - not a French boatbuilder as expected along with the name Elsie, decorated with a blue star either side. An afterthought 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 only built boats and dinghies for vessels that they hadn’t built themselves, often as replacements, and mostly for yachts and
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 by the authorities when wrting up the report and was really 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 about the boat, or the name of the lady she was named after?
And my parents? They were spotted at sea heading towards Vicard Point the same afternoon they beached Elsie. Quickly found, the boat made headline news
in Jersey’s Evening Post, prompting extra police activity on the island which unlike mainland Britain, had been occupied by the Germans during the second World War.
Three days later, anxious that they would ultimately be identified and arrested anyway, my parents, exhustated after their incredibly journey, having stolen a boat, entered the island illegally and made false declarations when registering at a bed and breakfast, gave themselves up. They were arrested, held in custody, and 4 days later after a court hearing, 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 fight for how and where to be together was solved. They made it to England where they married later that year, in the beautiful county of Kent, after 43 love letters, 1 promise and 9 years in between. They were together 59 years.
They never returned to Jersey.