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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July 2005, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Wind taken out of Sail 8 mission
By Hannah Bayman
BBC News with Sail 8

Supertaff owner Neil Chapman
The Sail 8 boats found no French G8 protesters waiting for a ride

A small flotilla of boats sailed into the International Festival of the Sea on Sunday to an enthusiastic welcome.

They were the hardy nucleus of a "Sail 8" flotilla which set out from Gosport on Friday evening to sail to Cherbourg harbour in France.

The journey was in response to a call by Bob Geldof for sailors to "recreate Dunkirk" and ferry back protesters wanting to travel to Scotland for the G8 meeting.

But the mission did not go quite as planned.

Most of the 73 craft registered for the 65-mile (105km) crossing to Cherbourg either opted to stay in harbour or were forced to turn back by bad weather on Friday.

Meanwhile the four boats which did make it to France and back found no European demonstrators waiting for a ride.

But their crews put a positive face on the experience, arguing the interest generated by Sail 8 more than outweighed the many setbacks.

In terms of the gesture made and the amount of publicity that has come out of it, it has still been a successful trip
Supertaff skipper Luke Windle

A welcome from some 30 boats and a helicopter fly-by as they entered Portsmouth harbour left them in little doubt of their support back home.

The four-strong crew of the lead boat, the Supertaff, also received a call from Geldof congratulating them on their efforts.

The pop star - who had planned to sail out in a motorboat to greet the homecoming boats - apologised for being too exhausted to make the trip after Saturday's Live 8 concert.

Instead, he invited the Sail 8 crews to join him at Wednesday's free concert in Murrayfield to mark the start of the G8 summit.

Speaking from the Channel shortly before reaching Portsmouth, Supertaff skipper Luke Windle was relaxed about the mission's mixed results.

'Tremendous drive'

"Obviously the intention was to go over and pick up some French people and we are disappointed to return without any," he said.

"But in terms of the gesture made and the amount of publicity that has come out of it, it has still been a successful trip."

Bob Geldof launching Sail 8 at Swanwick Marina, Hampshire
Bob Geldof called to congratulate the Sail 8 boats on their return

As for the small number of boats arriving in Cherbourg, Mr Windle said: "As a skipper I totally respect the decision not to come because the boats weren't suitable for adverse weather."

He added: "We are obviously disappointed that Bob Geldof won't be there because it would be great to meet him - but we all know what was going on last night with the Live 8 concert.

"He's done a tremendous drive over the last two weeks."

Conditions for the return leg were far better than the outward journey, when the boats were "beating" into the wind.

Some of those boats forced back on Friday by choppy waves and seasickness were able to sail out from Portsmouth to greet the flotilla as they returned on Sunday afternoon.

Play a part

Neil Chapman, who owns the 41-foot (12.4m) ketch Supertaff with his wife Mandy, also among the crew, said: "People are pledging their support in different ways.

Luke Windle, Supertaff skipper
Skipper Luke Windle said the trip was a learning experience

"If you are a rock star like Bono, you go on stage and sing for free. We run a boat sales company, so we can create awareness this way."

On the Supertaff's outward journey, the four crew sailed in shifts of two on, two off all night, changing watch every two hours to sleep.

And while the Supertaff's crew missed the Live 8 concerts because they were out of communications range, they are happy to have played their own small part in events.

"Before we left I was talking to people on the south coast about Sail 8 and lots of people knew about it and what it meant," said Mr Windle.

"It was a good idea and I think in the future we can learn from the experience. I would definitely be interested in doing it again."

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