'I've been to hell on water'

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The Independent Online

Jackie Bartlett, a holidaymaker, spoke for many of the 6,000 ferry passengers who spent up to 20 hours yesterday in the heaving cauldron of the English Channel when she finally arrived in the Port of Dover at lunchtime. She said: "Thank heavens I'm back on dry land. I've just been to hell on water."

Jackie Bartlett, a holidaymaker, spoke for many of the 6,000 ferry passengers who spent up to 20 hours yesterday in the heaving cauldron of the English Channel when she finally arrived in the Port of Dover at lunchtime. She said: "Thank heavens I'm back on dry land. I've just been to hell on water."

Slowly and unsurely, a ragged army of bleary eyed mothers, unshaven stag-night revellers and assorted travellers trailed through the arrivals lounge at the country's busiest port telling of their ordeal following a night on the ocean waves that left one woman seriously injured and hundreds with memories that they will be slow to forget.

Each had been on board one of the six P&O Stena Line ferries and the single Sea France vessel from Calais that spent hours standing off opposite the famous white cliffs as 20-foot waves created by the worst storm for 13 years turned entry into Dover harbour into an unwinnable duel with the forces of nature.

By dawn the huge ships were reduced to bobbing around outside the port like corks in a bath tub before limping one by one into harbour, while those on board contended with the effects of a sea-sickness, rolling floors, flying furniture and a sleepless night.

Mrs Bartlett, a 42-year-old nursing sister of Derby, accompanied by her husband Doug, 45, had been on board the P&O Stena ferry Kent, which set sail from Calais at 6.30pm on Sunday and finally docked at Dover shortly after 2pm yesterday. She said: "I've worked in casualty wards but I've never seen anything like what I did on that boat. People were lying in the corridors, being sick, dodging flying duty-free. It was a scene from hell.

"We had been on what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend in Burgundy but I feel like I've been through the mill. The boat was pitching up and down terribly and even now I've come off the world feels like it's still moving. It's been a very, very long night."

Graham Whitehorn, 20, a construction worker, of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, was also on the ship. He added: "The crossing was the most horrific thing. The floor was slippery in places, for reasons that are obvious. All I can say was the worse thing was the smell."

The Kent spent nearly three hours waiting to berth in the foaming seas off the eastern docks after steel lines attaching it to a tug twice snapped and forced the smaller vessel to push the ferry into place.

The seven vessels which set sail, including P&O Stena's Provence, Burgundy and Dover passenger ferries from Calais and two freight vessels from Zebrugge, had each left their ports in relatively calm conditions that rapidly deteriorated once at sea into a force nine gale.

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