Letters from Captain Chris Wren
Letters written to those offering prayer support

Support Letter Sep 05

By Chris Wren
Monday, 05 September 2005

The ‘Four Sisters’ story

In 2003 I received a message from my friend Tim Smith circulated around Morning Star Trust members: -

"I recently had an e-mail conversation with a chap called Martin Bateman at Operation Mobilisation who knows a 70's/80's Rugby star who is unfortunately ill with a brain tumour. This chap's name is Maurice Colclough and he has a boat in South Africa which he wants to launch into the Lord's work. There maybe someone in MST who could help deliver it back to the UK... If not it may certainly be something we should support if not help directly. If you could circulate a couple of documents around the membership I would be most grateful."

Although busy with ‘Genevieve Challenge’ in Greece, I made contact to see if there was anything I could do.

Martin Bateman wrote: -

"Prayer request.

"I lived in Gibraltar for a short time in the 1990s. I received a call from there today. Maurice Colclough was a famous rugby player in the late 70s and early 80s. He partnered the England captain (Bill Beaumont) on the pitch, and helped his country win their first Grand Slam (a great achievement even today) for years in 1980. He is a hero of mine, and of many rugby players of a certain age (!) He became a believer just a short time ago. He was also was diagnosed with a brain tumour last year. Right now he is going through chemotherapy, and has memory lapses due to the tumour. He is in good spirits despite all this.

"I have just had a short conversation with Maurice. He knows he is on borrowed time...and wants to share his story with as many people as will listen...he also hopes to start a yachting ministry through a boat that he owns that is currently in Cape Town South Africa.

"So please pray:

"Thanks for taking a few seconds to pray for Maurice, living in Wales and his wife Annie and their kids.


Four SeasonsI heard no more until I left Greece in 2004 and eventually regained contact. It seems the boat had only managed to get as far as Agadir in Morocco in all that time and had many problems. An old French friend of Maurice’s, Marc Ocard, was one of those who brought the boat up from Capetown. I was told there had been no skipper!

As Maurice’s intention was to use the boat for a Christian youth ministry in Wales, and he had originally been given 4 months to live, I offered to bring the boat to Milford Haven from Agadir free.

Organising a volunteer crew was surprisingly complex involving hundreds of emails. There were those who could not leave before a certain date, those who had to be back by a certain date, and those who asked all sorts of questions I could not answer fully. As poor Maurice had difficulty speaking, I could not find out everything about the boat. I could not book until I knew I had a crew, and many would not commit until they knew the exact date of the flight. Getting qualified people was as usual the most difficult. Although I made contact with many who were qualified, few were available. Eventually Maurice’s wife Annie booked a flight and 8 of us went out.

Some good sailing friends could give no more than the 3 weeks I estimated [allowing one weeks preparation], so there was no time to waste. Maurice had given me some equipment to take out and, with the charts I had brought, made me overweight at the airport and I was charged for the first time I can remember. This involved the charade of going to another desk elsewhere with all my luggage, queuing again to pay separately, and coming back with some extra paperwork.

The crew arriving with me at Agadir was my missionary friend Sverker, his daughter Emma, my friend from Morning Star Trust Mark, Matt, Charlie, Mike Short with Mike Elsmere to arrive later. As the person who I had believed was to meet us at the airport didn’t turn up, Sverker who had been there many years before and spoke fluent Arabic expertly bartered for 2 taxis. Then when they saw we had luggage, it was an excuse to negotiate again for a higher charge! The Atlantic port of Agadir supplies fish to all of Morocco and most of Africa it seems. So finding the yacht amongst 500 trawlers and 150 small fishing boats took some time, especially as the ‘marina’ only held about a dozen boats. We were all very surprised at the poor condition of the yacht. Everything I looked at was about to fail and in a very sad totally neglected state. Although we got the forward head working, the aft head wouldn’t work at all because all the seals were missing. Luckily Mike Elsmere was arriving one day later, so I quickly got him to bring a new set from England. Whilst some went to the only supermarket, we paid off the ‘caretaker’ and ensured that he did not leave any of his personal ‘self-prescribed medicaments’ on board! He was self-styled ‘Monsieur X’, and put x’s on all his leatherwork, lampshades, everywhere he could. His photo album proved there was nothing he could not cover in leather, even wrists and mobile phones!

We threw out the filthy carpets and other smelly rubbish and set about scrubbing everything below. We all worked very hard with one person 100% employed in sourcing parts. As it took so long to negotiate taxi rates, and we needed to do so much shopping, we decided it would be cheaper to hire a small car. Someone asked me if I had ever seen a worse maintained boat. After considering the matter for some time, I decided this was definitely the worst. Although we were just ready after the one week I had allowed, the marina manager, Mr Abdul Kadhir, had other ideas. When I first met him and explained that we had come to take the boat to the UK, he just said one word ‘No!’ I was so surprised I just replied ‘Oh’. I presented him with my letter of authority from the owners and my certificates: he said it was no good. He said that the one who brought the boat there had to be the one to take it out. This was Marc Ocard who was originally going to sail with us but backed out and had gone back to France. We only managed to contact Marc once who was extremely rude and aggressive. Thereafter it seemed as though someone had stolen his mobile phone and would tend to hang up. I obtained a Power of Attorney to authorise me to take the yacht which was not accepted, then one translated into French, then into Arabic, then officially translated by a local legally authorised translator and then stamped by the Mayor of Agadir. I went from one office to another all around the port and still couldn’t get authorisation. I had help from a friend of a friend of the owners, a local Egyptian businessman, whose understanding of the local culture was a great help in reading what was really going on below the surface. Sometimes he would translate a point, but then say "but that is out of one side of his mouth!" He promised his church would pray for us. I remember well that when I presented my powerful documents to Abdul Kadhir, he then came back with a copy of Marc’s old authority from the owners, which he chose to accept in preference to mine. But I said this is in the same form as the original letter I presented which you did not accept!

Eventually contact was made with the Honorary British Consul. She came to the marina with an associate in high heels, obviously not used to the marine scene. She clung to my arm as we proceeded slowly on the unstable pontoons containing broken planks. She had been there 24 years and so knew the score well. We were given the usual run around the offices. But when she was told: "the Port Director cannot see you because he is in a meeting," she said: "Well get him out now, it will only take a minute." Suddenly he was available in his office! After a few days of negotiating and rubber stamping everything with the Consul’s stamp [they love stamps], we were finally told they were going to do an inspection of the yacht. By this time we were wondering if we were ever going to get the boat out. I even spoke to the lawyer in Gibraltar where the boat was registered. He suggested that we leave the boat and claim under the ‘force majeure’ clause in the insurance for theft. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the boat was not insured, and no one would insure a boat in Morocco. Even with all the work we had done, it would be easy for them to find something wrong as an excuse to keep the boat. All on board were really low. It seemed clear that the boat had been deliberately entrenched in Agadir, boxed-in with pontoons preventing her leaving, until the owner passed away, so that they could have the boat. I could not imagine how the owner felt about his long standing friend doing this to him – and all while he was terminally ill. Marc even made threatening phone calls to the owners demanding money!

Eventually the Port Director said they would only do a ‘little inspection’. Suddenly he seemed to be on our side. The political pressure was too much for him. On board we had a very friendly inspection. They didn’t notice anything! But then we still had to get them to deal with Abdul Kadhir. You would not believe how hard he resisted! The Consul knew that as soon as her back was turned he would do nothing. He squirmed in every way possible to delay our departure.

Sverker got Emma to take Abdul’s photograph. For 3 days he kept demanding, in English [for a change], "why you take photo?" Perhaps he suspected that Sverker wanted to set up a website warning yachtsmen of him!

At one point when it seemed we had all the papers ready to depart, we could not get permission because it was Abdul’s day off. The local officials said they did not know his home number for the Consul to phone him. [She told me this meant they would not give her the number]. We had been unable to contact Marc for some time to try to sort out this matter, but suddenly his number was available from Abdul! Obviously Abdul had phoned him to warn him we were finally succeeding. Marc was most unhelpful and said he would do everything in his power to stop the boat leaving. He said he wanted paying for his work. What work, I thought? Everything on board seemed to have had no maintenance at all. The only evidence in the papers on board was that an owner 18 years previously obviously took great care of the boat. It had certainly been unsafe to bring up from Capetown.

At last the pontoons were unbolted. We could not believe it! But still Abdul insisted on the Consul rubber stamping all his papers. As she walked back to her car to get the official stamp, I said I cannot believe this. She said it is always the power of the ‘gatekeepers’.

We had topped up the water tanks in readiness to leave so many times that they had been forgotten today and 4 people had taken showers. I wasted no time taking the boat out sternwards and intended taking water the other side. But just then the gunboat came back to its berth in the way, so I went alongside a German boat. Just as I was doing so the Consul phoned: "they are trying to serve a document - just go". My friend said: there is someone coming along the quay, you can’t go now; I am told he has a notice to serve you. They haven’t told me that said I, calling everyone on board instantly.

Poor Mike Elsmere had been unwell. Although I initially thought it food poisoning, he was not recovering and the symptoms did not fit exactly. He had got weaker and just at that moment decided to leave. We got him off, threw his luggage off, and released the lines. Being worried about him as I thought he might not be able to even carry his luggage, I contacted our Egyptian friend. He not only took our hire car back, but kept the travel agent open after hours to get a flight for Mike to the UK, as he said you would not get satisfactory medical treatment in Morocco. Just as well because it was unlikely he would have survived. Back in the UK they rushed him to hospital. Eventually after some wrong diagnoses, they found that some scar tissue from a childhood appendix operation had wrapped itself round his gut and part of his appendix had actually died! Later I heard that Mike "felt that Someone was looking after him"!

We tore out of the marina but were pursued by a RIB [Rigid Inflatable Boat]. "They’re coming after us," said someone. "I am not looking," said I. The noise from the propshaft was like a steam hammer. It seemed the propshaft was banging against the sterntube. It echoed all over the harbour. Then I was told the gunboat was giving chase. I am looking the other way, I said. Emma was apparently crying until someone reassured her that if it came to it only I would be arrested. She still managed to video it all with the camcorder she brought for her school project.

The gunboat blocked our escape at the harbour entrance, but I would not return because I knew then it would be all over. I talked to the Consul by mobile phone. I told Sverker to tell them to wait while I was talking to their boss. Meanwhile I kept the phone to my ear, whether it was in use or not. For an hour-and-three-quarters we kept this up and even allowed them to come on board. One rather short stocky fellow had to be helped by us because he couldn’t manage to climb up, much to our amusement. Both the marine police and the port officials were talking to their superiors ashore. The Chief of Police eventually said to me "What can I do? The British Consulate says allow you to leave, the French Consulate says stop you." Eventually the British Consul said the French have washed their hands of this affair, saying it is a civil matter. The Chief said to me "You have already left the quay, I will tell them you had already gone." I thanked him. Then to our amusement he couldn’t get ashore as his RIB had gone.

We left straight into a Force 7 on the nose. We couldn’t use the engine beyond slow speed because of the banging. Progress was very slow but we were just glad to get away. Some were seasick. It was poor Emma’s first time at sea and she suffered for days hardly getting up at all. What a shock for a 13-year-old! Even though I had replaced the mess of Heath-Robinson steering cables, the steering failed 3 times [elsewhere]. Immediately we tried the genoa it split and, having no bosun’s chair, could not get it down. The leecloths were inadequate and so crew moved about depending on the tack. Eventually fatigue was setting in so I decided to change course for Casablanca for a break. I wanted to check the propellor and shaft underwater. When we entered the outer harbour a small boat sped up saying Casablanca is closed! On the radio they wouldn’t even let us anchor anywhere, saying we should go up the coast to Mohammedia. I think what it really meant was that the marina was closed for work - had been for many years apparently. At Mohammedia we carried out many repairs but I decided that the boat wasn’t fit to go to the UK. The only thing we could do was take the boat out at Gibraltar. However I had no charts as far east as that, so some crew went to find some whilst shopping for parts in Casablanca. They found charts don’t exist anywhere in Morocco, but thankfully managed to photocopy charts from a ship in harbour!

One crew had to leave at Mohammedia and then there were 6.

Although there is little tide at Gibraltar, there are strong currents flowing through the Straits. We were progressing through at night and I said looking down: "I hope that steam is coming from the kettle". It wasn’t and we stopped the engine. Whilst some were working on the engine, I got Matt to radio ‘Tarifa Trafico’ [vessel traffic service] to warn vessels to give us a wide berth. We could make no progress under sail alone and so I was considering somewhere to anchor until the next tide. Then Tarifa Trafico suggested a spot in Spain, 17 miles away on the other side of the Straits! Very helpful, I thought! As I was giving instructions to those in the engine room, I could see a motor vessel coming towards us on a collision course. Eventually he gave way and then later we managed to use the engine once more. We just managed to get through before the current changed, and finally arrived in Gibraltar. Immediately Mike went off to get everyone the long awaited English fish and chips.

3 crew left in Gibraltar and then there were 3.

You could easily find our boat in Marina Bay because of the mess of furled split genoa. After buying a bosun’s chair it took an entire day to remove it piece by piece. We lifted the boat out in the commercial harbour because land reclamation work was going on. We lived on board with no electrical or water supply, toilets less than 50% of the time and a long walk to the nearest shops. We found that the steering pedestal was so worn that one bearing had worn right through and disappeared in bits. The engine coupling, which had been incorrectly installed many years earlier, was loose on the shaft, loose on the engine, and the engine mountings needed replacing. I could not buy a fixed GPS anywhere. Unbelievably there were no sailmakers in Gibraltar, and so a new genoa had to be flown in. This was amazingly difficult and time consuming involving taking 29 measurements, and chasing sailmakers worldwide for a quote. One quote was over €10,000 but the cheapest was from South Africa, where the other sails had come from, a fraction of the cost. Annie had arranged for the sail to go to Malaga because from there to Gibraltar was apparently expensive. David Russell, who had been helping me in Gibraltar, kindly gave me a lift to Malaga. Unfortunately they wanted a huge importation sum and I spent all day trying to resolve the issues only to return empty-handed. In the end I had to arrange an official shipping agent to carry it in-transit to Gibraltar to avoid these sums. Even then I had to walk across the border twice with papers to clear it. The remaining members of the first crew left, a second crew came and left unable to cope, and then there were 3.

Although apparently qualified, with US and Polish Coastal Skipper certificates, they seemed unable to navigate which meant I could not leave them alone for long. I got so tired I was actually sick from fatigue for the first time in my life. At the first port of Sines they left. He said he couldn’t sleep in the rough weather, and she said she was lonely on the helm. Later she emailed me to apologise saying she thought she was suffering from some kind of depression.

Whilst waiting for a new crew, as the weather was fine I decided to day-sail on my own up the coast. I stopped near Costa Caparica, my haunt from 20 years ago, to test the anchor, just in case, and found the chain ran to warp – not nice at all. Things went well but were not at all easy when heavy fog set in because I could not see the radar from the helm. Finally one crew member arrived in Peniche and then others in Leixoes, Oporto to make up the fourth crew of 7.

The oil cooler suddenly started leaking very badly which meant constantly topping up with oil. In Gibraltar I was going to get a new [aluminium] body for it, but when I found the price was £440 I decided to try and clean up the old one. Now I really needed a new one and had to wait for a crewmember joining us to bring it.

Past crew had included a Mark, 2 Mikes and 3 Matts; nevertheless I was surprised to have 2 Jeremys. One caught a very long thin fish at speed that we ate, although it was disconcerting to find it had bright green bones!

Even though the maintenance problems were now not so great as the early part of the trip, nevertheless a crewmember wrote 'The Four Sisters Song' to the tune of ‘On Ilkley Moor Ba’t’at.’

A typical verse read: -

The reefing pennants broke in two, broke in two,
The reefing pennants broke in two.
Oh tell us Chris what we must do!
Oh tell us Chris what we must do!
Chorus:- "Four Sisters" is her name,
"Four Sisters" is her name:
The boat where nothing works!

I relied heavily on my mobile phone to communicate but had no coverage just before the outer approach to Milford Haven. Then I received a message that the marina there was giving up its large berths and could no longer agree to take us. Annie had spent an entire day trying to find us an alternative without success. As it was midnight I could only make for the visitor’s berth in Neyland marina which has a very tiny entrance. As our echosounder had given up the week before this meant great care had to be taken.

‘Four Sisters’ had gone from Agadir to Casablanca, Mohammedia, Gibraltar, Sines, Alcantara, Peniche, Figuiera da Foz, Leixoes, Corme, Lage, Guilvinec, Lechagat, St Marys, Neyland and Rudders boatyard – over 2000 miles. Although I had expected it to take 3 weeks, it took nearer 3 months!

Prayer items: -

In Christ,


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