French scupper Channel crossing

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THE FRENCH authorities have stuck an oar into a charity’s plans to row the English Channel.

A lecturer from Hull University, Dr Sarah Maitland, was due to take part today in a fund-raising crossing from Dover to Calais.

The AHOY Cross-Channel Challenge, which involves rowing Thames Watermen cutters the 22 miles across the busy shipping lanes, had been running successfully for the past three years, raising thousands to pay for sailing and rowing activities for young and disabled people.

But when the first teams set out recently they were told the French were refusing to allow them to cross.

It came after a rowing team operating on their own attempted a night crossing, got into difficulty and had to be rescued.

Dr Maitland, a lecturer in translation studies at Hull University, said: “It is really disappointing. We have worked so hard physically to build up muscle conditions. We have done a lot of training with our charity. We have been working our socks off.”

Her team has now decided to defer till next year, in the hope that by then there will be a change of heart.

Clair Ongley, from AHOY, said cross-Channel swimmers could also be affected although that had not yet been confirmed.

Last month a swimmer died after collapsing as she approached the French coast.

Ms Ongley said other teams of rowers would be setting out today but they would be turning back in the middle of the Channel where they meet French waters.

She is hoping the French will consider issuing licences to responsible organisations.

She said: “The French have never been very keen. They are just concerned about safety. However we as an organisation follow procedures to the letter.

“We have never ever had an incident. We are just hoping that the French will consider licensing those organisations who are doing it properly.

“We have still got a lot of interest for next year.”