EPT Deauville Day 1B: Terror at 10,000 feet, complete calm at ground level

Not all journeys to Deauville are as straightforward as some. When the EPT returned to Deauville in Season 5 after a two-year absence, it was an opportunity for some to experience Casino Deauville for the first time. It just meant a short flight from the UK to Normandy. What could possibly go wrong?

Marc Convey, who writes for PokerNews, was among those making his first trip to the event. Shunning the train, ferry, and drive in order to cut down on travel time, he made his way to Shoreham Airport on the Sussex coast, between Worthing and Brighton, a former spitfire base and oldest airport in the UK.

Racing to catch his flight, Convey got a call saying that the flight was likely to be cancelled and that he should make alternative arrangements. But he was too far gone to turn back so decided to press on regardless, hearing first that there was a fifty per cent chance of cancellation, and then 60 per cent, until the voice at the end of the phone said it was "90 per cent cancelled".

It was only when he finally arrived that he heard the flight was back. Probably saying "get in!" he took his place aboard the eight-seater light aircraft.

His travelling companions that day were a mixture of poker press and PokerStars employees, including Kirsty Thompson, now President of the UKIPT, and EPT founder John Duthie, who took seats at the front. The weather was bad, but not too bad. Surely they wouldn't fly if it was too bad?

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Marc Convey on commentary duty with James Hartigan

The trouble was that in an aircraft that size his options were simple. An aircraft of that type was not suitably fueled to fly around bad weather fronts. His style was the fly through it instead, unless there was lightening, in which case he'd happily make a dash back to base, possibly screaming.

Prior to departure the pilot, a capable man, crawled aboard to give the safety briefing before turning to the eight passengers whose lives were in his hands.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "It's going to be hairy." For nervous passengers this has the effect of instilling abject terror. "But don't worry," he added, "I've done this before. We'll be fine."

To know Kirsty Thompson is to know that fear of flying is her life's preoccupation. Suddenly she had been strapped into a tiny tube with a propeller bolted onto each wing with no way out. Duthie, sensing her need for a calm, authoritative influence, phoned his wife to tell her where exactly he'd buried the money in the garden.

A short while later, with the weather closing in and a forecast of doom before them, Duthie got a phone call back, his wife asking by way of coincidence whose name their country home was purchased in. The aircraft took off from Shoreham, with no one on board in particularly good spirits.

The aircraft turned south towards the French coast and out over the English Channel. It was a straightforward departure, albeit fraught with latent dread. As the plane climbed Convey fell asleep, woken a few minute later as the plane lurched across the sky.

"When I woke up I looked one way and Rod Stirzaker, also a blogger, sitting next to me had turned green," said Marc. "All I could see in front of me was John Duthie and Kirsty Thompson holding hands."

By this point even Duthie himself, usually a calm frequent flyer, was clinging on for dear life as the pilot banked left and right on his decent into Deauville.

"It was a dramatic arrival," said Convey. "The front of the plane was open so you could see the pilot fighting the controls as we came in to land. Then we touched down and everything was fine. We all wondered what the fuss had been about. All except Kirsty."

The event itself went without hitch, with Moritz Kranich winning that year as the EPT made a triumphant return to Normandy. No need to panic after all.

"It was a great event," said Convey, looking back. "We all got the train back though."

Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter

Stephen Bartley
@StephenBartley in European Poker Tour