At first we weren’t sure whether to continue the blog, but our loyal reader and our failing memories have convinced us to carry on for a bit, even though our sailing this year is likely to be rather more sedate than our voyage round the UK over the last couple of years.
With Heydays back in Lymington we have a chance to create a sort of normality after the last two years of being anywhere except our ‘home’ port. With our previous boats, we had spent happy days trundling around the Solent and Poole with occasional forays across to France and the Chanel Islands. The longer trips in boats with a cruising speed of around 4kts made for some long passages and all too frequently we were crossing busy shipping lanes in fog with no radar. We are looking forward to some slightly more luxurious and relaxed trips around our old haunts with the benefit of being able to see what might be bearing down on us in the fog.
So…nothing spectacular, but hopefully some nice pictures of mud and sunsets. We decided to keep Heydays afloat over winter and try to catch some of the crisp clear winter days with no one else out on the water.
In the event…perhaps inevitably, crisp clear days are few and far between. A pre-Christmas trip over to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight is a foggy windless trip, but at least the crab sandwich lives up to expectations.
Now we are on a river mooring without the benefit of walk-ashore pontoons, we treat ourselves to a new tender together with an electric outboard motor. Hopefully we can get to Heydays with mostly dry feet. This is the price we pay for not paying Lymington marina prices…we have certainly been spoilt around the rest of the country (with a few exceptions) where sailing is not solely the preserve of corporate tax breaks and well-heeled county types.
January and February pass with less than a handful of trips to Heydays just to make sure she is alright. This is not quite what we had in mind. Our first venture out is just a ‘shake-down’ to blow the cobwebs away and consists of just a few tacks up the Solent and back. Still, its nice to be back on the water. John and I manage a night away in Newtown Creek just to check that the anchor is still working…and that the New Inn is still there. A boat is aground in the entrance to the creek having misjudged the sand, there but for the grace of god etc.
The pub is doing a steak night for two, but sadly John is with a veggie. The promise to take the extra one home turns out to mean in his tummy. On the way back in the dark in the tender, the outboard decides that it can no longer run on just fumes and gives up the ghost. By the time we have refuelled (without a proper spout) we are i) liberally doused in petrol and ii) completely at a loss as to where the boat is, even with a couple of good torches. John has a compass in his watch and we feel our way slowly back. This is a salutary lesson on how easy a casual trip back from the pub can turn into a potentially dangerous situation on an ebb tide with little chance of rowing against it.
The morning brings a glassy stillness to the creek and we enjoy the solitude before the summer hordes arrive in their own bits of expensive floating plastic…
An oystercatcher and a few seals lazing on the mash look completely disinterested as we practice a few tight manoeuvres going round in circles backwards.
We slip away mid morning and leave the seals to their peace and quiet. All this just a stone’s throw from Lymington and Southampton…
Our next mini cruise takes us up to The Folley Inn which is halfway up the river from Cowes to Newport. There are only a few boats out at this stage of the season and unusually we have a pick of the river moorings and pontoons. The Folley usually gets very crowded and in the high season it all becomes a bit of a boat scrum…best avoided. It has special memories for John as we hired a boat plus skipper for his stag weekend and after some brisk sailing we fetched up at the inn on a Saturday night in August…along with quite a lot of other boatsful. The evening ends with most of the women in the pub plus John dancing on the tables. This is a regular occurrence it seems as there are several notices disclaiming responsibility for people falling off…and very many stiletto marks on the table tops. John refrains from dancing this time. No (cheap) pictures exist of this moment…
The morning is brisk and bright and clear and we have a lovely early-morning sail down to Lymington to pick up Chris. There are a few early bait diggers out …
…and we are reminded that Cowes was once a half decent ship-building town…
Yee Tak pretends to be gazing steely-eyed into the ocean, but in reality she is only thinking of food…
With a light easterly wind we have a very gentle run over to Poole in company with a few other boats and then debate with ourselves whether to attempt the inshore passage, the East Looe channel or the more cautious option of the main channel past Studland.
Caution wins out…and the other boats follow us on the same track. We wonder if they would have followed us wherever, on the assumption that we were locals. It reminds us of the maybe mythical stories of sailors following the wrong ferries over to France and then wondering why St Malo looks uncannily like Cherbourg.
On a falling tide we inch our way to a convenient mooring buoy near to the Shell Bay Restaurant. In double quick time we are in the dinghy and heading towards some fine seafood and the odd glass of wine…just to be sociable.
The sunset is glorious over the harbour and slips down behind Furzey Island in a wonderful final blaze of oranges and fiery reds. The famous green flash does not appear this time.
As the final light goes Chris and Yee Tak are singing merrily in the dinghy back to Heydays. Only the clanking of the chain ferry disturbs the perfect peace…and the odd clanking of rum bottles.
As adventures go this is relatively tame, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer joy of waking up in such beautiful surroundings. As the first of the tourist boats around Brownsea get under way, we breakfast and decide to just meander around the western areas of the harbour. The depths are shallow but one of the joys of a bilge keeler is that we don’t especially fear grounding…just the embarrassment of getting it wrong….or pretending that it was always our intention to scrub her bottom in the middle of the harbour. Yee Tak points us to an old anchoring haunt in South Deep just south of Green Island and we slowly sail along the meandering channel and anchor with a couple of others for lunch.
After a nap in the sun we decide to complete the grand circumnavigation (of Brownsea!) and return to South Deep for an even quieter night at anchor. The depths seem to be less than the charts suggest and we hold our breath trying to make Heydays lighter as we search for the relative deep of the Wych Channel. The oil wells on Furzey are completely hidden and the casual observer would not know that anything special was going on there apart from a few service boats making for the little jetty. The channel north and east of Brownsea is busy and crowded, but soon we are smugly leaving the tourist boats behind once more and heading for our anchorage.
As the tide recedes, Heydays settles snuggly into the mud and we dine with just some walking gulls and the odd oyster catcher for company. It is odd how such beauty and tranquillity is on our doorstep and yet we are often drawn to seek adventure in further flung places.
We need an earlyish start in the morning on the last of the tide to get a favourable stream out of the harbour and to make the tide gate through Hurst Narrows. At 6.30 we calculate we have about an hour left of acceptable depth. Sadly we have picked a rather shallower spot to anchor and Heydays is firmly aground already. We are forced to go back to bed to wait for the tide returning… By 8.30 we are afloat and we motor out against the incoming stream. Less than ideal but once we are out of the harbour we should be able to find some decent stream to help us on our way home. In glorious sunshine we sail within a biscuit throw of the beaches and huts of Sandbanks and Branksome and the wind fills in from the north to give us a superb reach past Bournemouth, Boscombe and Christchurch. Dozens of small fishing boats are anchored off the Shingles bank and we thread our way in along the north channel entering the narrows with about 45 minutes of the flood tide to spare.
Sailing to the city…
Our next mini-cruise takes us east with John having an appointment at the hospital in Southampton. The day is overcast and breezy and we are wrapped up against the chill of spring in Hampshire. A good south westerly combined with a favourable tide gets us to the entrance to Southampton Water in less than two hours and Heydays is making 6 kts through the water with just a reefed genoa. The water itself is full of commercial boats…the fast cats out of Cowes take no prisoners and the ferries themselves have to give way to the enormous (and hugely ugly) bulk car transporters which pick their way carefully round the Bramble Bank with the attendant pilot boats keeping everyone else at a respectful 100m distance. Pictures here are just grey on grey…
Even with the wind just forward of the beam, Heydays still makes great progress under just the genoa. The winds are gusting up to 23 kts, but Heydays as always is beautifully balanced and reassuring. We opt to try for Ocean Village Marina on the basis that it is probably more sheltered in a SW breeze and we turn up the Itchen glimpsing the ‘theatre of nightmares’ which is what St Mary’s Stadium has become this season.
A brief nap and we are off to the Harbour Lights Cinema for some nosh and a movie. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society turns out to be a real gem in a classically understated Film 4 way. This is a bit of a luxury, being able to pick up some decent grub and a movie less than 100m from our bed. No-one will accuse Ocean Village of being pretty or even charming, but occasional stays in the heart of a city can be invigorating. With John back on board we set off to visit Bembridge ahead of our joining the Moody Owners Rally there in a week’s time. We want to appear at least halfway competent and we have heard tales of embarrassing encounters with the mud inside the harbour. We would rather not do this with a dozen other boats looking on…we are as shallow at the harbour.
The wind stays in the SW but the predicted 5 occasional 6 turns out to be a steady 6 with gusts of 7 as we get out of the city and into the open waters. We are creaming down Southampton Water as the rain comes in and the visibility reduces to less than 100m. We stay right on the edge of the channel safe in the knowledge that the big stuff will be well out of our way. Now we are going too fast. We can’t get into Bembridge until 3 hours before high water and at this rate we will be an hour too early, leaving us to chuff around (technical nautical term) in the sea waiting for the tide. We ease the sheets to reduce speed and as the rain clears away we start to catch glimpses of the island through the murk. The pilot book suggests that there is a tide gauge outside the entrance to the harbour, which shows the actual depth across the bar. The old 1867 Palmerston fort of No Man’s Land stands as a grim testament to the days when we apparently didn’t trust the French. Today it is apparently a ‘luxury’ 4 room hotel having got rid of the legionella which closed it in 2005. Leaving it behind, we begin a cautious approach across the Ryde sands being careful not to get in the way of the hovercraft which still ply from Southsea…noisy in the extreme and presumably quick but expensive.
St Helen’s Fort guides us in and we make out the beacon which we presume is the tide gauge. A complete circuit of this rather forlorn stump provides no useful information and we ponder whether to edge our way across the bar to the narrow channel into the harbour. With sails down we inch forward and the depth sounder begins its steady descent. It evens out at 1.7m giving us just 30cm below our keels. Luckily, with a SW wind the sea has not built up any swell so close inshore and gradually the depth rises to a luxurious 2.2m. The channel banks are so steep and the markers so close to the beach that we could have a chat to dog walkers without raising our voices…if any were out in what has become a drizzly and blustery late afternoon. We have our pick of the spaces on the pontoon with just us and two other boats in for the night. The young lad is very helpful but tells us sadly that there is no electricity that day and that the electrician has just gone home.
We settle in for the night and dine on pasta, salad and perhaps a glass of wine or two. Of Bembridge we see nothing, before finally tucking up in bed with the wind now howling through the rigging.
The next day is bright and sunny as we sail out of the harbour on the early morning tide.
The afternoon is promising a return of some gale force winds and rain and so with a couple of reefs in the main we have a wonderful sail past Seaview, Ryde…
…and a few of Queen Vic’s residences (one) plus Cowes…
We have a glorious beat down the western arm of the Solent making the most of the ebb to get us safely home to Lymington.Our track on the chart shows us pleasingly tacking through just 90 degrees…but we are helped by a good 1.5 kts of tide! By 10.30 we are back on our mooring and breakfasting smugly having had a great sail before some people are even up.