Monday 9th September – Thorney Island to the Folly Inn via Portsmouth
It rains again over night and the morning dawns grey and overcast. After breakfast we talk to Nigel Thorpe, one of the co-owners. Nigel is arranging to get Sundart lifted out as soon as we return to Dartmouth and on the market as soon as possible so we discus the details of removing our kit and the various loose items off the boat.
We need to go to Portsmouth to collect Charles and Judith after lunch, as they have volunteered for another stint with us. The weather forecast is for force 4 to 5 winds although the reality is a light force 1; we set 2 reefs in case it is stronger outside the harbour and motor out. In reality, once we get out the winds remain light so we shake out the reefs and set full sail. We don’t need to be at Portsmouth until 1400 so we sail slowly towards Horse Sand Fort where we turn alongside the shipping channel into harbour. Small ships have to follow their dedicated channel out of the main ship channel and keep watch on the Port Control Channel 11 but today it is calm and relatively quiet with just a few Isle of Wight ferries coming and going.
The hovercraft to Ryde blasts by as we enter port.
We have radioed to Gunwharf Quay, which is right next to Portsmouth Harbour station so we can collect Charles and Judith there although there is a fee of £5 for 10 minutes pick up – nice business if you can get it!
We motor past the Royal Naval yards, which we thought were being run down but in fact have quite a few modern war ships in, including one of the latest Type 45 stealth destroyers with the unusual angular hull and superstructure and a huge radar tower and command centre.
It makes a stark contrast to Nelson’s flagship Victory (currently undergoing restoration) and Warrior nearby. We pass a police patrol launch idly patrolling outside the dockyard – it must be a mind numbingly boring job for 99% of the time. We find a vacant mooring buoy and tie up to have lunch in the afternoon sunshine.
Charles and Judith are on time so we collect them from Gunwharf Quay (under the shadow of the Spinnaker Tower) and set off into the Solent for Cowes. The wind has freshened and we have a pleasant sail along the Solent, albeit against the tide.
Once we reach Cowes we decide to go down the River Medina to moor at the Folly Inn a mile or two south of Cowes. Cowes is, as ever, busy with Red Funnel Ferries, the Fast-Cat ferry and the chain ferry all busy, plus an oil coaster coming out of the river, presumably having re-fuelled the local power station. The Folly Inn is an institution in this area, with the word INN painted large on its roof. It is apparently very busy in the season but quiet today and we have no problem mooring up. We decline the offer of the ferry to the Inn at £2.50 per person and spend the night on board.
Charles and John roll up their sleeves to sort out the failed anchor winch. Charles brings to bear a working life of railway engineering, persuading electrical items to keep working underneath wet and windy railway trains. The motor is initially reluctant to come out but some careful unpicking of sub-standard nylon washers frees it. We strip the motor down and find the inside rather rusty with seized brushes. Charles diagnoses a design fault based on his experience that no matter how hard you try it is impossible to completely keep water out of electrical things under wet trains or in damp anchor lockers so better give the water somewhere to run out so the electrics dry out and keep running. We reassemble the motor with modifications to the brush cover and presto: it works first time, spinning ever faster as the muck comes off the rotor. The anchor winch is re-assembled with its motor and the winch re-sealed into the anchor winch well and it still works. Tomorrow we will try it for real.
John cooks up a curry for supper.
Day’s run: 20.1 nm
Total miles to date: 2467.1 nm
Engine hours: 2.4 hours
Total engine hours: 302.1 hours
Hours sailed: 6.0 Hours
Total hours sailed; 545.1 hours
Tuesday 10th September – Folly Inn to Beaulieu River
The day dawns sunny with a fair breeze. Today we will explore the Solent. Breakfast over, we motor out of the river and moor up at the Town Quay at West Cowes for a quick spot of shopping. Cowes is a pleasant old town with an old fashioned High Street but we don’t tarry long as we need to clear the quay. Back on board the assistant harbour master pays us a visit to inform us that the boat is too big to stay here. We have a pleasant chat as he is a yacht owner; he lets us off the mooring fee and we depart.
It is a lovely sailing day as we set sail westwards towards Newtown Creek. The tide is against us but it is sunny and we have a good wind to reach down the Solent, passing the sailing clubs at the entrance to the medina at Cowes, avoiding the ferries and making our way west.
We enter Newtown Creek using the unique “gun sight” leading marks and anchor up. The harbour master pays us a visit but as this is National Trust Property and we are all members we are exempt from payment. We chat to him for a while and obtain a leaflet describing this interesting area.
Lunch taken, we try the anchor winch and happily it works; we set sail eastwards. By this time the tide has turned against us but once again there is enough wind to sail over it and we can enjoy the views of both sides of the Solent in the sun as we make our way to the Beaulieu River.
A couple of open 40 racing yachts pass by.
The entrance to the Beaulieu River requires careful navigation due to the sand banks. The entrance safely negotiated, we anchor inside Gull Island by “port hand mark No. 22” in a lovely tranquil spot.
The Beaulieu River is part of the Lord Montague of Beaulieu’s estate whilst Gull Island is a wild life sanctuary. Godwits, oyster catchers, black headed gulls and curlews stalk the mud flats for food as the tide drops. Charles and Judith make spaghetti bolognaise for supper and we settle down to a cosy evening with the sound of the evening chorus from the various birds as the sun sets. Charles and Judith cook up spaghetti bolognaise washed down with a glass of Italian red.
Tomorrow we will leave the Solent and head for Poole as we start making tracks further west.
Day’s run: 20.1 nm
Total miles to date: 2487.2 nm
Engine hours: 2.0 hours
Total engine hours: 304.1 hours
Hours sailed: 6.8 Hours
Total hours sailed; 551.9 hours
Wednesday 11th September – Beaulieu River to Poole
The morning is a hazy day with hints of sun. After breakfast we decide to motor up river to have a look at Buckler’s Hard as the tide will not turn the right way for us to get out of the Solent past Hurst Castle until mid-afternoon. We up anchor using the newly repaired winch and discover that we have just touched the mud on the river side but no problem. We motor up against the stream and have a good look at the village and surroundings but don’t stop as we need to sail along the Solent and in any case there is a landing charge!
We manage to sail down the river and out into the Solent, taking care to avoid the sand banks at the entrance as the tide is still low. We have a good sail west along the Solent, albeit rather slowly as we are against the tide. We notice several boats much closer to the shore in shallower water going our way that seem to make better progress – we make a mental note for future reference to use the shallow water at the edge when going against the stream.
As we sail along various interesting boats pass by including a yacht from the Ellen MacArthur Trust and the SS Waverley.
We reach Hurst Castle just before the tide turns at 1500 and pass slowly through. The famous Needles are clearly visible. However, the wind dies so we end up motor sailing. We have several boats for company including a small, 30 ft yacht that motors ahead of us. There is enough tide to go over the shallows on the direct route to Poole. In due course the wind starts to set in as the sky gets grayer. We resume sailing close hauled, keeping pace with the little boat ahead that seems to sail well on the wind. The wind continues to build and gets gusty and it starts to rain – farewell to our fine weather in the Solent! We take in two reefs but as time is pressing to catch the tide into Poole Harbour past Sandbanks and the wind is dead ahead we end up motoring into the wind. The little yacht goes in via the shallow channel from the north, we go in via the main channel but the little yacht just beats us.
It is now deluging with rain so we motor along the north side of Brownsea Island and pick up one of the many vacant mooring buoys instead of anchoring.
It is Judith’s birthday so John attempts to cook goulash as a birthday meal but it ends up a bit spicy – no matter there is none left! Yvonne’s pears with melted chocolate are more successful.
Day’s run: 33.5 nm
Total miles to date: 2520.7 nm
Engine hours: 2.4 hours
Total engine hours: 306.5 hours
Hours sailed: 8.5 Hours
Total hours sailed; 560.4 hours
Thursday 12th September – Poole
We are going to spend today in Poole. We have already phoned several of the marinas in Poole: all of them are remarkably expensive. (In fact Poole is the most expensive area we have visited, even London). We have settled for Poole Quay Boat Haven as this is right in the middle of Poole and the most convenient for shopping and meeting friends.
The morning is misty but the rain has cleared through. We motor as far as we can round Brownsea Island to see the views, then back-track and reach the marina. It is not very busy – hardly any surprise given the cost (£42.50 including harbour dues, electricity and one night stay). However, it is right outside a Tesco and the showers are good. We duly shower then Yvonne, Charles and Judith visit Tesco whilst John does the blog.
Alex Anderson and Bob and Julie Shute all arrive at midday. The sun has broken through so all is set fair for a good day with friends.
Bob has the idea of having lunch at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Training College about a mile away. Four of us are members and Bob has eaten there before and recommends it. We walk round, passing the old town. Although the marina charges are too high, there is much of interest in Poole. The old town is attractive with narrow streets and old buildings along the harbour front and back in the town. We walk past the numerous factories units and other buildings making Sunseeker Motor yachts. Some of these are fabulous craft for millionaires. The firm is a real success story with a very large export business. Sadly, it has just been sold to a Chinese company but we learn that the Chinese have given assurances about keeping the jobs in the UK.
We reach the RNLI buildings. Most of these are modern and very impressive. The Training College is about 5 or 6 years old with a fine view over the harbour and the new Twin Leaf Bridge.
We find that we can have a drink in the bar on the first floor with a fine view and eat food there from the restaurant below. The food is excellent and the staff extremely helpful and pleasant. The Training Centre is primarily for training crews and volunteers but is also used for hospitality and even weddings.
After lunch Bob and John go to reception to see if it is possible to visit the huge survival tank that is used for training in the water. By luck a tour is about to start of the building but they don’t have enough space for us all. However, they find another tour guide who will take us round. We are in luck! The others are quickly rounded up and we are introduced to our young guide, Max, who enthusiastically explains the function of the building and what we will be seeing.
The RNLI was set up nearly 190 years ago by Sir William Hillary in 1824. (His watch words “With courage nothing is impossible” are on a large sign at the entrance to the College). It has always been based on volunteers and today over 95% of the people who work for the RNLI are volunteers. Our guide Max is one such volunteer, having been involved since his teens. Bob and Julie regularly collect for the RNLI.
Max takes us first to the simulator. This is a full size mock up of the bridge largest lifeboat, the Severn Class of-shore life boat. Although it does not move, there is an extremely realistic simulation of the sea and everything else that might be seen through the windows of a lifeboat on active service. All the controls are replicated plus the navigation and communications instruments. The simulator is used to simulate any condition so that trainee lifeboat crews can realistically undergo different scenarios from calm conditions in bright sunlight to gales on a foggy night. A typical training exercise can take several hours with each crew member playing their part in the navigation and control of the lifeboat and the communications required. The simulator covers the coxswain, helmsman, engineer and navigator roles. Everything is recorded for feedback and instruction later.
We are given the full works up to a force 7. Some of us find the simulation too realistic and retire to the training and control room next door but the rest thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Having been thrilled by the simulator we are then taken by Max to the survival training tank. This is really a huge swimming pool in a large, hangar-like building. There is an exercise going on to work out the best way to right a capsized in-shore life boat (ILB). A lifeboat crew in their full oilskins, life jackets and boots are jumping into the water and the ILB is then flipped over with an overhead crane so that they can learn how to right it. Max explains the technique including how they sort out the engines to get them to re-start. We also have a look at different life rafts and how they can flip over and be righted.
We round off with a short film about the training at the college, the systems behind the simulators and the reality once the training is put into practice. The whole trip is absolutely fascinating and we feel very privileged to have been given the trip.
Outside the building we catch our breath. Over the road the RNLI is constructing a new manufacturing facility to bring construction of the off-shore lifeboats in house. (They already make the ILB’s at Cowes and fit out all their lifeboats).
John has to meet a customer and has arranged to be picked up at the RNLI. The others walk back to Sundart. Bob, Julie and Alex depart their ways. In due course John returns, job dealt with.
Charles has invited us all to a meal out to celebrate Judith’s birthday. Bob and Julie recommended an Italian Restaurant, La Lupa, on the harbour front. We have checked the place out earlier in the day and decide it looks good and so it proves. We have an excellent meal, thanks to Charles’s generosity and take all evening over it.
Back at the boat we check the weather forecast for the next few days. Charles and Judith are leaving tomorrow and John and Yvonne want to take a few days to get back to Dartmouth, visiting 4 or 5 spots on the way. However, the forecast is showing storms from Sunday into the rest of the week so these plans have to change. We decide to take the early tide directly to Weymouth which means an early start.
Day’s run: 3.7 nm
Engine hours: 1.2 hours
Hours sailed: 1.2 Hours
Friday 13th September – Poole to Weymouth
We get up at 6 AM and breakfast. Charles and Judith depart for the milk train. John and Yvonne leave the marina at 7, setting the sails but motor sailing out of Poole harbour as there is not much wind. The forecast has predicted increasing winds over the day and rain later.
We continue to motor sail as we want to catch the west going tide round several headlands including Old Harry and culminating in St. Alban’s head before it turns against us. As we follow the coast we gradually turn west, directly into the wind which increases, necessitating reefing down. There are some overfalls (lumpy seas) off some of the headlands but we make good progress with the tide in our favour.
We pass Lulworth Cove (where we had hoped to anchor over night and reach Weymouth bay. By now the rain has stopped, the wind has moderated and the sea has calmed down. There is a large fleet of around 70 Dragon keel boats racing in the Bay. We motor past their race area, then sail the rest of the way, beating to Weymouth Harbour entrance. We have some lunch. In the distance we can see Portland Bill and Portland Harbour with its massive breakwater (dating from Napoleonic times) and the new UK Sailing Academy, home to Olympic Sailing last year.
We call up Weymouth Port Control and are allocated a berth and given permission to enter.
We moor up with help from the harbour assistant in the sun (which has appeared). We are across the river from the lifeboat – the very same type as we used in the simulator yesterday. We report to the harbour office to pay our dues and get the shower codes and weather update. The forecast is still giving the weather window tomorrow that we want to use to get back to Dartmouth. We glean some tips for getting past the renowned tidal race off Portland Bill
Weymouth looks pretty and attractive in the sun so we take a walk round the harbour before returning to Sundart where Yvonne works out the best way round Portland Bill.
Weymouth Harbour handbook gives the phone number of Coastwatch Portland Bill so once she has done her calculations she contacts them and receives friendly and very helpful advice to confirm her passage plan and give us a bit more information. (Coastwatch is a national voluntary organisation that was set up once the Coastguard Service became a radio and radar based service and no longer actually watched out over strategic areas of the coast. Coastwatch volunteers usually use the old coastguard look outs and often build up a very useful bank of local knowledge. Portland must be one of the best organised of the voluntary groups as we have used them before). We will need to leave at 6 am tomorrow.
The forecast rain begins to set in just as another boat is directed to raft up alongside us. After some debate about our intended departure hour tomorrow there is a general re-organisation of boats and we end up rafted up on the outside of a French boat that has just come up from St. Malo. The joys of limited mooring space!
John settles down to update the blog whilst Yvonne tops up the water tanks. After a while we hear a Mayday relay over a loudspeaker relating to a dismasted 22 ft catamaran. No sooner than we hear this than we see the lifeboat crew running to the lifeboat, donning their oilskins as they go. Weymouth is one of the busiest lifeboats. It returns after half an hour but is immediately called out again, this time for a boat that has lost its steering.
Tomorrow we plan to get back to our home port of to Dartmouth before the storms set in. We shall see!
Day’s run: 26.8 nm
Total miles to date: 2550.2 nm
Engine hours: 4.0 hours
Total engine hours: 311.7 hours
Hours sailed: 5.0 Hours
Total hours sailed; 566.6 hours
A following wind and fair weather to you all.
Yvonne and John