Floating around the Solent

by Judith Hankey

Richard and I, as a sailing household and not needing to overnight on the boats, were able to start sailing earlier this season, but other members have caught us up and indeed overtaken us with how many sailing days they have done. We try to use non-weekends to allow the working population to use weekends, so on Tuesday 11th to 13th August, with Richard as skipper, we had a gentle sail around the Solent on Quartette. It was gentle because it was in the high temperature part of August with high atmospheric pressure and limited wind. We were able to sail on the longer stretches but a certain amount of motoring was essential when the tides were moving us faster than the wind could.

Our first night was at East Head just inside Chichester Harbour, which is a very popular spot, particularly at weekends and we have never anchored there before. The chart extract taken from the very useful Navionics chart viewer shows the anchorage. The pilot book says to anchor out of the channel, south of a line between East Spit green and Snowhill green, which I have drawn on the picture with a purple line, and on the chart it looks a much narrower strip than it actually is.

The purple line is the northerly edge of the anchoring area

There was much debate between skipper and mate as to whether we were actually inside such a line but neither of us did the sensible thing and took the compass from below and measured the angles. There were actually three rows of boats anchored there overnight, and a couple scattered outside the northern-most row who were definitely in the channel.

It was a lovely quiet spot once the little motor boats full of squealing swimmers had gone back to base mid-evening, mostly they were commenting on the contrast between the temperature of the air which was hot, and that of the water which was fresh.

Here you see two very different photos of the same ebbing tide at East Head, the calm evening with the sun not far from setting and the following morning which was one of the periods when we had a nice bit of sailing (and towel drying) wind.

We sailed up the Solent outside of Horse Sand Fort, (just to vary the route, since we had gone through the submarine barrier the day before) and then through the north channel aiming for Beaulieu River. Timing is everything when crossing the main channel into Southampton and we had spotted this particular freighter coming in, from before it turned in front of Cowes. But we could not identify it from a distance since it looked weird and the visibility was especially hazy. We hung back on the south side of the channel waiting for it to pass and got a very good view of it, which also explained its’ strange outline in the haze, it was not one boat but seven, six carried as deck cargo on the freighter which was a fancy crane system. There may have been more boats carried in the hold too.

When one boat is actually seven – hopefully they don’t all have their nav lights on at night!

As we arrived in the Beaulieu River someone was doing something on one of the buoys and as we got closer it was clearly the harbour master doing something to one of the lights, having climbed up onto it. We had a very strong preference to being moored closer to much larger yachts with taller masts since the forecast was for thunderstorms in the night. We chose a buoy near the small dinghy sailing club next to a large yacht and then we smiled more as two 40ft large masted charter yachts arrived too. On the first of the evening ebb in Beaulieu River we had a wonderful view of this classic beauty floating down under sail. I did not catch her name but she is distinctive and one of you may know her. She has a planked hull, and seems to be a cutter rigged yawl. The mizzen mast is very far aft and is gaff rigged, and as you can see the sail overhangs the water behind and she was flying her ensign from the boom on the mizzen.

We paid our harbour dues to the harbour master’s rib who had spotted us arriving with the essential payment tool for the Covid era, a butty box into which you place your cash.

In the event all the storms were inland and we had just a bit of rain overnight. The wind was slow to kick in the following morning so Richard dropped the mainsail to investigate the furling gear. There had been reports of the furler sticking and Tony Riley had diagnosed that the gear was too loose in the mast. The manual (onboard) for the furler explains how much movement there should be and gives instructions of how to tighten  it. So Richard set to on this fiddly task, which needs the person to have 6 inch long very thin strong fingers, an ability to see inside dark holes and around corners and a lot of patience. But eventually it was done, and the sail could be re-raised.

That Thursday morning we did not get much wind so motored to Osborne bay for an early lunch so that we would be the right side of Cowes when the tide turned against us and we were later able to sail most of the way back into Portsmouth harbour.

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