Trip on Spellbinder starting 2011-02-21 in BSAMar11
Spellbinder21-23 February 2011 – report by Bill Thomas
Gordon & I travelled down on Sunday afternoon, after lunch, hoping to meet up with the skipper who had been using Spellbinder over the weekend. Unfortunately, we missed him, but he had left the boat in a state of readiness, so that we could put to sea with the minimum of fuss. Spellbinder is a Sadler Starlight 39, some 20 years old and in excellent nick, being maintained to a very high standard by Phoenix Yacht Club. After a quick familiarisation tour for me, we went to look for Phoenix’s new Westerly, which was to be sailed by Phil Steele and his crew, and found her on an adjoining pontoon.
Shortly afterwards, the crew started to arrive and we repaired to the Castle in Gosport for a drink and bite to eat and where we met Phil and his crew. We had a good meal - big plates of home-cooked food and a decent pint of Adnams. We discussed the plans for next day and agreed to aim for Poole. This decision was based on a forecast of wind from the South East/South Force 4/5 (later 3) and a tidal stream starting to go West at about 1230.
We set off at 1030 on Monday morning, after a good breakfast. Sue introduced us to Porridge, with grated fresh ginger and honey. It was delicious and we all tucked into a large bowlful. Both boats went out through Portsmouth Harbour and the Swashway, bearing away towards Cowes, with initially 13-15 knots of wind from the South East. Spellbinder’s extra 5 foot in length meant that we caught up with the others and then overtook them. We punched the tide for longer than the almanac suggested that we would and it was after 1300 by the time the tide was in our favour. We were on top of springs and we arrived at Hurst Castle doing 10.2 knots over the ground! We went out through the Needles Channel and the wind, as forecast decreased – and decreased – and decreased until about half way across Christchurch Bay, we had to start the engine. Visibility was poor and the chalk cliffs and Old Harry at Swanage were hidden by the mist. We arrived at the Poole Bar buoy, which marks the beginning of the entrance channel, just as it was getting dark and the tide, was pouring out of Poole Harbour. The engine pushes Spellbinder through the water at an easy 6.5 knots, but we were struggling to achieve 1.5 -2 knots over the ground. A big sea was running in the Channel, but Spellbinder wasn’t really troubled by it. As we came closer to the Chain Ferry which crosses the mouth of Poole Harbour, linking Sandbanks to Studland, the rate of the tide increased and we seemed to crawl up to the ferry and finally passed it about 4 crossings after the one that we originally aimed for! We followed the buoyed channel up the harbour to the Town Quay Marina, where we parked up amidst a number of large gin palaces and a big Old Gaffer. Phil and his crew arrived about 30 minutes later and we all repaired to a restaurant, in one of the new buildings immediately opposite the Quay, called Italian Gossip, where we had a good (if somewhat expensive) meal.
We decided to get up at 0730 the next morning and set off back for the Solent to enable us to get to Cowes, without punching too much tide in the Solent. The forecast was for SE Force 3/4 and in fact was 5/6 knots, at most. However, after fighting the tide down through the Harbour, and another will it/won’t it episode with the Chain Ferry we had the tide under us and we able to sail close hauled at 5 knots. It was slightly hazy, but we had a cracking sail across Christchurch Bay and up through the North Channel to Hurst, where the wind died. During this part of the trip, there was a lot of radio traffic from the Coastguard to the Lifeboat and various ships about a Man Overboard from one of the Brittany Ferries. The search was finally called off about lunchtime and it was a sobering reminder that even in fairly gentle weather conditions, the Channel can be a dangerous place.
By the time we got to Newtown, the tide was starting to flow west. The other crew peeled off to the Hamble and we motored up to Cowes, keeping inshore to cheat the tide. We moored up in East Cowes at about 1600, in time to cross over to Cowes for some retail therapy. Sue wanted a Bekens’ calendar John (an old fried of Mike, who had travelled down from Hatfield) wanted to look for some Foulies in the end of season sales. He thought it was his lucky day when the attractive assistant in the Musto shop first offered to help with his zip and then “found” his “lost” glasses. The thing was that when we got back to the boat, John found both his pairs of glasses in his sailing bag! That night, we ate in the bar in the Marina. It had been a long day and we were all ready for a reasonably early night.
The forecast for Wednesday was for rain showers and more wind. We had always intended going in to Bembridge and calculated that there should be sufficient water at 12 noon. We set off about 1000, after another breakfast of porridge and ginger, and there was a good breeze so we sailed over to Calshot Spit buoy and up the North Channel. Initially, we had about 15-18 knots of wind from the South, but that eased to a steady 10-12 knots. The weather was grim initially, with heavy rain, but this eased as the morning went on. We arrived at St Helen’s Fort (having passed between No Man’s Land Fort and Ryde sands), at about 1200. There is a post there which has a gauge marked on it showing the minimum depth in the channel to Bembridge Harbour. We were expecting it to show 2 – 2.5 metres. It actually showed 1.5 – 2 metres. We called up the Harbourmaster and he confirmed that we should wait another 30 minutes or so. He thought that perhaps the high barometric pressure might be responsible for the height being less than we calculated it should be. We reached off to the Bembridge Ledge buoy and back, in a much stronger wind – gusting up to 24 knots and it started to rain again. The gauge showed just enough water and we went in – cautiously. There wasn’t much to spare and it got very shallow just as we turned into the Harbour, by the spit off Duver. After that there was plenty of water and we moored up on the visitors’ pontoon. We celebrated (and warmed up) with a tot of Sloe Gin and had our lunch. We didn’t stay long, as we wanted to get back to Gosport at a reasonable time, and had another exhilarating sail back through the forts, keeping out of the way of a Brittany Ferry and a warship, which both came out extremely quickly.
We were back alongside before 1600 and put Spellbinder to bed. Phoenix Yacht Club is very organised, having a checklist of what items need to be stored where and what jobs have to be done before the boat is locked up.
Despite the weather not being brilliant, we had a cracking 3 days sailing. I had heard a lot about Spellbinder from Gordon’s previous trips and she lived up to his glowing reports – and more. A big thank-you to Sue for dealing with the provisioning (and providing us with the porridge with ginger – go on try it!) and to Gordon for organising the trip. Thank you also to Gordon from me, for allowing me to be acting skipper, and getting some excellent skippering experience on the Solent.