Trip on Spellbinder starting 2011-10-17 in BSANov11
Onboard: Gordon Ogden, Bernard Smyth, with John Richardson and Reg Floyd from Phoenix YC.
Monday dawned fairly balmy in Haslar marina, but with a forecast of SW3/4, becoming 5-7, possibly 8 later! We knew in advance that a gale was expected that night, but secretly, of course, with my ‘luck’, I could have told you that some weeks ago, certainly from the time I booked the yacht! One day I’ll get the better of the weather demons and manage full sail in easy conditions! We set of with one reef in the main, but soon after getting out into the Solent, we went to two reefs!
Accepting that the tide was against us during the morning, we decided, after quite a thrash to windward in rising wind, to stop in the Hamble River for a quiet lunch. Having got nicely onto a promising-looking, but obviously private, windward berth, the owner turned up and asked us to leave!! We repeated the windward berthing on the more exposed visitor’s pontoon and settled back to our filled rolls.
After lunch, the fun really started for the day. It was blowing hard, the sky was black and we obviously needed all three reefs in the main when we set out hoping for a passage to Yarmouth with the tide, by then, running ‘fair’. Well, soon after leaving the Hamble we arrived off Calshot, where the conditions were wild! Big seas were rolling in from the Western Solent and we had winds in the high 20’s and low 30’s, with a gust of 37 kts. No yachts could be seen in the Western Solent! With Spellbinder well heeled and leaping about, I was sitting on the high side, looking down on John Richardson way below me, steering the yacht with something of a look of grim determination on his face! With a grin, I had to casually suggest that this was ridiculous and, instantly, the crew were in accord! One wanted to turn back there and then and I think the others were beginning to mutter the same, but they were persuaded to stick it out as far as Cowes, looking tantalisingly close and only a handful, or so, of tacks away! So, tacking round the shallow water of the western part of the Bramble Bank and dodging a ferry or two and an in-bound container ship, we thrashed across to Cowes. Once inside the sheltered river, it was “quiet” again .... well, almost!
We spent the night at Shepard’s Wharf marina, my first visit there. It is a small marina and seemed to me to suffer much less from swell and wash than West Cowes marina, next door. It is sheltered from westerly winds and, with good facilities and an easy walk to the bright lights and flesh pots of West Cowes, it was a good choice. The wind shrieked around the rigging for much of the night, but Tuesday morning dawned to nice conditions in the marina.
The forecast was for W/NW winds of force 5/6, 7 at first. With Yarmouth still in mind for that day, we sailed around off Cowes during the morning whilst the tide was east-going. We finished this with a strong beat back to Cowes against wind and tide for a lunch stop in the Medina River.
As the tide turned to west-going, we took on the strong beat to Yarmouth in winds in the mid to upper 20’s and building seas. Unlike yesterday, there were many yachts enjoying the sail down to the west. With two reefs in the main, it was strong-arm stuff and, with spray stinging our eyes, we wondered what the open sea might be like to the south of the Isle of Wight. Most agreed they didn’t really want to know!
Yarmouth Harbour has seen more development since I was last there, with new pontoons and a re-positioned fuel berth on the seaward end of the main visitor pontoon. A number of new finger pontoons on the west side of the walk-ashore pontoon were empty, but we didn’t find out if they were private or for visitors. The harbour launch directed us to a leeward pontoon in a very short space between two other yachts. Easy to get in, but the wind next day had veered to NW and blowing at 4/5 strength, so we were really pinned onto the pontoon. One go at springing off was quite enough to send me off to the harbour office to ask for help, which was readily given. We were pulled off the pontoon by the harbour launch and off we went up the Solent in very nice conditions - a beam reach on a flat sea and strong breeze.
Reg Floyd had spoken about the submerged barrier outside Portsmouth Harbour, so he was assigned the job of sailing us eastwards, through the ‘Main Passage’, half way between Horse Sand Fort and Southsea beach. We arrived there around 12.45pm on a rising tide and Reg glided us through the generous gap very nicely. We gybed and sailed down the ‘outside’ of the barrier towards Horse Sand Fort. I had spoken about the other small boat passage that lies to the south of No Mans Land Fort on the IOW side. With Reg sailing us, we tacked back through the deep water channel between the main forts and turned to sail eastwards again, through the small channel. Another yacht coming the other way tacked through the channel and made it look easy. For us, it was a straightforward broad reach – 2m charted depth and about 3m tide when we got there! Reg got a little excited as we hardened up to beat back towards Portsmouth and straight at the bows of an out-going Brittany ferry – some distance away! We were still in shallow water near No Mans Land Fort when the ferry turned to port and sped away to the east! Still, they look quite big when they’re coming towards you! With the wind again getting up in the afternoon, another vigorous thrash to windward brought us to Portsmouth Harbour and to the conclusion of our trip.
As always, Spellbinder was a delight to sail and performed beautifully, even with a leaking heads pump and instruments that turned themselves off for a pastime from time to time.