5:30am alarm, bleary eyes, quick brekkie, lovely cool morning, clear road to Patrick’s place;
7am we’re off in Patrick’s car; his Wayfarer “Escapology” following on behind; PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE Arundel and Chichester bypasses be free of traffic! ……. amazingly they are.
We arrive at 8:30am in good time to rig ready for a 10am departure.
Due to the weather forecast (force 4-6) and tidal predictions (Springs, and a big one at that) Tony & Bridget Carter had 4 possible options for our weekend cruise to Wootton Creek.
Sail over in our dinghies as planned.
If wind over Force 4 Tony & Bridget could accompany the dinghy fleet in their yacht “Cameo” because, strictly speaking, the Warsash Club Stratos – which they planned to use – should not be taken out in those wind strengths.
If the weather was too extreme for all dinghies we could cross the Solent on “Cameo” with a huge number of crew (10) aboard. Shelter in East Cowes Marina and take a taxi to Wootton for the night.
No sailing and maybe a visit to the Southampton boat show!
In the end we opted for plan A which was great because that’s what we’d all come here to do.
There were 10 of us in 5 boats:- 3 Wayfarers; Mike Summers & Ken Burgess; Patrick Jiskoot & Kevin Francis; Mark & Gill Greenfield; a Laser Stratos; Tony & Bridget Carter; and a Laser Stratos Keel; Richard Williams & Robin Bennett.
LESSON 1; Wayfarers are much bigger than Enterprises!
Patrick talks about a “lazarette” in the stern of his boat; I thought he was joking but there is room in there to store enough kit for 2 people for a week away if need be …… and he keeps spare ropes and even 2 fenders in there too!
Tony gave us a briefing for our crossing to Wootton Creek. Wind strength, tide time and direction produced a very lumpy Solent for us to tackle so it was important that we followed Tony’s recommendations as how best to cross from the mainland to the island. Basically; hug the mainland shore for a fair distance East then, at Hill Head, strike out directly across the Solent heading for just West of Osborne Bay, then head East until we find Wootton Creek (it is actually quite difficult to spot Wootton Creek when approaching close inshore from the East). This tactic is to minimise our exposure to the sluicing West-going tide that will set in mid-late morning.
Bridget says:- “We were aware that time would be of the essence and emphasised the need to leave Warsash no later than 10am as a strong spring tide would be sweeping us westward from 10.30am.
The wind was a NNWesterly and seemed very gentle but we knew from experience that the river is very sheltered when the northerly wind is broken up by the forest of masts and buildings. In contrast the exposure in the Solent plus wind over tide would create a large swell and gusty conditions.
We all reef our mainsails to varying degrees. Amazingly we set off pretty-much on time and find ourselves on a 10 mile dead run/broad each over to Wootton Creek in what might be described as – for us predominantly lake sailors – “hairy conditions”.
The tides will run fast today, equal biggest tidal range of the year today and tomorrow; I know that, because the Bramble Bank cricket match takes place tomorrow evening at 6pm.
Tony’s briefing had warned us not to cross the Solent until well East; the day’s Spring tides mean that, if we cross too soon we risk being swept by the tide down past Cowes and on our way to Yarmouth rather than to Wootton Creek!
Kevin says:- Suddenly Gill and Mark are afloat, wind from the North, straight down the Hamble, they are on starboard tack broad reaching so they should be making leeway down-river to port but ……. they are making “leeway” up-river and upwind to starboard! …. what is going on, do they have some new space-age foil beneath their boat that enables them to make negative leeway? No, of course, we have tides here, strong ones; and it’s coming IN fast right now.
Lesson 2; You really do need to treat the tides – especially Spring tides – with respect and understand how they can affect you.
Suddenly WE are afloat too; big boat, unfamiliar to me, not sure how much to move my weight and where to position myself compared to what I do in the Enterprise. Patrick and I have never sailed together, we’ve had no time for the ideal “getting-to-know-you-and-your-boat” shakedown sail. Oh well, we’d better learn fast or we will get wet. Southampton Water is bouncy and there are large boats EVERYWHERE. We have to “jill” about because not everybody is here yet and the plan is to stick together as far as possible. “Jilling about” in a busy river is not ideal, much better to be sailing in a specific direction but it’s good boat handling practice, tack, gybe, tack, heave-to. Heck, the Red Jet ferry is approaching FAST! I know they are used to avoiding small boats but we prefer not to be in their path in the first place and we tack out of their way in good time….. but, hey, here comes a giant Sunseeker from the other direction and they don’t look like they intend to alter course, phew, they did, at the last minute.
LESSON 3; take a spare pair of eyes with you when sailing in Southampton Water at the weekend!!
Within minutes the waves get bigger and the wind rises, the boat rolls …. oh no, hang on, hey, she came back nicely, oh no, we’re rolling again, hey, she came back nicely again.
LESSON 4; Wayfarers are more stable than Enterprises!!
Still; glad we put that reef in. It’s good to reef before the wind pipes up, especially if you are sailing on the sea; it increases your confidence; ……. well, it eases the fear, anyway!
Bridget says “The wind was increasing to the top end of a force 4 with gusts a good 5, which blasted us across the open water at an amazing 9 knots! And the waves were bigger than we are used to at Weir Wood.
Richard and Robin positively took off by bravely flying their Gennaker and rocketing ahead of us. We gathered in Osborne Bay but there was no relief or protection from the strong onshore breeze that whipped the waves into a lively/tippy/difficult frenzy not conducive to hanging around.
We then literally flew along the north shore of the island, with many a risky gybe or sneaky freak wave ready to catch us out!”
Richard & Robin had started by tying two reefs in their mainsail, which felt comfortable and confidence-inspiring, even as the waves built to about 3 foot. After a while they felt confident enough to launch the spinnaker but it wouldn’t set properly and wasn’t nearly high enough up the mast. Richard wondered if he’d picked up a Laser 2000 sail by mistake but then realised that they had the tack and clew reversed. By this point the Wayfarers were pulling ahead, so Richard sat right at the back while Robin leant over the bow to fix it. They were rewarded by a properly setting sail and catching up with the Wayfarers, just in time to gybe and start heading across the Solent. Once away from the land the waves seemed to get even larger – although they look disappointingly small in the videos that Robin took (see the 4 links below). Each wave would pick us up and shoot us forward, except for a few big gusts when we were overtaking the waves.
The crossing was not without its thrills and spills. During their crossing Mike & Ken found themselves surfing for prolonged periods; something not to be forgotten. Ken says “it was truly exhilarating and by contrast the tranquillity of Wootton Creek was breath-taking. The Creek’s waterside properties put me in mind of a film set, rickety old pontoons with Heath Robinson personalisations all of which gave them their own personal stamp and, in this, “Suntrap”’s pontoon was no exception, “Suntrap” being the name of Richard’s holiday residence”.
Mike Summers takes over the commentary:-
“Off the coast of the Isle of Wight we turned East and a different set of conditions meant that we were sailing fast but the waves were coming in from the beam, causing the boat to roll uncomfortably. Before we could have a think about the best way to deal with this a particularly big wave rolled us to starboard and as it passed under us we rolled back to port. I think the sudden lateral movement kinda knocked the wind out of the sail because the roll back was quick, quicker than I could get my foot under the toe straps and before I knew what had happened I had fallen out of the boat.
Fortunately I held onto the tiller extension, which put the rudder hard over, acting like a brake so that when I came up for air the boat was stopped with Ken looking around to see where I had gone. In a couple of minutes I was back on board and we had a rather belated think about what to do, the wind was still fresh but we had too much main up (should have left that second reef in) so we dropped the main and proceeded under Genoa alone. We still made good speed, even against the tide and we were soon at Wootton Creek where we pulled up at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and joined the rest of the fleet for lunch while we waited for the tide to rise sufficiently to get to Richard’s holiday home”.
Kevin says “I think Mike and Ken deserve congratulations on this episode because, although Mike would probably prefer not to have fallen in the water in the first place, I think it shows tremendous skill and some agility that they managed to recover the situation in those conditions without the boat capsizing and without needing outside assistance”.
Kevin continues:- “as Patrick & I approach the island shore we are on starboard tack on a very broad reach, almost a run. We need to turn East so we have a decision to make … gybe (which would be the heroic thing to do) or luff up, tack and bear away (which is the …. sensible thing to do). We go for the sensible option ….. but …. what’s going on? The boat won’t tack and we are fast approaching a very nasty rocky shore with no beach; just a wall of bricks topped by a high bank. If we hit that in these conditions we will wreck the boat and probably hurt ourselves badly into the bargain. We try 2 more times and, in the nick of time, she tacks. Don’t know what happened there; was it a nasty gust? Did I keep the jib pinned in too tight for too long? Don’t know; anyway, all OK now.
Then we are off on a jolly good romp towards Wootton Creek (I’ve heard that phrase before “jolly good romp”; it’s how sailors sometimes casually describe – in the bar – a sailing trip which, at the time, scared the pants off them; but it sounds impressive doesn’t it?). Patrick did actually say at one point “I’ve never sailed the Wayfarer in these conditions before”. I replied “thanks, NOW you tell me!”
Gill & Mark say “We headed in and moored up at the Royal Victoria YC, who were very welcoming. Suitably fortified and now in the shelter of the island, we found ourselves with no wind. We paired up boats with outboards and those without for a potter up the river to “Suntrap” and the floating pontoon where we secured the boats. Richard then led the way up the path to his fantastic retreat, an old railway carriage, beautifully refurbished and extended, which he was allowing us to use as our base. Not only that, but he had stocked up and cooked us a great bbq.
Richard’s house, “Suntrap”, really is beautiful and is in an equally-beautiful location with lovely views out across the creek. We could hear Curlews calling as the sun went down and red squirrels are almost commonplace in the garden; one or two came right up to within 5 or 6 feet of us with, apparently, no fear of humans. “Suntrap” comes complete with its own private “marina” (see the photo below).
Wet or damp sailing kit was hung around the garden in various places:- on fences, gates and the washing line in the vain hope that it would dry before we put it back on the next day (it didn’t!).
As is often the case after an exhilarating bout of physical exertion the evening seemed particularly relaxing, warm and convivial; and all I really recall of it is the BBQ, beer, red squirrels and Richard’s most treasured book “The Fishbourne Car Ferry” (2nd Edition, no less); what taste in literature! The light seemed to fade quickly and so did we. All in bed by 10pm like a bunch of tired Enid Blyton characters at the end of their first day of the “Summer Hols” at their secret hideaway!
Sunday was totally different from Saturday. Flat calm and sunny. We set off about 11am once the water had trickled back into the “marina”; variously motoring or being towed by a boat with a motor but luckily, just as we left the shelter of the creek, the wind filled in gently from the North West; just enough to get us hiking from time to time.
The sun shone as we left Wootton Creek and the photo below of the entrance shows just what natural beauty we have around us even in a busy place like the Solent; if you didn’t know where this is you could be forgiven for thinking it is the Caribbean.
Although the weather conditions today are lighter than yesterday we still have some challenges; the biggest one to my mind being the number of large ships making their way up and down the Eastern Solent and we had to put into practice our skills at judging distance off, speed, likely closest point of approach, whether to hold or alter our course etc. One of these ships (see picture below) was particularly large and, at first, given that it had to change course a number of times as it navigated the narrow deep-water channels around Bramble Bank and Cowes, it was very difficult to say from one minute to the next whether we were on a collision course or not.
Constant monitoring was called for but that held its own dangers because, after about 5 minutes of monitoring it, we realised that there was another ship much closer to us coming from the other direction. We’d got so immersed in checking “big ship No. 1” that we hadn’t seen “big ship no. 2” coming the other way. Anyway; lesson learned very quickly; and we took the correct actions to avoid both ships by comfortable margins by simply holding our course; sounds simple and obvious but, at one point, big ship no. 1 seemed to be tracking our every move so closely that we considered doing a 180° turn and heading back for the island shore until it was past. Ultimately, though, very satisfying to put into practice what I’ve really only ever read about.
Big ship no. 1. A few minutes before I took this photo it looked like we were on a collision course; and a few minutes before that it looked miles away; sobering how quickly they creep up on you!
Half way back to Warsash Patrick very kindly handed me (Kevin) the helm to “Escapology” and, after one big gust that seemed to come from nowhere, backed big-time and nearly had us in the drink as we approached the shore, the wind did a “Weir Wood-at-the-finish-mark-in-a-South-Easterly” on us as we entered Southampton Water and became fitful and fluky. For a time it looked like we might need to call Mike for a tow for the final mile or so; but I wanted to be sure before we threw in the towel. I enjoyed searching for the breeze using what lessons I think I’ve learned over the years at Weir Wood; or maybe I just got lucky. Anyway, although it was difficult to see, there seemed to be more wind every time we tacked in towards the North Eastern shore and less wind every time we tacked out into the channel. So we stuck to the shore and made it all the way back in a fairly decent breeze; finally short-tacking through the moorings; great fun. As we glided up alongside the jetty at Warsash, with the wind finally giving up – and Patrick stepping ashore with ease as the boat came to a stop – it was hard to believe how different it had been just the day before.
Ken says “Perhaps it was my imagination but there was a competitive edge emerging during the return trip” (no Ken, it wasn’t your imagination) “with dinghies passing and being passed, it was an enjoyable return trip rounding off a fantastic weekend of sailing which required seamanship and sailing skills, thank goodness I had Mike on the helm.”
Ken & Mike heading up Southampton Water. Note Ken’s hi-tech sunglasses which were the subject of much discussion and envy. Apparently he took out a loan to buy them.
A meal and a drink in The Rising Sun with Tony, Bridget, Patrick, Mike and Ken, finished off a perfect weekend.
If you’ve ever wondered whether to join the Weir Wood SC Cruising Group for a day-sail or a weekend, all I will say is “think no more … DO IT!” you don’t know what you’re missing!
Looking back, Robin says he’s most impressed at the experience and preparation that went into organising this trip. The cruising group regulars knew every landmark in the Solent, had memorised the tides, planned the passages and of course stocked up with everything 10 hungry sailors could want for a weekend – making it easy for me to join in. Thanks everyone!
The final word goes to Ken “Lesson learnt: Do yourself a favour, don’t miss the next cruise”.