The forecast for the next day had promised northerly winds, which would be offshore and on our beam, so the sailing should be good for us. The almanac has told us that the westwards tidal flow will begin at high water, which happens to be at 0600. We awake early, and slip our lines. There is plenty of water this time and we have no fears of grounding in the soft mud. Several other boats obviously have had the same idea as us and are leaving at the same time, so we join an orderly queue that reminds us of a mother duck and its ducklings until we are clear of the harbour entrance.
Then it is everyone for themselves. As the forecast had promised, there is a good stiff breeze coming from the north, so we hoist both sails, switch off the engine, and give Ruby Tuesday her head on a course towards Selsey Bill, the promontory protruding out into the sea from Sussex. Before long we are skimming along at 8 knots, helped along by the favourable tidal stream. The day is perfect, bright and sunny, only a few clouds in the sky. What more could one wish for?
Off to our right, the shore seems to be one continuous conurbation – Southwick, Shoreham-by-Sea, Worthing, Littlehampton, Bognor Regis – all places that I had probably driven through a long time ago, but couldn’t really remember – but today all pass by without us noticing. All that matters at that moment is the wind, the sea and the boat. It is an exhilarating feeling, that of being at one with nature, working together to move nearly 8 tonnes of mass to its destination. The wind strengthens with gusts reaching 18 knots, and we slow to reef the sails. Ruby Tuesday has a large sail area, and we are learning that it is best to reef early to avoid problems. It doesn’t make much difference to her speed, but she does heel less, which makes it more comfortable.
Just over four hours later we are passing Selsey Bill. The Bill is notorious for many a shipwreck in the past, mainly due to its treacherous reefs that dry at low water, the Mixon Rock and the Inner and Outer Owers. Between these is a channel, the Looe, which provides a safe passage from one side to the other in good conditions. We had worked out waymarks which take us through it safely, but we are still relieved to reach the intriguingly-named Boulder and Street buoys that mark the Solent end of the Looe. We have made it!
But we relax too soon – between the two buoys is another much smaller buoy marking a lobster pot below, a long yellow rope snaking just below the surface before it plunges into the depths. It is too late to avoid it, and we just pray that it won’t snag the keel, the propeller or rudder. I have visions of having to dive overboard to free it, but somehow we miss it, even though we can see it as it passes under the boat. We thank our lucky stars and breath again. Lobster pot buoys are the bane of sailors – a line wrapped around the propeller can immobilise a boat. I have mixed feelings about them – of course, they provide a livelihood for fishermen, which no one would begrudge, but the sea has many users, and the pots need to be placed where they won’t cause a danger to others. This one in particular has been placed thoughtlessly right in the middle of a busy and potentially dangerous seaway. A farmer on land after all wouldn’t graze his animals on a busy motorway.
We are starting to enter the Solent now, the acknowledged mecca for yachtspeople. There is certainly more commercial traffic, but not as many yachts as we thought there might have been. Perhaps it is because it isn’t the weekend yet. We can see an enormous containership bearing down on us, looking as if it is coming straight for us at one point, but it veers off to pass us on our port side as it follows the deep water channel for large boats.
Soon we are passing Horse Sand Fort, one of four forts constructed in the Solent in the 19th century to protect Portsmouth Harbour against a perceived threat of a French invasion. The others are No Man’s Land Fort, Spitsands Fort, and St Helens Fort. They are impressive structures, but never used for the original purpose they were intended for. Nowadays, three of them are owned by a luxury hotel chain. There is still a submarine barrier used in WW2 made of huge concrete blocks leading out from the mainland to Horse Sands Fort which we were advised well to avoid. Better safe than sorry!
By now, there are boats of all shapes and sizes everywhere, so we put away the sails and start the engine. It seems that there is a lane for yachts just to the left of the main shipping channel, so we join the line of other boats following this. Safety in numbers, we think. At one point, particularly large bow waves from a cargo ship threaten to overturn us, but we follow the example of the boat in front of us, and turn into the waves. Even so, two or three times the bow rises right out of the water before slamming down again and sending water cascading over the foredeck. Before long, we are passing the spectacular Emirates Spinnaker Tower marking the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, keeping a watchful eye on the numerous ferries coming and going in all directions. The hustle and bustle here contrasts strongly with the peace and quietness we have enjoyed earlier in the day.
We cruise slowly up Portsmouth Harbour heading for Port Solent Marina at the top end, passing navy aircraft carriers and Portchester Castle on the way, underlining once again the role that defence has had on the history of the area. As it was close to low water, we have to pick our way carefully through the poles marking the dredged channel, keeping the red ones to our port side and the green ones to starboard. Before long we reach the entry lock and are through into the marina. We have chosen this marina as we have been here before when looking for boats to buy and had liked it. It also happens to be close to a shop where we want to buy some sailing jackets.
We have accumulated a large bag of washing since we have been afloat, so we take the opportunity to use the laundry facilities at Port Solent. The brilliant sunshine and gusty wind dry the clothes in no time at all, and once again we have a choice of what to wear.
I’m so glad you didn’t get caught by the buoy line!