Part III: Our trip to the Isle of Wight
On Thursday, we sailed to the Isle of Wight, and it was an exceptional March day. We left the slip about 9:30 a.m. with a bit of a scare, because the wind blew the stern off to port exiting the slip and I needed it to starboard to get out the fairway. I gassed the engine in reverse and pulled the stern back to starboard, but at that point the stern was cruising towards the boats across the fairway, and I needed a strong forward burst to halt progress and swing the bow, which I did and we cleared all with no problems, but the entire sequence was unexpected and seemed very high speed.
(I could write a full book chapter about how this boat spins like a pinwheel to starboard in reverse. I know that the rudder will bite at some speed in reverse-- two knots or so, but I haven't determined yet how much and how fast the bow will swing before reaching this magical speed and how wind conditions will affect the swing. Until then, I'd rather not practice in narrow marina fairways where hitting other boats at speed in reverse is a real option.)
Once my blood pressure dropped below 220, we were also out of the marina and sliding out the small boat channel of Portsmouth into the Solent. We headed out past buoy four and took the Swashway out toward the west, lining up the war memorial with a building behind as the recommended transit (and tracking things with the chart plotter as our second source of info).
Once out in the Solent proper, we had excellent sailing. Mostly sunny, 9-13 knots NW winds, and relatively open water. We did long tacks into the wind to work westward, reaching around 6.2 knots under sail, and the boat seemed perfectly happy with this amount of wind. We reached Cowes on the Isle of Wight sooner that we wanted, and did some extra sailing before dropping sails and motoring into Cowes and up the River Medina.
Entering Cowes and the River Medina. Looks like a sailing town, doesn't it?
Ellen MacArthur's B&Q (for sale).
After safely passing the chain ferry, we motored up river and got an excellent walk off dockside spot at the Folly Inn. We got there about 4 p.m., and it was sunny, clear and warm. We had happy hour on the boat, and then hiked up river to investigate another marina on the river. The weather was fantastic. On our return, we had a great dinner at the inn (best of the week), and then I did some night fishing with my son off the dock.
Obviously, this was too good to last, and at 3 a.m. the winds changed from 9-10 knots to 20 knots and then 30 knots. The river didn't have much of a swell, but the rigging of the boats were singing loud and the rain came down in sheets.
The next morning (Friday), stormy conditions continued. The weather station on the Solent (Bramblemet)
showed F6-F8 conditions. The forecast for Saturday looked the same, and only Sunday looked a bit lighter. The rain was heavy, and it didn't look like we could go outside much. Also, the currents in the Solent suggested a start by 9-10 a.m. to help take us back to Gosport.
We had pretty much decided to have breakfast at the inn and spend another day at the Folly. During a full English breakfast, we talked with the Inn keepers and changed our minds. The weekend before, the weather was the same, and it stormed the full weekend. The swell grew in the river, boats sank at their moorings, and it was pretty much not a fun thing. The keepers recommended leaving immediately if we wanted to get back by boat this weekend, or risk being stuck there until Monday or Tuesday. (We needed to be back to work and school on Monday).
Thus, we went back to the boat and pulled out against the sustained 25 knots of S winds. The river was a pretty easy trip, with the tail wind carrying us North and out of Cowes. The rain was pelting down, and the whole family was in the cockpit with the companionway shut so the rain wouldn't pour in. As we passed out of Cowes, the swell and waves really picked up and the boat was tossed quite a bit. Right at that moment, an ongoing rescue of a sailboat with 6 people aboard was carried out on channel 16. They were washed up on rocks near a lighthouse, the hull was holed, a helicopter went out, and a lifeboat took them off. Nice and encouraging for us to hear going out into strong winds and waves.
We hugged the shoreline of the Isle of Wight for awhile, because it was blocking the wind and we didn't want the leeshore of the coast. The kids wouldn't allow us to put up a deeply reefed main to do some sailing, and we had a lot to think about just from the gusts to 30 knots and more. The highest gust I saw on our readout was 39.8 knots, so I guess this was our first gale.
At one point, visibility dropped to about a third of a mile, and sailboat came at us from the opposite direction. She was a nice, longer ketch, and she was sailing with only her main up, in the third reef, but she was still ripping along. As she passed, we saw she was Gipsy Moth IV, out for a cruise, and I cursed myself for not having a waterproof camera. We didn't take a single picture on this trip because of the driving, constant rain.
Things got rough with the swell and wind on our starboard quarter, but no one was afraid, and no one got seasick for a change. Maybe there is truth in the acclimation idea. (We had all taken Stugeron that morning, though). Even when we turned wind and swell to stern, the boat could corkscrew strongly, but we motored through without a problem, following a course from buoy to marker with the drenched chart plotter in limited visibility. There was shipping out, but we never got near the ships or ferries.
During the entire trip, I was more concerned about the landing at the marina than anything else. A 30 knot crosswind could make landing fun. We rolled into the entrance of Portsmouth with no problems, and finally the rain stopped and the winds weakened a bit. Approaching the slip, the winds were down to 15-20 knots, from the NW across our slip at a 45 degree angle, toward the boat beside us.
I put her into the slip fairly easily, and my wife stopped off with the line from the beam cleat. I stepped forward asking my daughter for the aft line, and when she tried to hand it to me it wouldn't reach, because it was only set to 8 feet and I needed at least 14 to go forward to the finger. That delay was almost a disaster, because my wife couldn't hold the boat from being blown sideways away from the finger.
I leapt to the finger without a line and helped my wife angle her line around a cleat on the finger for more leverage as the wind gusted against the boat, The stern still swung sideways toward the other boat, and I muscled it back straight. It took awhile to get other lines off to secure the boat, and it wasn't easy with the winds gusting back up to 20-25 during the process. In the end, she was tied off and nothing was touched was wasn't supposed to be, so I guess any landing you can walk away from is a good one, but I prefer boring ones. Next time, we'll confirm the length of all mooring lines before approaching the slip.
After that squalls came through that screamed in the rigging and all the boats in the marina were heeling over in their mooring lines. I took some video of it and might post it later. Strong stuff this English weather. We were told that it's typically later in April when the weather is more uniform and predictable.
In the end, I think we were lucky to gain the experiences we did-- the longer passage, the seasickness and then the lack of seasickness, the first time out in a gale, and the beautiful day of sailing. We all gained a lot of confidence in the boat, and I'm glad we have a sea-kindly vessel. She's not large below, and someday the kids won't fit in the V berth, but the smashing we took going to windward didn't phase us or the boat. (A larger, pristine boat we looked at had been repaired for cracking/ripping in the engine area after falling off a wave, and I doubt our boat will ever have that problem.)
Next sailing plans: a trip to Yarmouth, or maybe just some day sailing until the weather stabilizes so we don't get caught in a remote port again.
A full photo gallery is at
Spring Break 2008
That concludes the trip report. Fair winds!