I joined Wayne and John Crane on Thursday to take Lorax and Little Dipper down to Shamrock Quay in order to raise masts after lowering them to get under the bridges and have both boats ready for an early start (07:30) on Friday morning. Wayne had already prepared the boats and got their masts lowered and stowed before I arrived.
We motored down to Shamrock Quay where they were very generous with their arrangements for us to leave both boats on their pontoon and for us to leave a car there for the weekend. We erected the masts and left the boats ready for loading the following morning.
The forecast for the weekend was fine on Friday, rain and wind on Saturday and fine again on Sunday (or maybe that was just our interpretation of the forecast – it didn’t quite turn out the way we expected).
Richard, John, Wayne and I assembled at about 07:00 on Friday morning to load the boats with supplies and kit for the weekend and not long after our proposed departure time we started motoring down the Itchen with Richard and John in Little dipper and Wayne and I in Lorax. Reaching the dock head a light breeze picked up so we raised the sails and started sailing down Southampton Water towards Calshot where we were to meet up with the Drascombe contingent that would be setting off from Ashlett Creek. As we reached the Fawley refinery jetties the wind became rather less reliable and we were becalmed for a while which ultimately meant that we arrived off Ashlett exactly on schedule at 11:00. Our attempts to contact the Drascombe fleet who were due to depart Ashlett at this time were unsuccessful so we pressed on towards our goal which was Newtown Creek. Once out of Southampton water the breeze picked up and we were able to investigate Loarax’s handling characteristics (a new experience as I had never sailed on her before). Meanwhile, the breeze and chop were increasing and Little Dipper encountered problems with the main halyard and after a period of sailing with jib and mizzen in the rising wind decided that it would be better to motor to Newtown Creek and sort things out there. In Lorax we chose to continue to sail and enjoy the increasingly boisterous and by now rainy conditions with much experimenting with sail and boat trim. Somewhere around Gurnard Bay we encountered a significant squall which tested our mettle and we opted to heave to while the squall blew through – a character building experience which confirmed the excellent seaworthiness of Lorax and gave me great confidence in her. Once the squall blew, through the sun came out, the wind became much more manageable and we set a course for the mouth of the Beaulieu River. On tacking outside the entrance we evaluated our position and found ourselves set up for a reach that would take us right up to the entrance to Newtown Creek – absolutely perfect! On arrival we found that some of the Drascombe contingent and Little Dipper had already arrived but as we prepared to raft up with the anchored Little Dipper, the Drascombes set sail again for Yarmouth (was it something I said?!). After a short conference we (the St Denys contingent) opted to spend the night in Newton Creek amongst the wildlife so we picked up a visitors mooring to ensure that we would stay afloat all night. On Lorax Wayne produced a delicious supper of bangers and burgers – an excellent end to what turned out to the best day’s sailing of the weekend.
After a couple of showers around dawn we arose to a dry sunny morning on the IoW but dark clouds and rain could be seen over Lymington. On further inspection a seal was spotted basking on the mud adjacent to our mooring and despite our increasing activity remained there until the tide rose over its perch. By the time breakfast had been consumed the dark clouds were looking as though they might threaten us, so washing up was rapidly executed and a decision to batten down the hatches and let the storm go through with its attendant thunder and lightening was made. Once the weather passed the wind dropped away so we decided to motor to our next destination – Newport at the top of the Medina River. Arriving off Cowes we encountered rain and a mixed fleet of beautiful ‘old gaffers’, modern racing yachts and Gipsy Moth IV milling around waiting for a breeze so that they could start racing. Having taken some photos we headed up through Cowes and not a moment too soon as we now heard calls on the radio indicating that the wind was getting up and all sorts of excitement was going on. We had a leisurely trip to Newport where we found an almost empty pontoon where we were able to select a berth that would allow us to depart early as the tide rose the following day. Eventually the remainder of the fleet caught up and a lazy day was spent leading up to a huge and tasty supper in the very busy Bargeman’s Rest on the other side of the river. During the course of the afternoon we were joined by Ian Cowie in his Coaster who had sailed across with Bill and had encountered F6 winds which had caused some havoc with his sails and, combined with engine problems, had left him moored up at the Folly Inn. He later walked up to Newport and regaled us with his adventures.
Sunday dawned clear and sunny with a very light breeze. Following breakfast Lorax set off to meet Bill to tow him down through Cowes with a view to sailing back to Ashlett Creek. However on arrival outside Cowes it became apparent that the wind was inadequate for the task in hand so a long line was deployed and Summer Breeze was towed back to Ashlett and Lorax then motored back to Shamrock Quay to drop the mast and then motor back to St Denys under the bridges.
All in all it was an excellent, very convivial and well organised weekend. My thanks go particularly to Wayne for twisting my arm to come on this trip and providing the food and kit required and to Richard for organising the St Denys portion of this rally.
All the best plans are made in a pub..., and what better way to keep you children out of mischief on a bank holiday weekend than to take them canoeing from pub to pub along the Thames!
So on Friday after work we set off for the 1 hour 30 min journey to Lechlade on Thames. A total of 13 people joined the trip with ages ranging from 4 (Abigail) to 69 (Sorry Peter!) Those of you who have been on James™ adventures before know that the organisation tends not to be much more than "turn up at the Trout pub in Lechlade on Friday night". This can be quite alarming for first timers and this time was no exception for Peter who turned up first only to be told that the camping had been canceled and there was no way he could possibly stay! Eventually the landlady was called and remembered the booking and all was well. By this time the children had all disappeared off around the campsite and made new friends. We settled in for some good pub food and folk music from Edd Donovan and the Wandering Moles. Finally at about 1am James who had been working late arrived with the canoes in tow. We were all set for an adventure.
After a leisurely breakfast on saturday morning we were joined by Sue who had come up from southampton. We set off down the Thames. The upper Thames at Lechlade is very quiet with hardly any boats even on a bank holiday weekend. We slowly drifted and paddled downstream, even Helen and Paul who had not paddled for 5 years had no trouble keeping up with the leisurely pace. Out in front Zara (8) was leading the way in the little Old Town Heron Jr determined she would be first. After about an hour we came to our first lock of the Thames. We rafted up, and with some trepidation sent the children to operate the lock gates. 240,000 liters of water later we were 6ft lower and as the lock gates creaked open we picked up our little lock keepers and set off down the river.
The leisurely pace was continued interspersed with people swapping boats and playing games. We stopped at the Plough for a picnic lunch and managed to clean the pub out of bottled beer in the process! Eventually at about 5:00 we arrived at the Swan at Radcot where we pulled our canoes out to camp on a grassy island. Tents were pitched and we headed off to the Swan for dinner. We all enjoyed dinner though the landlord of the Swan is so grumpy it's almost comical. At one point he refused to serve anyone tea. (If you ever visit, do ask for tea just to cause trouble.)
The next morning we woke to find Sue had disappeared! To the warmth and frothy coffee of Starbucks it later transpired. After a shared (and slightly random) breakfast of cereal, malt loaf and boiled eggs we packed up the tents ready for the final leg of our adventure. After playing musical boats the older children, Alice (10) and Ben (8), ended up paddling the kayaks and the ever dauntless Abigail (4) sat in a kayak being towed by her mum and dad. The day continued much as the previous day with picnics, locks and baby swans. We arrived at the end of our journey at the Trout at Tadpole Bridge and loaded the canoes back on the trailer for the trip back to the Trout at Lechlade. After dinner together, we spent one last night camping before heading back to the club the next day.
This part of the Thames has to be one of the nicest rivers to paddle in the UK and all the better for having been able to share it with friends and family.
‘Ben, do you want to come sailing for a few days?’ Long pause as my son considers the offer. I wait patiently, but secretly excited at this opportunity to do some proper sailing. Finally he shakes his head and says ‘I’m not really sure I want to, Dad.’ Not to be discouraged (I hide my crushing disappointment) I enquire as to his reasons for not wanting to go. His reply, ‘We will get stuck out at sea if there’s no wind.’ I suggested that the boats would also have motors so if the wind stops we would be able to still get around. ‘Oh,’ he says ‘well OK then, I’ll go.’ And with that we are joining the Drascombe Rally.
Organised with a level of military precision (certain members bringing their career skills with them I think) we had the communal square marked out and a request for us to pitch our tents in lines. However the civilians (most of us!) pitched in a more random affair. Our campsite had their own festival toilets and running water – the outdoor shower was particularly worthy of mention.
Morning briefing was 9.00 sharp each day and crew was allocated, boats sorted and we were on the water in no time. Ben and I found ourselves crewing for day 1 on the Muckle Flugger (I pronounced that wrong a couple of times!!!) and enjoyed the day with light winds completing the treasure hunt around Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island. Ben’s first sailing trip comes with the quote, ‘It was very fun and I enjoyed it a lot!’
Wednesday found us on our very own club boat ‘Little Dipper’ with a crew of 6 in total – including a baby. This trip found us heading out to open sea, past the chain ferry and heading West up the coast. Well we reached a quiet area of the Sandbanks beach at least. We met up with Kittiwake and the children (and a couple of adults) swam in the sun drenched toasty sea – ahem, please excuse my small exaggeration.
Friday turned wet unfortunately and whilst some decided to brave the weather we planned to head off a little earlier but not before a visit to the Dorset Waterpark. Phil S. and family joined us and we had a fab time slipping, sliding and jumping off things into water.
The evenings are worth a mention, first night was a little cheese and wine to set the mood even if Phil S and I ended up missing most of it whilst fighting traffic so he could bring Little Dipper round to the creek we were camping beside. Our Hosts also organised an evening at the races (hobby horses at the ready), a BBQ site each evening and an evening sing along. We finally drank the evening away congregating at the impromptu club HQ.
All in all an excellent first ever Dracombe Rally and one I was promised would be repeated in a couple of years – sign me up.
One of the club's favourite trips is the annual Hamble Paddle. This year we set off at the crack of 9.30 from Swanwick Hard and let the tide drift us upstream. There were thirteen of us in twelve kayaks, which is getting close to all of them.
We paddled right up towards Botley sometimes bumping along the bottom and having to wait for the tide to lift us over the boulders. We went right under the road at Botley Mill stopping under the weir at the old wharf.
We then headed round to Curbridge for lunch at The Horse & Jockey pub. Excellent!