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.