We had been determined to get to Dartmouth as soon as possible to join our friends Bert and Theresa on their boat Kokopelli for the channel crossing. However, Kokopelli had had some serious electrical problems and was not yet ready to set sail. We therefore decided to spend some time in the Solent and make our way to Cowes and particularly, to visit an old haunt of mine The Folly Inn up the Medina River. So we left Buckler’s Hard, retraced our steps down the Beaulieu River and after some fun sailing, we moored up at Shephard’s Marina in Cowes. After a wander round the pretty town of Cowes we caught a water taxi up the river to The Folly Inn – it was as good as I remembered it! The return water taxi broke down half way home. He had run out of fuel! But after changing tanks, normal service was resumed and we were dropped back at Synergy – door to door service! The night was a little rocky as we were moored across the river from the ferry terminal.
This next leg was one that I had been really looking forward to as the Solent was where I had taken my first sailing trip in 1991 with my old friend, Chalky White and we had visited Buckler’s Hard on that occasion. For those who have never been there, you must! It is a magical, unspoilt place up the Beaulieu River on Lord Montagu’s estate. It was once a thriving boat yard during Nelson’s time and produced around 60 ships for the Navy during the Napoleonic period and, better still, boasts a great pub called the Master Builders, once the home of the master ship builder Henry Adams. I just love it there. Jacquie and I had visited Buckler’s Hard when we went boat hunting, but I really wanted to arrive there in my own boat. We left Gosport, got the sails up and, miraculously, were able to sail to the Beaulieu River entrance where we joined a convoy of other boats heading up the river. On the way, the heavens opened and soaked the helmsman (me) to the bone, while my craven crew huddled under the spray hood in the dry. Buckler’s Hard was busy, but we were able to find a berth on the refuelling pontoon and moored up before heading to The Master Builder’s for dinner. We were joined by my brother and sister-in-law, Tony and Theresa who had driven over from Shaftsbury to say their farewells.
The following day we spent at Buckler’s Hard. Pete and Ali walked into Beaulieu to visit the motor museum while Jac and I stayed on the boat catching up on housekeeping/maintenance work. I tightened the engine drive belt (again); it seemed to be hell bent on working loose. An old friend, Pierre Bosdet, joined us in the afternoon and we had yet another enjoyable evening in the Master Builder’s pub.
We left Brighton at 10.15 in the morning to sail to Portsmouth Harbour having seen our friends Malcolm and Glenda Stennett in their Levington based motor cruiser, Lady Genevieve, leaving for Dover. The departure was delayed as we found ourselves sitting on the mud. The marina, supposed to be dredged to 2 metres, was considerably less and even shallower draft boats than Synergy were stranded on the putty. Having escaped from Brighton we set off on the 46 mile trip to Portsmouth. The wind picked up to force 6 and we managed to get some sailing done but with the wind over tide around the Looe off Selsey Bill, the water became very rough for an hour or so. The rest of the trip was easy going except that going into Portsmouth was a little like trying to fly a light aircraft into Heathrow; following a narrow channel and dodging ferries and lots of other ships negotiating the narrow entrance. We moored in Haslar Marina and breathed sigh of relief that we hadn’t been run over by the Isle of Wight ferry!
The engine drive belt had been shedding bits of rubber, as it had loosened since the engine had been serviced the week before we left. So we refuelled and tightened the belt while waiting for the lock to open and we could continue our progress to Brighton. This was only a short run, but the girls wanted to get their nails done! The wind was blowing Force 3, but straight on the bow for most of the trip, so we weren’t able to get much sailing done again. On the way we heard someone on the radio reporting a floating hot tub as a hazard to shipping. It must had been a very good party! Just after we tied up in Brighton, Pete Smith and Ed from the East Anglian Sea School at Levington hailed us. They had heard us on the radio as they were taking their new Beneteau, which they had collected from La Rochelle, back to Suffolk Yacht harbour. Pete’s parting word of advice was, “Don’t do what we did in the Chanel De Four,” a particularly nasty piece of water in N France. “Do what it says in the book. We went through with wind against tide and it was horrible.” Sound advice for when we were across the Channel.
We left Dover in sunny weather intending to run along the south coast to Brighton. The wind was blowing force 5, occasionally 6 but we had a lovely view of the Kent and Sussex coasts as we made our way with the tide flowing with us. Unfortunately, when the wind changed the sea developed an uncomfortable chop with Synergy burying her bow in one wave, rearing up over the next and slapping down hard on the peak of the third. After a couple of hours of this treatment, we had had enough and decided to run into Eastbourne. The entrance was through a lock and into a modern marina with all the facilities. We had a pleasant meal at a Thai restaurant in the marina.
We left Ramsgate at 1pm and had a gentle run in sunshine and light winds, motor sailing, on the short 23 mile run to Dover. We caught the rush hour and had to wait outside the East harbour entrance while 3 cross channel ferries went ahead of us. We were then permitted to cross the commercial harbour to the marina where we met a couple who had a berth only 20 yards from us at Levington. It’s a small world! We ate our evening meal at Cullins Brewery, a great place backing onto the inner marina.
Accompanied by our friends Peter Sadler and Ali Sanger who were to be with us for a couple of weeks, we left the River Orwell in nice weather and light winds and followed the Medusa Channel (named after one of Nelson’s ships) heading southeast across the Thames estuary. The numerous sandbanks are a hazard, but all are well marked with buoys. A fairly gentle run to start with enough wind to get the sails up, but then we had to change course into wind, so down came the sails and on came the engine. Had lunch as we passed one of the huge wind farms, but Jac became seasick and was quite unwell for while. Passing out of Fisherman’s Ghat, a gap in one of the sandbanks, the wind picked up and left us rolling and pitching badly so it was a relief to reach the shelter of Ramsgate Harbour. While looking for a berth we managed to get stuck on the mud; the harbour was supposed to be dredged to at least 2 metres, our draught, but we had found a shallower bit. (And I was congratulating myself on my ability to keep the boat steady in one place!) Ramsgate was very pretty but most of the restaurants were shut as it was a Monday. We did however find a good Italian called La Magnolia and had a lovely meal.