At six on Thursday evening the 22rd of January, I was settling down to the prospects of a quiet weekend with two funerals when my son James came on the phone for a chat. After a few preliminaries he went on,
“I have booked a Sigma 36 for next weekend for a trip round the Isle of Wight. Would you like to join Daniel (just 17) and me for the trip?” to which I replied “No thanks”.
Back in front of the television and faced by the dreary program schedule, my thoughts swung in favour and I phoned him back to say I would be pleased to come. For the rest of the evening I listed the gear to take. Joy needed the car so I would have to go by train and that limited the amount of gear I could carry but it had to be enough to deal with the forecast cold snap. Jim helped by agreeing to supply a sleeping bag.
By 1600 Friday we were at Southampton public quay ready to take over the boat True Glory but no signs of the chap in charge. He turned up an hour later. It was 1900hrs and raining steadily as we motored out into a gloomy Southampton Water having decided to leave the sorting the sails until daylight next morning. Jim had hoped to get across to Cowes but in view of our slow progress over the spring flood we settled for Hamble Marina at 2100 hrs and plugged in the electric fan heater to cheer up the cabin which had no other heating. At least we had plenty of sleeping bags and duvet covers so I slept warm enough.
I woke the others at 0720hrs and found that we had all slept well. Outside it was as clear as a bell with a light breeze from north. The ebb had already set in and we got underway as fast as we could, sorting out and hoisting the sails once clear of the shore. Jim didn’t know of the North Channel but I remembered it from a trip in Winston Churchill many years ago and we took it to dodge the flood tide. The sun appeared above the horizon to bring some welcome warmth as Jim served sausage sarnies as the wind began to back. The log showed six knots over the ground in spite of the light wind and regular collapse of the genny when I allowed the boat to wander. I found the she needed constant attention on the helm with none of the feeling that I get from the tiller on my own little gaffer. No Man’s Land Fort charged towards us; its` fresh black paint gleaming in the bright morning sunlight. Passing just inside it at 1000hr, we hauled the sheets for the fastest sailing of the day as Bembridge swept by. In fact we were so interested in the delightful little harbour that we wandered a little too close inshore and suddenly realised the Bembridge Ledge buoy was way out to port. As the gleaming white cliffs at Culver opened out, we hardened the sheets further and realised that the wind was rising fast. It was time for a reef although we would soon be closer in the lee of the Island shore. This was the first time I had seen the modern reefing gear used. At seventy seven my performance on the winches was not to good so I took the helm while Jim managed the mainsheet and Daniel worked at the foot of the mast to hook on the reef rings and handle the reefing penants. In fact the wind seemed to funnel off the land as we passed Sandown and Shanklin so that we put in a second reef and rolled up part of the headsail, as we had no stomach for sheets of spray coming back to the cockpit. Wisps of cloud gathered over the shore and by the time we were off St Catherine’s Point at high water, we lost the sun for an hour or so.
By this time a long swell was coming in from the southwest but white horses were few and far between as the wind eased for a time to encourage us to shake out the second reef before hardening so that we put it back again for we had plenty of time. Jim and I both studied the local tidal charts and agreed that there was not much point in passing through the narrows at Hurst Castle before 1700hrs. After a long board out to sea we headed inland again to realise that a fine tide was sweeping us northwest. A second long inshore tack brought us in towards the gap in the high ground, which we knew to be the backdoor of Yarmouth. By this time the white cliffs at the Needles stood out brightly in the afternoon warm afternoon sunlight, which had returned to warm us as the clouds hurried away to the east. One more port tack, and the Needles came in line as the Cardinal buoy at the western end of the channel grew larger. Now there were white horses galore. It was just 1600hrs as we turned northeast and let the sails right out to carry us slowly over the sluicing ebb. The water in the middle was smooth enough but constant attention was needed by lining the next port hand buoy with Hurst Point lighthouse to avoid being swept into the maelstrom on either hand. The sun went down behind us in a blaze of glory and a new moon and Venus appeared to take its` place. The wind lasted long enough to take us through the narrows but it died as the lights of Yarmouth came into view and the engine went on to take us in at 1800hrs; well pleased with the days’ sport.
After a quiet night, we found it flat calm on Sunday morning and motored out at 0725 to find a strong flood with just enough air from the west to give steerage way. Phoebe appeared over the trees west of Newtown where a light breeze issued out from the misty valley, in fact a kabatic wind. Jim produced breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs, with fresh bread rolls bought half baked and finished in the oven. Utter perfection! The mist over Newtown seemed to get even deeper and I wondered about the chances of sea fog but nothing drifted out to sea. As Newtown dropped astern, the wind died completely. High cloud came in overhead and we motored into Cowes, the magic of the morning gone for the rest of the day. After tying up at the harbour masters` pontoon to buy milk where we found ten or a dozen other January sailors; we motored up the River Medina as far as the Folly Inn and then turned back towards Southampton, arriving at the liner terminal as the first signs of the ebb began to move past the piles of the world famous terminal.