Sails versus sea current

20:51 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

We safely navigated the river's mouth into the open water of the Solent. During our sail into the river on the previous day, we had misjudged the depth of the water and the draft of the boat and the keel had momentarily hit the ground. The changes in tide levels is very pronounced and totally dictates when and how to sail. The ideal time to sail into the sea is when the tide goes out (ie deep but moving away from the land).

We were aiming to sail north east and reach Portsmouth by the evening. The wind had significantly picked up and was coming from directly where we were sailing too. In order to utilise the wind, we had to 'tack' - sail in a zig zag path towards the wind. Tacking is really exciting. One side of the boat heels into the water and the other side is lifted into the air. The yacht climbs and falls through the waves and you really would not want to be inside the cabin. Tacking also demands that the whole crew get involved in helming the boat and pulling on certain ropes at the right moment (I can't really get more technical than that).

I also can't read the charts or use the navigation instruments, so that was left to the rest of the crew who had actually been on a boat before. I did get to do some helming (steering) which was good fun. I tried it when the sea was calm on the first day's sail and I was absolutely useless. From other boats it probably looked like I was drunk at the rudder - we were all over the place. However on day two, I managed to build upon that terrible start and make the boat go generally where I wanted, in a sort of straight line.

We had been sailing for an hour and were making good progress. The boat felt like it was cutting through the waves and everyone was enjoying the sail. We hadn't spotted a landmark which we expected to see, to some calculations were carried out to see where we were. Unbelievably, we were actually west of where we started. Despite us sailing well across the sea's surface, the undercurrents had washed us in completely the opposite direction. I was pretty amazing by the strength of the sea. If you fell into the sea, I don't care if you are Michael Phelps, you wouldn't have a chance of swimming against the current.

We were a bit miffed by our lack of progress and decided to up our game and sail hard. It took some determined sailing and a lot of tacking but eventually we reached the channel which connects Portsmouth and Cowes. This part of the Solent is restless, with innumerate sailing yachts, dinghys, passenger ships and catamarans pottering about. It takes quite a lot of bravery to sail a little yacht like ours in the same waters that are also used by huge passenger and container ships. Ben's Mum would spot some huge ship on the same bearing as us, which meant we would have to change our course or get crushed. Thankfully sailing isn't that rushed, so we had plenty of time to finish our brews and have a biscuit before we actually had to do anything.

As you enter the harbour at Portsmouth you have to do something every true sailor hates - use the motor engine. Portsmouth harbour is a huge port and they don't want someone with a sail flapping about in the channel holding up global trade. Entering Portsmouth by boat is probably the best way too see it. It's not that great a place, but I was desperate to get to land so I could have a shower and use a toilet that didn't rock side-to-side. The marina was pretty impressive with all sorts of flash and expensive yachts and motorboats moored up. Our envy was replaced by smugness when we watched some guy in a huge yacht with a blue ensign (basically a symbol of eliteness/snobbery) spectacularly fail in mooring up and nearly sank the pontoon he scraped his boat against.

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