Weekend in Cowes for RTIR

23 - 26 June 2022

After much anticipation and planning, this was my first long weekend away in Bay Leaf and my first trip across the Solent in my own boat. My friend Sue was with me for the passage and we were laden with stores and other clobber ready for the Round the Island Race, which we were both sailing in separate boats. Ten yachts from the club were entering the race and at least three others making the trip as spectators. 

Thurs 23 June - Littlehampton to Gosport

An early start to catch the tide flowing to the West, Bay Leaf's crew assembled around 0730 to load up and get ready. She started first time and we backed her out of the berth - goodbye Littlehampton, see you on Sunday!

It was a bit dreary at first, light rain, no wind, mainsail up but not pulling at all, engine running. About half way through the journey, just after the Looe Channel, we felt a bit of breeze and stopped the engine for a while to see if she would make progress under sail. She managed it for a while but we weren't making enough speed over the ground so we put the engine back on. The rest of the Arun fleet was ahead and astern but once out at sea, usually everyone is too far away to make out. There was a bit of chatter between the fleet on channel 72 but otherwise it was a quiet and steady journey - we made our waypoints as per my plan. The only slightly tricky moment was outside Portsmouth. Having safely and swiftly motored across to the other side of the main shipping channel, turning into the now-blowing wind, it took me a few minutes to get the mainsail down in the swell while Sue held us head-to-wind on the tiller and watched a massive ferry coming out and past us - creating more swell! Soon sorted and back on course through the Small Boat Channel and into Gosport, which is handily placed right there on the western side and dead easy to enter. I was very pleased that Bay Leaf's engine ran for pretty much five hours without missing a beat.

Navigation notes:

0800 left Littlehampton under engine
1030 passing the Mixon Pole off Selsey
1045 passing the red Street buoy, under sail for a short while, then back to engine
1230 passing the Winner Bank south cardinal mark
1305 through the Main Passage in the submarine barrier right on slack water, as planned
1345 sails down and lined up to enter Portsmouth through the small boat channel on the western side

We can't easily get marine diesel in Littlehampton these days so my plan was to go past Haslar Marina a bit further into Portsmouth Harbour to find the fuel berth. Luckily there were no other boats queueing so we took the opportunity to moor alongside. It's a self service system a bit like a supermarket petrol station - tap a debit card, select a pump, 20 litres of frothy red diesel into Bay Leaf's tank, job done. That will probably last me all year and maybe into next.

Returning to Haslar Marina behind the green lightship Mary Mouse, calling up on channel 80 we were directed to our berth for the night alongside the rest of the Arun fleet. By 2.15pm we were safely landed. It's very nice in this marina, everyone is friendly, the showers in Mary Mouse are lovely and clean. Some of our group went in to swim. We had a pleasant evening in the Castle pub with our friends and then a quiet night aboard.

Fri 24 June - Gosport to Cowes

No hurry in the morning so we got the kettle on for our porridge pots and hot drinks. Sunny, and we could feel a decent breeze stirring. My plan was to leave by 1100 but as we were all ready, with a bit of help from our friend Carlo pushing us off the pontoon, we set off at 0945 for the crossing to Cowes. Our friend Nick in Free N Easy was just ahead of us so I knew I could follow him if my own navigation plans didn't work out. There was more wind today so we got Bay Leaf properly sailing, though the breeze was on her nose so we'd be tacking our way up the Solent. 

Keeping to the right, along the Hampshire coast, once we cleared Gilkicker Point we could see Cowes in the distance and set off on a fine reach making good progress. We passed the Bramble East cardinal buoy and tacked across to the Isle of Wight side, having visually checked for any shipping coming at us. Once in the lee of the island near Osborne Bay the wind became a bit variable so we rolled the genoa away. My navigation target was the Prince Consort buoy off Cowes but as we approached from the east I could see we'd be near the Eastern Channel which is a good entry point, we could see Nick ahead of us doing the same. 

As we neared the channel buoys we found a spot to turn into the wind, with engine running, and with Sue on the helm I went forward to drop the mainsail and tie it off so it wasn't flapping around. We then joined a stream of small boats following the channel into the River Medina and on into Cowes Harbour. We were lucky with the Red Jet ferries and the floating bridge, nothing in our way as we motored in. Calling East Cowes Marina on ch 80 we were told our allocated berth - this turned out to be right at the far end, round a corner and beside a set of residential flats. As Bay Leaf was not racing the next day, perhaps they'd put us out of the way rather than in the crowds of the main marina area. Just after 1200 we were tied up and I was pleased to have completed my first trans-oceanic crossing to this distant island. 

Sue disappeared off to join her team on Free N Easy for the race next day, and I went to find Phil aboard Good Feeling. We all had a good meal in the Lifeboat pub and retired to be ready for tomorrow's big event. 

Sat 25 June - RTIR

For the Round the Island Race I was aboard my friend Phil's boat, Good Feeling, with our friends Janet and Jonathan. This boat is a Feeling 326 with a lifting keel and should be fast as well as comfortable. They were staying aboard while I slept aboard my own boat. 

Our start was at 0920 and there was a fresh breeze maybe F5 blowing up the Solent. Once out at sea under full sail preparing for the start we realised she was over-pressed so Phil called for a reef in the mainsail. We never got this set quite right, the foot of the sail wasn't tight, we ended up starting the race with a slightly baggy sail giving a lot of weather helm. She was rounding up in the gusts needing a firm hand on the tiller - but this meant the rudder acting as a brake and slowing us down. She was also quite hard to tack, we hadn't sailed together as a team before and didn't quite have the hang of the various settings. We did our best and managed to beat to the Needles by mid-day but as we got around it was clear that the whole RTIR fleet was now in front of us and it wasn't at all certain that we'd make it around by the final finish time of 10.30pm. We were surrounded by huge rolling waves off the Channel as we looked back at the Needles lighthouse, though in good spirits and enjoying ourselves.

After a team discussion Phil made the executive decision to abandon the race and turn back from here at the Needles and head back to the pub. We had a brilliant sail back to Cowes with the wind abeam and bright sunshine, back in the harbour by 4pm or thereabouts. This meant we could shower, change, and get to the pub by 6pm while everyone else was still at sea. We'd had tremendous fun though and enjoyed the day.

Another night in the Lifeboat pub then an early night.

Sun 26 June - Cowes to Littlehampton

I slept quite well, now on my third night in my sleeping bag on board Bay Leaf. Slightly nervous about this return leg, quite a long way non-stop and a fresh SWly breeze forecast. But friends reassured me that under genoa only she'd sail perfectly well and be controllable. Sue reappeared with bags of stuff including sandwiches. I took the mainsail cover off but left plenty of sail ties around the main, so it was there if I wanted it but it wouldn't undo itself and fly when I didn't want it. Looking at wind and tide, and knowing there was no point in arriving Littlehampton before the tide rose, we decided to just go - so our friend Paul (berthed next to us) helped us back out, and we set off for home at 1045. I think we were the first of our group to leave Cowes.

We exited the harbour without difficulty and turned into the Eastern Channel, unrolling most of the genoa when we got into clear air. There seemed to be less wind than forecast, at first, we were only making 2 knots over the ground. Once past Castle Point the wind began to fill and soon we were well under way. The first six miles to Ryde Sands we covered in just over two hours, then onwards leaving the Solent Forts to port.

Shipping enters the eastern Solent through the Nab Channel which is clearly marked with red can and green cone buoys. My plan was to sail up to the first red can, check for shipping, then dart across to the green side. But as we passed the forts we could clearly see the first green cone, the other side of the channel, and with no ships in sight we just went for it and passed it about 1.30pm. Safely across the shipping lane we set a course for the entrance to the Looe Channel off Selsey, seven miles away. This leg proved to be long but uneventful as Bay Leaf's genoa pulled us across in stronger swell now we were away from the lee of the island. We drifted a little bit south of our planned track and had to harden up a little as the Boulder / Street pair of buoys came into view, and we entered the Looe about 15 minutes ahead of my planned time. Twelve miles to go, Free N Easy had got ahead of us by about five minutes, and on the radio we could hear Good Feeling, Foxy Lady and others coming up behind us.

After a few miles through the Looe we could see the Littlehampton gasometer in the distance. Turning dead downwind Bay Leaf seemed unsure which tack she wanted to be on, the wind having dropped a little, it was another couple of hours before we arrived at the harbour entrance. My plan was to wait until 1830 at the earliest before attempting entry due to low water, we had a bit of chat with the other club boats within radio range to discuss the approach plan. It was now about 1845 and ahead of us we saw Navy Rum, Free N Easy and Good Feeling getting in safely. With all sail off, under slow engine, we drifted across the shallow entrance and into the River Arun arriving with some satisfaction back at the club by 1855. 

Navigation notes:

1040 left East Cowes Marina under engine
1100 departed Cowes Harbour to the East, under genoa only
1255 passed Ryde Sands
1330 passed Horse Elbow green cone
1545 passed Street Buoy into Looe Channel
1845 outside Littlehampton under engine
1855 inside and safely tied up

Home in Littlehampton but not enough depth to return to my berth, we left Bay Leaf on the end of the pontoon and cleared out all of our clobber. The rest of the Club fleet arrived very soon afterwards and a friendly but tired group of sailors assembled in the clubhouse to chat and refresh ourselves!

I am most pleased with this voyage, Bay Leaf was great to live aboard and to sail and she didn't let us down. My crew Sue was good company and helpful to have aboard, and I am grateful to all of my fellow sailors for help and advice throughout this brilliant weekend. 

Thanks also to Sue for most of the above photos!


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