Cowes weekend 2023

 4 July 2023

With Bay Leaf's new engine running well we set off for the weekend in Cowes for Round the Island. About 12 boats from the club were going this year. Sue was with me and we both had a space arranged on our friend Stuart's boat Moontide for the race, but travelling to and from the island in Bay Leaf.

29 June - Littlehampton to Gosport

We met at the boat around 0800 Thursday and loaded all the clobber. High water at 0811 gave us a departure time around 0900. Starting the engine on battery 2 I noticed the red light stayed on, indicating lack of charging, which was a small worry but we had battery 1 if we needed it. Setting that thought aside, leaving harbour at 0905 we set full sail on a starboard beam reach, heading 240 degrees. 

On the GPS it looks like there's a direct line to Boulder / Street but Selsey rocks are in the way, and sure enough the Mixon pole came into sight around 1040. Passing it on our starboard side abeam at 1110 we turned east towards the Looe Channel eastern end. Spotting the Boulder / Street pair of buoys with no difficulty, we passed through the gap at 1145. We were hardened up trying to point for the Winner buoy but the wind was now on the nose. We tacked our way east for an hour or so but we were going to be late so we rolled the genoa and started the engine at 1320. Sure enough, battery 2 was dead so we ran on battery 1. Winner was a speck in the distance abeam on our starboard side at 1345, about 15 mins later than my planned time, as we continued to head towards Portsmouth under engine. We saw our friends on Reef Knot and Moontide doing the same thing, on the group WhatsApp we saw that some boats had already got there. 

Through the 'dolphin' passage across the submarine barrier at 1415 and outside Portsmouth harbour with all sails down at 1430 we checked around for any ferry traffic before entering via the small boat channel. Haslar Marina on the radio directed us to a berth which we found without difficulty, Andy saw us coming and helped us land. After some thought I determined that my new engine, alternator, and charging circuitry was all good and it was the old battery that was dead. We connected the electric cable and put it on the charger to see if it would recover. Stuart arrived with Lily-Beth on Moontide.

It's quite peaceful in Haslar marina, plenty of shower facilities, we met the crew of Moontide for a pleasant evening meal in the Castle pub. Sue took a rather lovely picture of Bay Leaf in the twilight as we returned for the night.

30 June - Gosport to Cowes

Last year this leg was the best sail of the weekend but today the forecast was for wind building to F6 right on the nose. Deciding it would be better to listen to that wind whilst sat inside Cowes rather than trying to sail into it, we skipped the cooked breakfast and departed Haslar at 0920. Wind around F4 already but with the new engine pulling so strongly even at low revs we just pointed the boat at Cowes and motored across. Plenty of big ships going up and down the channel so we selected our moment before crossing to the island side of the Solent. 

By 1030 we were in the eastern channel approaching Cowes and radioing ahead to East Cowes Marina for our berth. This year we were at the A end, nobody else was there yet so we were able to land without difficulty and tie up at 1045.

We then found ourselves with a free afternoon. We watched the other crews arrive during the day. Slightly ashamed of Bay Leaf's grubby exterior amongst all these gleaming yachts, we found the bucket and the scrubbing brush and cleaned her off (well, the side closest to the pontoon anyway). In our corner position we were quickly hemmed in by half a dozen other boats including several from our own club. It was good to be amongst the fleet but a very long walk to the facilities! Stuart had booked the pub for 5.30pm so we got well fed and retired early.

1 July - RTIR aboard Moontide

This is Moontide, she is a Hunter 30 owned by Stuart here with daughter Lily-Beth. We had Carlo with us as well.

Our start time was 0930 and we were out there in plenty of time, main set with two reefs in a SWly wind F4 and building. Stuart got the start just right, we hit the line about ten seconds after the cannon and set off on a long beat to the Needles. The gusts were building and Stuart announced that we'd turn back if the wind got to 30kts and it did indeed touch that once or twice but soon after 1200 we were past the lighthouse and turning to St Cats. Sue seemed pleased to get around:

The swell was pretty huge out there and on the quarter, picking up the stern and throwing her into a broach several times. Making a decent speed we were soon gybing around the southern tip of the island and commencing a run towards Bembridge. This is quite a cruel leg because you keep thinking you can see Bembridge ahead but it's just another headland. Carlo even came back from the foredeck to sit with us at the back for a while.

Lily-Beth was in good spirits and uncomplaining throughout the day despite sometimes having to sit beside me

and even happier next to her Dad

Around Bembridge Ledge we turned towards Cowes to complete the circuit but now we were heading into the wind and into the tide. We tacked back and forth between the Sands and the Forts making very slow progress towards the line and it soon became apparent that we wouldn't make it back by the finish time of 2230. Stuart called in the retirement and we started to motor back. Even that took ages and we neared Cowes around 2100 as the sun was setting.

Realising we'd miss the pub, the crew began googling for local food delivery or takeaway options and we determined that the nearest chip shop closed at 10pm. Landing back in the marina around 2130 the three blokes legged it to the chip shop just in time.

Of the ten club boats entering the race, only two finished. 

Is there a better meal than fish and chips sitting on the back of a boat after a good sail with great friends? I don't think there is!

2 July - Cowes to Littlehampton

Nobody was up early on Sunday and the marina was quiet until mid-morning.

Hemmed in on all sides we were wondering how we were going to get out. The boat next to us said they would be leaving shortly so we gathered a team of blokes to pull the raft of Limbos, behind us, across and out of the way. The people next to us then carried on knitting, Free N Easy were in clear water and were able to leave about 1115. Slightly impatient we untied the people next to us so we could slip Bay Leaf out backwards and we pulled them into the pontoon, they seemed a bit grumpy but we'd waited half an hour. With a cheery wave we got under way at 1150. The forecast was for a westerly wind building to F4-5 so we set genoa only and had an uneventful downwind sail past Ryde and past the Solent Forts. We were crossing the shipping channel around 1430 making 6 knots over the ground setting course east towards the Looe Channel with full genoa on starboard tack. The wind shifted towards the south and began to build. Through the Boulder / Street gap at 1555.

We could see Free N Easy ahead about a mile or so and after half an hour we were past the Mixon pole and considering turning towards Littlehampton. This is where I made the first poor decision of the weekend -  Free N Easy had reduced headsail and the wind was building but I was thinking 'let's catch them up' and 'it'll calm down once we're further into the bay' so we continued with full genoa. As the gusts were into F5 level when I eventually decided to roll up some genoa, the pressure on the sail was high and the furler wouldn't turn. I asked Sue on the helm to come into wind so the genoa would flap, this usually works, but still too stiff to roll in. Suddenly the genoa was wrapped into an hourglass round the forestay with both sheets tight as guitar strings. My second ill-thought decision was to take the furling line to the port side winch and wind it in, worried that the thin line would snap. It started to work but I'd forgotten to take the genoa sheet off the winch so I looked down to find a huge tangled knot around the winch but the genoa only half furled. We had the engine on to maintain direction and all I could think of was to fall onto port tack, sheet the now unwrapped genoa to the starboard winch, and use the Sharp Knife to cut away the port genoa sheet. Ending up with several short lengths of genoa sheet on the floor but eventually the knot was cleared and we were able to winch the furler such that the genoa rolled away. Checking the weather later we realised it had been gusting 30 knots. 

Amongst all this excitement we found ourselves outside Littlehampton before 1800 - about an hour early with not enough depth to enter. So we had a tiring hour sitting outside holding Bay Leaf into the waves under engine. Other boats were arriving and Free N Easy made an approach run but aborted due to low depth readings. Behind us two of the lifting keel boats, Dedicated Dancer and Ceres, came into view and were able to enter with their keels raised. I'd previously decided it might be okay to enter at 1900 so we went for it - dead slow but heeling under bare poles such that the starboard keel would be vertically downward, and dropping height in the troughs, heart in mouth but she made it across the bar and we were in. 

3 July - Parking the boat

Bonus section.

Having left Bay Leaf on the pontoon hammerhead on Sunday night, Sue and I reconvened Monday lunchtime to move her to her berth. Still blowing a massive westerly we were lucky to find Stuart and Nick in the clubhouse. Simply untying and backing off took three of us with the mooring lines tight as the wind tried to push us off. Once in the river we motored around a couple of circuits just to set up for landing and to allow Stuart time to run around and meet us. The only way to land was to nudge Bay Leaf bows-first into the berth with her nose pressed into the woodwork on slow ahead while lines were thrown across, tied, and the 3.5 tons of boat pulled by muscle-power to her correct alongside position. Thanks chaps!

A terrific weekend with challenging conditions, great company, and only minor damage. Thanks to Sue for most of these images!


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