Other PicoMicroYacht

Monday, 30 May 2016

Completing the Voyage round the Isle of Wight

On 28th May the conditions were ideal for going round the south of the Isle of Wight and completing the journey, starting at Bembridge and finishing at Lymington, just beyond Yarmouth on the mainland. This would be a 40 mile trip in all, the longest by far for PicoMicroYacht.

Firstly I had to row round the eastern end of the Isle of Wight, not to be trifled with. The residual swell was breaking over the easternmost ledge, aptly named Sharpus rocks, exacerbated by the south going tide.

As I did this I looked back at the launching pier for the lifeboat, the lifeboat house on the pier very distinctive.

I then tracked southwards towards Shanklin and was about one and a half miles off Sandown when a large fishing boat paid a visit, a fisherman on the bow talking to me. "You need to get in, there's a force 5-6 coming in." There was a dark look of stern fear in his face. "You need to get in, not be out here."

This worried me, since the voyage hadn't really got going and I was stuck on the Island with a sudden high wind forecast. So I got out the computer, and plugged in my Oyster to check the forecasts again.

Apparently there was a deep low over the low countries which was causing high winds in the South East of the UK, but the inland and coastal forecasts were much more benign for my journey, force 2-3 knots, increasing 3-4 knots North East.

This was good enough to carry on since I was close to the shore and if the forecast was wrong and the low pressure started to have an influence further west, with the sea state slight I could quickly beach the boat. But that knowledge of a lurking deep pressure system stayed with me for the rest of the voyage.

I carried on steadily south until I reached Dunnose Point. This was one of my gateways, since it is known there can be a race there as bad as St Catherine's. But I was there almost at slack tide and saw no signs. The main hazards were lobster pots with long lines and trying to avoid these whilst keeping a look out for rocks on this coast.

Soon I was approaching Ventnor, where a small artificial port has been made for fishing boats.

I moored under the fishing plant and had a break, napping. I had a lucky escape from the fish processors who tipped their fishy water in a deluge onto the pontoon from the fishing plant above and missed me by about six feet.

I waited in Ventnor until the tide was getting slack again in order to pass by St Catherine's point, the most southern tip of the Isle of Wight. This is known to be suspect even in comparatively calm weather. As Peter Bruce writes in his book 'Wight Hazards' - "the race looks dramatic but is also dangerous.... the worst of the race can be avoided by working along the shore, but one should be prepared for nasty overfalls... from which there may be no escape.'

Just before St Catherine's is Wreeth Bay, when on a good day you can launch your dinghy. The sailors there were looking at me figuring out what kind of craft I was. Their laser in the foreground had just been out for a spin.

My strategy was to pass St Catherine's when the tide was changing and then it would push me westwards, ensuring a smoother passage, but the sea was still turbulent.

But soon I was round the point.

PicoMicroYacht was now on a long leg towards the Needles and I could look up at the cliffs and bluffs and see the comparative wildness of this part of the Island. Occasionally people could be seen walking the coast.

Every so often the sea would become less smooth as I passed a hidden ledge,  but the generally calm sea state meant this was not a problem.

Eventually I was in Freshwater Bay for a break whilst I waited for the tide to be slack for getting to the Needles and also checked the shipping forecast, which suggested light winds. Although there was a slipway, the residual swell meant it would be messy going ashore, so PicoMicroYacht stayed in the bay until the allotted time.

The next stage was the voyage to the Needles, at the Western tip of the island, a series of chalk rocks that jut out into the sea with a lighthouse at the end.

The idea was to reach the Needles when the eastern going channel tide was at an end so that on rounding the Needles it would then reverse and be helping PicoMicroYacht up the Needles Channel back into the Solent.

However, it is at this time the seas can be most problematic mainly because the water passing through the Needles Channel may have different vector from that going up and down the English Channel. But the wind was dropping all the time to nothing and the sea was very calm.

PicoMicoYacht moved sluggishly to the Needles, using up further time for the tide to change. It was getting darker and I took a short break in Scratchells Bay, just under the 1950s rocket testing base (I met recently someone who had been in this bay as a boy in the 1960s when suddenly and unexpectedly they had been enveloped in a dense mist with a shrieking sound as they tested a rocket above).

The Needles were there waiting, as the light was fading.

It was 10 pm and time to go. Given the fading light I was somewhat apprehensive but reasoned the sea was calm and there was no wind and it was a neap tide, the best possible conditions. It is possible to 'thread the Needles' (go in between the rocks) but not now I thought.

Going round the outside it is important to miss the Goose Rock and a wreck as shown in the photograph below from the 'Wight Hazards.'  The rock is just by the lighthouse and the wreck a little further out, the remains of the SS Varvassi's boilers, engine and stern, the ship a Greek cargo steamer that sunk there in 1947, apparently with all the crew and their cargo, tangerines, rescued.

The Varvassi regularly catches people out. This summer in the Round the Isle of Wight race the Alchemist went aground, drifted round into Scratchells Bay and sank. This fine old racing boat from the 1970s could not be saved in time by the lifeboat's pumps.

The Alchemist starting to sink ....


gone...well almost..

I passed easily between the Goose Rock and the boiler, the rock appearing for me  at the bottom of each swell, flattish and the size of a garden trampoline, impressively gurgling.

The light was fading rapidly and as I looked back at the lighthouse it was becoming darker quite quickly.

PicoMicroYacht had done it! Now the stream was taking PicoMicroyacht up into the Solent. It was properly dark but a 'clear night' with all the navigation lights easily seen and I was confident people would also see me.  I rowed gently along the coast until I reached the Hurst Narrows, turned PicoMicroYacht by 90 degrees to head towards the mainland and let the stream vector take me into Lymington port. On the way I felt the sea roughen has I passed over the Fiddlers Race. It smoothed out as I looked for the series of navigation lights leading in to Lymington Harbour. It was just before midnight when PicoMicroyacht arrived at the Lymington Yacht Haven.

As I looked around for a berth a night watchman appeared  asking me my 'intentions' (not to break into one of the swanky motor yachts for the night,  of course - note: that was my joke, unspoken!). I explained the purpose of my journey and that our charity that had raised £18,000 and he told me that he would try to get my berthing fee waived, which he did. With no place to sleep, I had my emergency tent and was able to get four hours sleep aboard PicoMicroYacht.


I am grateful for the help from various people during the voyage. Mengeham Rythe Sailing Club recovered my voyage notebook, left on the quayside (although I had memorised the data, it had sentimental value; interesting reading because those who looked at the notes didn't realise the boat had been adapted for sea voyaging). I am grateful to Bembridge Sailing Club for letting me use their pontoon and giving weather advice, also allowing me to do so when they were very busy getting ready for a wedding. The kindly people from the Yarmouth Marina let me launch for free. The friendly staff from Lymington Yacht Haven allowed me to berth and also use their showers (incidentally the best marina ones on the South Coast).  Also PicoMicroYachts's occasional and patient helper Lorna (my wife) on my first trip collected me from Bembridge to take me back to Lymington. My thanks to the Solent coastguard who monitored the voyages using my AIS signal and the local coast watchers who peer at what is going on through their binoculars and telescopes and are the saving 'eyes' for our coastal safety. Ivor Reveley the organiser from CASPA made it all possible and I am so grateful to my generous charity sponsors for the voyage.

Voyage Planning

I set off at 5.30 am from Bembridge. Portsmouth high tide was 04.11 and this meant the tide stream was just turning to take me east out past the Bembridge ledges where a southerly tide would be in my favour for continuing onwards. The plan was to arrive at Dunnose Point at about 09.00 when the tide would be slack, to avoid the race. I would then go round the point and into the Ventnor port. The tide would now be against me, so I would take a long break in Ventnor (this included a full English Breakfast and napping) until about 15.00, which was about two hours before high tide at 16.59. I would use a back eddy (local reverse tide) along the shore to St Catherine's point, to time my arrive one hour before high time, when there should be slack water, again to avoid the race. I then would voyage to Freshwater Bay and kill time there so as to arrive at the Needles at 22.00, this being about five hours after high tide and a short period of comparatively slack water used to go round the Needles. An easterly going tide up the Needles channel would take me through the Hurst Narrows and onwards to Lymington. This last part of the journey took two hours, passing through the Hurst Narrows at about 23.00 by which time the tide would have accelerated to full velocity. I knew I could the 'ferry glide' (go one way and with the tide pushing me another way to go a third direction) across to Lymington. At his point the tide was the same speed as my rowing. All the timings worked out, although I got to just before the Needles about half an hour early and went into Scratchell's bay, to use up further time. The tidal considerations meant going round the Needles when it was getting dark and I had to be there with plenty of time to spare to get the timings exactly right. I was confident that there would be enough light left to be safe if I was careful. A plan B was to give the Needles a large berth and use my GPS system to navigated up the channel carefully, if I thought visibility was too low. Also if there was any sign weather deterioration I would turn round and finish at Freshwater Bay.

I found that going round the south side of the Island needed careful planning to deal with the various hazards, including four potential races and the danger of rocks scattered around the cost, also knowing that landing on the shore would not be possible without a calm sea - I was impressed by the number of dangerous rocks and hidden reefs. Imagine being pounded on one of these semi-submerged rock by the waves. I found particularly helpful for preparation a careful reading of Wight Hazards by Peter Bruce, now in the 4th Edition. The publicity describes it as providing 'detailed information .... such as transits to clear rock ledges and ariel photographs (allowing) small vessels to be navigated in confidence close to the shore.' The description of the Needles was particularly useful and I felt as if I had been there before when passing around the outer Needles in between the Goose  Rock and the Varvassi wreck.

I was also pleased that I had an AIS system. When the coastguard asked me for my MMSI number (call sign) I was able to point out that he could see it on his computer screen if he looked for PicoMicroYacht, which he duly did. Knowing the coastguard and my family could track my movements was reassuring. My son tracked my AIS position on his Android phone.

No comments:

Post a Comment