Catapult cruising on the Solent and River Medina

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   The Fastnet Race start in August was a good target for a Sunday morning Solent cruise,  going across to Cowes from the mouth of the Hamble River. The wide flat hard (at any tide) at Warsash is a legacy of the D-Day departure of the Royal Marines, training on the land around the village. It gives access into the Hamble (photo below) and then across the lower end of Southampton Water to the Solent. I again used the Classic rig for cruising, easy to rig and manoevrable, at the cost of some mud and seaweed on the sail from the hard.

  The launch site gives a sheltered run across Southampton Water to Calshot Spit before getting out into the Solent. A building south-westerly with a mix of cloud and sun gave the Fastnet fleets a long beat west, but I was just able to lay Cowes on one long starboard tack, gradually approaching the crowds of boats. The big multis had gone half an hour before, and the fleet was waiting on the Maxis’ start, with the big open fleet to follow.

  Getting over to the Cowes side and near the Squadron base, both the Solent chop and the breeze were cut up by the milling fleets, losing the predictable speed needed amongst the huge fleet of boats getting ready under engine. It became clearer that seeing a big race is less easy when almost level with the water. Catapult seemed much smaller than anything else around, so it made good sense to head off on the cruise through Cowes and up the Medina, confirmed by bright sunshine emerging. Looking back out into the Solent, the chaotic fleet in the distance suddenly organised itself, as the maxis fell into line for the start, and the other fleet drew back.

At Cowes, flat water, and the tide making up the Medina, eased passing the wind shadows of the boatyards and workshops lining the water (with apartments marching along the East Cowes bank to leeward.) Almost every boat on the water in the morning was out at the Fastnet start, so the river was strangely quiet, slipping further along past the remains of older industry, with the wind sometimes funnelling dead ahead, or coming through unobstructed to give to give a burst on a fast reach.

   Cowes upriver turned to decayed waterside industry and then fields fronted by long lines of moorings, and then with a wide expanse of water up to the old Folly Inn, picturesque and with welcoming jetties, even if increasingly gastropubbed for car arrivals. Past the pub, the river narrowed again, with fields down close, and a right dogleg, bringing the wind ahead, patchy behind trees. The Classic rig tacks very easily, an advantage as the top of the river had spells drifting in wind shadows, with long puffs coming unpredictably to give a push ahead.

  I felt I had to make Newport, in the centre of the Isle, to make it a voyage, getting light breeze to coast up to the quays, not quite right up to the dual-carriage bypass and into the town (photo above.) After turning round at the top, the puffs and swirls of breeze gave fast short stretches between drifting spells, until the channel widened to shoot down to the Folly again, hitting speeding bursts in the flat water.

  An open space above the Folly had a tiny “beach” (photo below) and a bench for lunch in the sunshine. Then away down the Medina again---the penalty of fast reaching on a cruise is that it over quickly, racing down the lines of moored boats to Cowes, and a slower passage through the high buildings’ wind shadow

 Emerging out of Cowes and into the Solent revealed that things were very different from both the morning passage across and life on the upper river; the SW wind had characteristically risen to a 5-6, blowing up a steep high chop (and with the sun going in to emphasise that the party was over or at least delayed)

   The direct course back to Calshot Spit and the Hamble was a broad reach---the speed this would give in the steep waves made it clearly not survivable, even with the lower power of the Classic rig. To be at least on the same island as I had set out from, I concluded I would have to swing left, and head for Lepe on a tighter reach, half-easing the main.

  So I staggered across, bows deep into the waves but without the drive behind them that would “trip” the boat into a dive, an undignified and occasionally alarming and lonely progress, but as quick as possible. Arrival confirmed that the waves were steadily smaller as the shore approached, allowing turning gingerly onto a flat run down the coast, becoming easier as the land gave some more shelter (although I had passed the familiar Calshot Sailing Club before really looking up from watching the bows.) The shelter at the spit even gave space for a quick photo of Henry VIII’ castle on the end of the spit
(Photo below).

  Around the corner was again a different matter---getting across the Solent to the mouth of the Hamble needed a broad reach again, too fast to be comfortable as the wind now came unobstructed across the lagoon behind the spit. There was little choice but to sit on the back, bless the lower power downwind of the Classic rig, and race across (further complicated by crossing the path of everything going up the Solent)

  The half-turn to port into the Hamble banished the waves, so the brisk breeze, calming as the land came up, shot me up the Hamble, line on line of moorings, for three miles up to the sweeping “S” bends at the top where the wind died away  and it no longer seemed necessary to get to the final road bridge.

  The Classic's tacking facility made  ducking back through the moorings in short tacks easy enough, until making one long final board back down the river to the hard.

 A spectator watched the process of arrival and de-rigging, saying he was thinking of a family boat.  I emphasised the advantages of building enjoyment on something that was fast and forgiving (and cheap) –he had had a Tinker in the past, so had a bit of space to raise his
inflatable sights still.

 It made me keener to put up something on the boat to attract queries, put into effect with the sign slotting into each centreboard slot. (Photo right, and new signs available on request.)