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The Solent rally 2009

           
           
                 
   

As first timers we didn’t really know what to expect, but soon ended up on a 46' Bavaria for pre drink drinks. I mentioned that maybe we ought to set the rigging, and suddenly Restless was teeming with helpful volunteers.. All done in 30 minutes! Even managed another round of beers, a good start.

The weather had been threatening to be greater than Macs should be going out in, but at the skippers meeting it was decided to go for it. Having only had the boat for 3 weeks and not yet having learnt about extreme fear and discomfort, as well as missing the briefing (ships clock 15 minutes slow) we merrily slipped in the lovely sheltered marina and wound our way down the river Hamble amongst our kindred crews.


Coming into Southampton water brought a little more wind and sea, so I was quite glad I still had a reef in. Coming round Calshot Spit was quite a sight. Macs all over the place! One heading back to Hamble, Hogwash heading for the spit, Rick looking like he was heading straight back home to the Isle of Wight... We saw an awful lot of his bottom.

My First Officer, now quite rattled by dinner talks of knock-downs was getting a little anxious, the more so as a huge leviathen of a container ship was coming down the channel, and we were right in the middle. Not knowing its course, we followed Rick towards the middle of the Solent. He must know these waters better than anyone I thought and also I couldn’t make out the channel markers very clearly at that point. So we went downwind of the monstrous ship till it passed.
After that we tacked towards Beaulieu, setting our sights on Hogwash, who seemed to be following the mainland. Rick seemed to have some cunning plan of following some secret route along the Isle of Wight, quite easy to spot even at this distance, a white UFO type thing with a fin sticking out of the end.

Beating on with the occasional tack we crawled our way past Beaulieu entrance, and watching the time go decided to try this ‘motor-sailing’ thing we’d heard of. On the engine we got 3kts, and when catching the wind right were reading 5.5kts on the Richter scale. By now the wind was shrieking in the rigging, and the First Officer at the helm shrieking every time the tiltometer went past 20º. She was informed that as the safety of the vessel was the skippers responsibility, she was under strict orders to not stress the captain!

Passing West of the Beaulieu mouth, about ½ mile offshore Restless suddenly got a bit twitchy. Screams from the helm as the steering become erratic persuaded me to loose the sheets and see what was going on. Graunched and disturbed water showed our trail in the gloomy darkness beneath—both rudders were slopping about horizontally. There was definately a dark menacing shape in the water there...
I backtracked broadside to the wind until things calmed a little, put the rudders back down and resumed our course. The steering was not quite the same, but we pressed on.

My suggestion of heading into Beaulieu marina was met with an avalanche of rudeness about having come so far that as skipper I would have to be some sort of wimp to bottle out now. To avoid mutiny we carried on beating for another hour until Lymington was clearly visible. With an ETA reading on my nice new plotter saying "4hrs" I suggested “doing the Mac thing” and putting the engine on. Both Mandy and the sea leapt about enthusiastically, the latter seeking to jump on board with us. We were now making 9kts and I gave up trying to stop the water flooding down my neck. It was hard enough trying to keep my eyes open. This continued for about another 40mins with my crew mopping up the waters pouring off the companionway straight into our berth. Powering is great, but without a sprayhood it is no picnic. Our course took us through a race of 20' open boats who were cracking along in the hoolie. It was rather awkward.. trying to keep out of their way, or at least to avoid ramming one of them actually became an issue as I could hardly keep my eyes open in the sting of the waves, and in these waves with just the engine down we were going all over the place!

 

           
   

           
                 
   

Finally we made it into the calm of Lymington, and having discovered our VHF didn’t transmit, dodging a ferry in a really tight channel (Cyan too, who then decided to do a bit of mudbank ploughing—obviously some cunning plan to catch ragworm) and scoured the marinas for our reserved berth.
Eventually via mobile we found our way to the correct marina and ambled randomly down the lanes of the local mega yachts. At one point our steering decided that we should ram into a particularly indecent gin palace, forcing me to put a serious shove on the by now very stiff steering. With a crack it freed and seemed happy and responsive again. We got to our pontoon and tied up. Inspection of the steering gear revealed a shark bite out of our starboard rudder, on the trailing edge. At least that mystery was now resolved. So we relaxed with the other three boats that made it. Hogwash, Cyan, Masquerade and somehow even the Bavaria!
Washed, dried, showered, changed and polished we had a pre drink drink aboard Adrian’s fine ship Ruff & Reddy (should be Lavish & Lazy or Pampered & Passive) and wandered to a nearby tavern for more drinks and dinner.

Those whose boats turned back came by road instead, including Bill and Jean Millar, who decided that the weather forecast of gale force winds stood in the way of enjoyable sailing.
To our horror we were awarded a green ‘cock up’ ball for allegedly running aground and taking a chunk out of our rudders, despite our protest citing an intense concentration of great white sharks in the Solent. Maurice, in Cyan got the red ball for his nautical agricultural forays.


As the outlook was for stronger winds the next day the Spetsai race was cancelled and the award went to Peter Drew on Vega for having nearly got to Lymington, turning back with engine problems, and then returning again overland.

On Sunday, earlier plans for an afternoon departure were brought forward as the weather outlook deteriorated. Something in Mandy’s eye urged me to insist she would have a much more useful return keeping an eye on the crew of the Bavaria. After all they had barely made it in the tempestuous seas of the previousday and with all that ship to handle I thought I would forgo my crew for the greater cause.You can only fit so many aboard a 26' boat for drinks..


So I rammed down a hasty breakfast and motored out back into the Solent. I popped out the triangular sail thingy and off I went. It was fantastic. Not a splash, no tacking, 9.4 on the speedo, surfing and just totally steaming along. This is what it's all about! I regreted Mandy not being aboard to enjoy the thrill as I also took stock of the fact that this was very much my first time ever single hand sailing.... hei.. no worries.. the boat is unsinkable innit!

           
                 
               
   

 

The Bavaria came out and passed by, all seemed under control there, all good. I waved and let go of the helm and broadsided just as the photo opportunity of a lifetime came and went. Oh green balls.

           
               
                 
               
   
Struggling to get back on course reminded me of the previous day.. clunky helm… oops… The struggling went on for about ½ hour till I tried motor steering which was just awful in the swell. (see gps track on map)I had no shortage of offers of help, and advice from others who had suffered the same indignity.
Drifting broadside off Beaulieu, how to get round Calshot safely was the real concern; I really didn’t fancy losing steering completely just as another container ship or ferry passed by, nor did I really want to call for help. (Since having Restless we have had a broken rudder hinge and rudder bracket and jammed steering, all in stiff winds in our first few outings!) However, I was approached by a coastguard ‘venture scout’ patrol, who after a quick consultation offered to tow me back to Hamble.
They put a young lad on, who couldn’t tie knots or been on a yacht before. After getting underway the steadying drogue burst, so we started to slew around a bit. The young lad was looking really nervous. As the boat cranked over about 40° I guess it was a bit cruel asking if he thought they were going to tip us over.. I handed him our airhorn to signal the towing RIB. It made a pathetic strangled duck type sound. Oh great.. VHF that didn’t transmit, horn that doesn’t and well o-o-d flares, and I’m surrounded by coastguards. Could be embarrassing.
Opposite Hamble the inshore boat rafted me with an awful lot of bouncing about, and with some customized twists to my deck fittings we were tied up on the harbourmasters pontoon at Warsash. A light ticking off by the harbourmaster ensued, along the lines of “big wind – small boat”, but they were very helpful and let us stay overnight on their dock. Hogwash and the ever helpful Andy took me back up to Mercury Marina where I was reunited with the rest of the crew.

The next morning we recovered Restless on an early morning millpond on the Warsash slip and made our way home. Hydraulic steering (after much consultation with all major UK suppliers) has now just been fitted so we’re ready to launch again.
In all we felt very welcomed and as newbies really are not regretting buying our little boat. We would like to say a big thank you to all who we met. There is sailing, and there’s the people you meet doing it. Not sure which one I prefer, but it is a hell of a fraternity to be in.