Archive for the ‘Solent’ Category
The western entrance to the Solent is through the mile-wide Hurst Narrows. This entrance is guarded on the north shore by Hurst Castle (left above) and on the south (Isle of Wight) shore by Fort Albert (right above). Both forts were developed in the 1850s and 1860s as past of the wildly expensive Palmerstonian defences, although Hurst Castle originates from Henry VIII’s time. Both saw adaptation for use during the World Wars of the Twentieth Century.
A few more images from our splendid adventure paddling around the Isle of Wight, a few weeks back.
I try to find time to paddle around the Isle of Wight every year; it’s a great adventure, especially if compressed into one weekend. The variety of challenges and experiences is amazing; in 100km, you have to tackle very strong tides, cliffed out areas, large tide races, busy shipping and (at this time of year) quite a lot of night paddling.
I’d had last weekend pencilled in for quite a while, on account of the strong tides predicted. As the weekend finally drew near, it became clear that there was actually going to be great weather…yippee! Four of us launched from Keyhaven at 11 pm on Friday night. 41 hours later, we arrived back at Keyhaven, having spent about 13.5 hours paddling, of which about 8 were at night. We didn’t suffer last year’s Arctic weather or soul-destroying headwinds; it was all rather pleasant and civilised, in fact.
This month’s Canoe Kayak UK magazine includes a ‘sea kayaking’ supplement, with various trip articles within. Actually there are several sea kayaking articles in the main magazine every month, but don’t knock it, the more the merrier!
The supplement contains an entertaining article by Lizzie Garnett about our icy trip around the Isle of Wight back in March, along with photos from myself.
These photos show just some of the numerous defensive works guarding the Western entrance to the Solent, the kilometre-wide Needles Channel. The various fortifications span from the C16 (Henry VIII) through the C19 (‘Palmerston Follies’) to the Second World War. The site was even of importance in the Cold War, being used to test rocket engines.
This past weekend was the vernal equinox, when spring supposedly begins. We took advantage of the big spring tidal range to paddle around the Isle of Wight, a journey of around 65 miles. I’ve paddled around Wight numerous times now, and it’s never a dull experience. Indeed, this weekend reminded me repeatedly that it is perfectly possible to have a full-blown challenging adventure practically within sight of your home, as the Island is, in my case. Added to the usual challenges of rounding Wight in a weekend, were the relatively short days, some bitterly cold temperatures, and the fact that we weren’t exactly in peak physical condition…
After the usual faff with gear, four of us launched after 9 pm on Friday evening to paddle from Keyhaven around the Needles to Freshwater. Heading out of the Solent through the narrow Needles Channel, we realised that a boat was closing on us from behind; in the dark we could see a green (starboard) light with a red (port) light to its right, meaning that the boat was heading right for us. As it grew nearer over the next half hour, we changed course several times to get clear of its path…but each time our pursuant appeared to then change course and follow us again. I concluded that it must be a small fishing boat, weaving slowly up the Channel; no real problem for us. Then we heard a series of loud ‘parps’ on his horn; he had spotted us and the message was clear; ‘get out of my way‘. This time, we paddled perpendicular to its course and finally managed to clear its path. This was a good job really, as our slowly moving fishing boat reared up out of the dark shortly after, and turned out to actually be an enormous freighter, going full pelt. How we laughed. Well, I did, anyway…
Anyway, we reached the Needles rocks at last, and rode the tide race between these tall stacks. Why do the most serious part of the whole trip at night? I’m not sure, but suffice to say, seeing the Needles lighthouse up close at night is an unforgettable experience. The full moon lit up the 500 foot chalk cliffs and illuminated our path as we glided along smooth water to Freshwater. The temperature plummeted towards midnight, with ice forming on our decks. The landing at Freshwater involved clawing your way ashore on steep pebbles and dumping surf; I got wet and consequently far too cold. Thankfully it wasn’t long before we were all in tents, coaxing life into our hands over stoves. The 19p Tescos noodles which I shared with Lizzie won’t win any culinary awards, but they did the job.
Saturday morning, we could have headed out early on the water, but our ice-caked tents dissuaded us. Instead, we walked to the Needles and did tourism, as the temperature climbed to something quite pleasant. However, our 2 pm launch was into a nasty cold headwind and choppy waves, meaning that we literally crawled along the south coast, wrapped in scarves, hats, buffs and woolly pogies. Things got better when we reached St Catherine’s Point towards sunset; the sea calmed and we bounced through the big tide races at the southern tip of Wight, riding the strong tides all the way up the east side of the island. The moon rose straight out of the sea, providing illumination once more for another long night paddle. We finally reached Bembridge at Noideawhen o’clock after covering about 27 miles and cheekily put our tents up in front of some rather nice beach huts, with the owner’s permission.
Sunday was unusual in that we got to paddle by daylight all day, although the bitterly cold headwind (yes, another one) whistling along the Solent meant that we didn’t limp back to our start at Keyhaven until the sun was on the horizon.
In one fleeting weekend, I shared countless memorable experiences with my friends. That, for me, is what it’s all about.
Apologies for the underexposed image…but when I took this picture at around 7 am this morning, I was less preoccupied with photographic perfection, and rather more preoccupied with the tide race I was in, a rather cold NE wind, an encroaching container ship and the fact that I was just setting out on a 21 mile open crossing to Swanage. I’d paddled to the Isle of Wight from Christchurch yesterday, and enjoyed a slightly cheeky camp in the middle of one of their Solent forts near Yarmouth. This morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 5.30 am and after experiencing Solent Coastguard’s depressingly usual incomprehension about kayaks (“You don’t have a support vessel?”) on the VHF, I pointed in the direction of the Isle of Purbeck and got on with it. I’ve done this crossing a few times before, but this time I had to work to earn it; a quartering wind and swell meant that it wasn’t always a bimbly cruise. However I reached Swanage safely after four hours, and having met Mrs R for late breakfast, went back to bed for a while…
The reason for shoving myself out into some serious conditions was that I’m hopefully (weather allowing) going to try some island/ reef hopping in Brittany and the Channel Islands next week. The October weather and massive tides in the area make me treat the whole thing as a fairly Big Deal; hence I’ve had my worn boat fixed up, spent ££££ on nice new paddles, replaced my corroding old flares, etc. etc. This weekend was a ‘dry run’ to check that all the new gear is good to go, and that I can still paddle in a straight line.
Nothing can go wrong.
Note: Dog lovers are best advised to skip this post…
I’ve just returned from a very enjoyable and very exhausting jaunt around the Isle of Wight, 85 miles in just over 60 hours. I had a few days spare (school half term, and no water in the rivers) and the forecast looked good. My boat is out of town, but I hopped into a Capella 167 that I have on loan from PH Kayaks and will give back soon, honest!
Overall, a very interesting trip; the sun shone a fair bit and it never quite got cold enough to wear my pogies, the seas were largely empty (even the Solent!), the most challenging bits (and then some!) were the open crossings to and from the Island, and the lack of strong tides (it’s neaps) meant that I had to work quite hard … frankly, I need the exercise so this wasn’t a bad thing.
Wednesday night – I launched from Swanage at 8.30 pm to cross to the Needles. I’ve done this 18 mile open crossing by night before, but this was very different. For starters, the tide was against me for several hours (duh) so it took a full five hours. Secondly, it was dark. Really dark. So dark in the last three hours, that I couldn’t see my boat in front of me, let alone anything else. The air was dense with damp mist, so if I turned my head torch on, I could only see dancing drips of moisture before my face and immediately felt nauseous. With the light off I felt pretty weird too, often hallucinating that my boat was sliding sideways or floating on air. There was no sign of any shore lights and I couldn’t tell sea from sky; no horizon (or anything) to orientate myself by, other than a very very faint smudge of light that I (thankfully correctly) assumed to be the Needles Lighthouse and paddled towards.
When I reached the lighthouse (I heard the foghorn from a couple of miles off), it was an astounding sight; the different coloured segments lit up the fog like something out of the movie Close Encounters. I told Solent Coastguard on my VHF that I’d arrived, but they insisted that I called them again when I was ashore; easier said than done as it took me quite a while to find the beach!
I crashed out at 2.30 am and had a really lousy night of sleep; the foghorn going off a mile away didn’t help, nor did the waves breaking a few metres away on the beach; you can feel pebble beaches moving beneath you when this happens.
Thursday – The sea was like a millpond. I had an uneventful slog up the Solent along the full length of the island and landed just around the corner from Bembridge, six hours later. I cheekily camped in the garden of someone’s beach hut and slept in a remarkably wet tent as the rain drummed down.
Friday – the tides meant that I had to launch at 8 am, oh joy. On the bright side, I witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the ranks of massive ships anchored to the east of Wight (awaiting their turn to dock at Southampton, presumably). Somehow I got to St Catherine’s Point lighthouse in under 2.5 hours, although the usually impressive tide race was non-existent at neap tides. The SE coast of the island was a bit more of a slog with slacker tides, and I landed at Freshwater Bay after 5.5 hours on the water.
I had planned to rest before continuing past the Needles to Alum Bay, but peculiar things then happened.
A family approached me and asked if I’d go rescue their spaniel which had apparently fallen off the cliffs to the west of the bay. The woman handed me a leash and said, “Call him, he’ll swim out to you.” I looked dubiously at the surf breaking over the rocks and rather assumed that their dog was very dead, or at least dead enough not to warrant me risking my neck. Plus, I’m a cat person. But their young daughter was in tears, so I manfully agreed to see what I could do.
I paddled along the cliffs and was surprised to discover Fido (or whatever the bloody stupid mutt was called) alive and well in the next small cove, hemmed in by cliffs. There was 30 metres of rocky surf between me and the beach, and of course he declined the offer I made to swim out to me. Hence, I made a slightly crunchy surf landing in the bay (um, I hope PH Kayaks aren’t reading) and grabbed Fido and put him on his leash. Next challenge was how to get out through the surf with said mutt. I decided to chance it without my spraydeck and with Fido sitting on my lap in the cockpit. He wasn’t convinced at all, and it took several attempts to stuff his hairy backside down in my lap whilst the shorebreak washed me all over the place. Finally we were off and moving, approaching the surf. I took a good run-up at the biggest breaking wave (just over head height) and hit it perfectly. However, the stupid blasted hound chose this moment to abandon ship, leaping clear as the wave broke over us. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that I had his leash around my wrist …
I rolled back up (my first ever sea kayak roll in anger) and swore profusely at my canine albatross. For the rest of the paddle out back through the surf, I simply dragged Fido along in the water by his leash, coming with me whether he liked it or not. Eventually he got the idea that it was either hop on board or drown/choke in my wake, and he clambered onto the deck dejectedly. He wouldn’t deign to get his paws wet in my now-swamped cockpit however, and insisted on perching across with a pair of paws on each side of the cockpit rim. This was the least convenient position to allow me to paddle the boat (or indeed see where I was going), but somehow I managed to paddle well enough to return Fido’s shivering remains to his family. It’s probably a good thing that this all happened out of their view in the next cove, or they would have called the RSPCA.
That was me for the day (I was as cold and wet as the ungrateful mutt) so I camped at Freshwater.
Saturday – that was this morning, and it was another 8 am launch. There was a surprising amount of surf dumping on the beach at Freshwater Bay, so I had to wait 10 minutes until I found a lull in which to launch. Having launched I realised that I’d jammed my skeg with pebbles (dammit!) but decided not to land and repeat the whole palaver. The sea was lively and there was a pretty fresh W/NW wind so (as suspected) I had to abandon any hope of making the 20+ mile crossing back to Swanage. I called my wife and arranged to meet her instead on the mainland at Mudeford, a 12 mile paddle, 8 miles across open water from the Needles.
The tide quickly got me to the Needles, and I gave these rocks a pretty wide berth – waves were breaking hard between the chalk stacks! The next puzzle was how to turn NW towards Mudeford, as various unpleasant things were going on in my path; the sea was breaking over the wide area of shallows nearby, plus there were a few lively tide races kicked up by the wind against tide. After five minutes of deliberation (in which the option of bailing was strongly considered), I decided to head about 2 miles further west offshore of the Needles to clear the worst of the mush before turning north to begin my crossing. This worked pretty well, the only problem then was to thrash into the headwind all the way to the beach. I arrived late and utterly exhausted; to add insult to injury, My wife pointed at the blue skies and mirror-smooth sea beside the beach (the wind was offshore of course …) and enquired why I was so late and so worn out!
Oh well, that was it for my trip. This paddle was brought to you in association with Gala Apples and Nurofen.
Tomorrow is a truly auspicious day; the 60th Wedding Anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Congratulations, good for them! No, I’m serious, our Monarchy is a Good Thing. If we get rid of our Head of State, then what’s the point of being British? We may as well all put on our baseball caps and become the 51st State, right away.
Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother was Queen Victoria. With her husband Albert, in 1845 she bought an estate on the Isle of Wight overlooking the Solent. Osbourne House was built as a family home rather than a palace, but the distinction might be lost on anyone visiting the place today. Albert dictated the decoration according to his taste for opulent bad art with Classical pretensions. After his death in 1861, the mourning Queen decorated Osbourne further, with paintings and sculptures of children, kittens and puppies that would make Athena blush. A notable exception is the wonderful Durbar Room, designed by Indian architects to reflect Victoria’s status as Empress of India.
After her death in 1901, ships of the Royal Navy formed parallel lines right across the Solent, to escort her funeral procession to the mainland.
Victoria was Britain’s longest reigning monarch. Elizabeth II has to reign another eight years to catch up with her. Long live our noble Queen.
Earlier this week we passed Cowes on the Isle of Wight after sunset, and needed to find a camping spot pretty quickly. Luckily, we came across a long crumbling old sea wall, the top of which proved ideal for pitching the tents. This was a great location, enabling us to watch some truly massive container ships chug close past along the Solent at midnight high tide, right from our sleeping bags.
In the morning, we packed up, launched and headed off. Only then did we notice that we’d actually been camped in someone’s garden …
Tonight I fly to Morocco to carry out some vital research for the book, on the rivers of the Sahara Desert … so no blog updates for a week or so.
In the Hurst Narrows, the kilometre-wide gap between Hurst Spit and the Isle of Wight, the tide squeezes through at speeds of 5 knots and beyond. A number of tide races form, the race nearest to Hurst Spit being known as ‘The Trap’.
On the ebb flow, ‘The Trap’ can be an entertaining roller coaster propelling paddlers out towards the Needles Rocks. However, when the tide is ebbing outwards against the prevailing south westerly wind, the waves in the race surge and break. On these occasions ’The Trap’ isn’t always a fun place to be…
Through the wonder of modern technology (and the carelessness of whichever yachtie this unsecured wireless network belongs to) this blog post is brought to you live from Yarmouth Harbour on the Isle of Wight.
Andy Levick and I crossed to The Island from Keyhaven last night, which wasn’t very pleasant. Stiff winds pushed against the tides to make some fairly rough seas, it was a wet and wild ride! The winds today have continued to be much stronger than ideal, but we’re packing up shortly for an evening paddle east along the Solent coast.
This morning we did the touristy thing and took a stroll along the cliffs near the Needles. The crew of the search and rescue helicopter India Juliet were doing something frightening-looking, but the absence of lifeboats or other craft seemed to suggest that it was just a training flight.