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The Solent

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About our cruising ground

The Solent is a magnificent sailing playground on the South coast of England between the mainland and the Isle of Wight. Approximately 30 miles long and 3 to 5 miles wide, it encompasses an amazing variety of geography and sailing conditions. You could choose a quiet natural harbour like the Newtown Creek nature reserve or a busy cosmopolitan city like Southampton. Nowhere is more than a few sailing hours apart and its all protected from the worst of any weather by the Island. That's not to say there are no challenges, and for a sailing course there is no better spot due to the wide variety of navigational obstacles.

 

On this page we have listed some of the harbours, events and places to see and enjoy.

Harbours in the Solent (and a little beyond)

Whilst not trying to replace the pilot books, details of our hints and tips on these harbours, together with recommended places to stay, places to visit and restaurants to eat at will appear here shortly. We would also be pleased to hear about your experiences - good or bad.

Portsmouth
Our main base and one of the most exciting harbours in the UK. Besides the huge number of private yachts, there are Isle of Wight ferries, cross Channel ferries and even ferries to Spain. Cargo ships also use the harbour as do a small fleet of fishing vessels and finally there is of course the navy with everything from a stealth trimaran to an aircraft carrier or a nuclear submarine frequenting the naval base. Because of the naval connections, the harbour master is know as the Queens Harbour Master and his radio call-sign is QHM as a result. The Royal family have obvious connections with the harbour through their Naval involvement and even Prince William was seen in Gosport not so long ago on his way to a sailing course that started here.

The entry to Portsmouth Harbour by boat can be challenging, but is nearly always possible in all weathers and at all states of the tide. The first thing to note is that all boats must use their engine between the last red buoy (No.4) near the hovercraft terminal until they get past the red post inside the harbour (Ballast). That doesn't mean they can't continue sailing, but the engine must be running. This is very sensible advice, as the tides run fast in the harbour mouth and there are also cross tides which try to throw you off course. Add to that a bit of wind and swell from a passing ship and it can get quite rough. All this happens, just when the buildings by the entrance interrupt the wind and without an engine you come to a standstill and loose all steerage. What's more on a spring ebb, the tide can easily reach 4+ knots, so if you're sailing you'll spend an awful long time not making much headway. The second thing to note is that you don't enter on the starboard side of the Channel as you do at most other ports. All small boats (<20m) have to keep to Port on entry, keeping outside the line of red buoys until past the last one. Of course you can't go to far to Port as you have to leave room for outbound vessels and there is also a sandbank if you stray too far across. Crossing the sandbank to enter the small boat channel you have three options. With enough tide, you can cut across the Inner Swashway very close to the shore near the newly positioned red post. If the tide doesn't give you enough water, there is the main Swashway a little further out. The Isle of Wight ferries use this route and you need to be aware of them turning. A convenient transit of the war memorial on Southsea common and the brown building behind it mark the route to follow although it can still be shallow at low water springs. If that is the case, or if you are coming in from the East, you can follow the route of the main channel, but still keeping to one side to allow for the ferries. Although the constraints don't make it easy, it does mean that you might find yourself being passed or overtaken by a huge cross-Channel ferry within a 50m or so and there are no dramas as they expect you to be there.

Cowes

The home of yachting, at the centre of it all is Cowes. As you approach the harbour on any but the quietest day, you'll notice a stream of yachts and boats entering and leaving. The harbour is actually the mouth of the Medina river and therefore narrow throughout its length. When one of the Red Funnel ferries arrives or departs, all the smaller boats are forced to stick close to the sides of the channel, but fortunately the depths are sufficient even at low tide, right up to the edge. The first 'marina' on the starboard side as you enter belongs to the Royal Yacht Squadron club and is reserved for the club's members. There are some piers beyond this and to port a large number of sailing dinghy buoys. It is possible to pick your way between these buoys, but be careful of depths at low tide and that tidal streams (which can be quite strong at the mouth of the Medina) don't get you tangled with a buoy's mooring line. Soon after the first Red Funnel pier, you'll see the breakwater of Cowes Yacht Haven, usually with a forest of masts nestling behind. The first entrance is to the north basin and watch for it being closed if there is a rally on. In any event a call to Channel 80 will usually provide berthing instructions or at busy times there may be a dory floating about to provide assistance. If you are allocated a berth in the north basin and the tide is running strongly, be careful as it will set you on to the breakwater or pontoon opposite if you are not careful. And if your boat is much longer than 40', you won't be able to ferry glide in sideways as the gap is quite narrow.

Hamble

A river full of yachts.

Southampton

Cosmopolitan yachting.

Lymington

Timeless tranquility.

Yarmouth

The island's secret.

Newtown Creek

Yachting in a nature reserve.

Beaulieu

A private estate with an ancient sailing connection.

Bembridge

A challenging entrance worth making.

Langstone

The quieter harbour.

Chichester

The busier harbour.

Brighton

More cosmopolitan yachting.

Poole

A great harbour full of wealth.

Weymouth

The best of the lot, but a bit further away.

 

Events in the Solent

Round the Island Race June
One of the world's largest yacht races, with over 1500 yachts typically entering. The course is 50 miles long, sailed anti-clockwise around the Isle of Wight, starting and finishing at Cowes. The race appeals to yachtsmen of all standards, from family crews for whom this may be their only race of the year to regular competitive teams and professionals looking for record-breaking times in stunning international super yachts. One of the most celebrated yachting events in the calendar and a quite amazing sight. All our boats will be entered in this race, but it is still necessary to book early to guarantee a place.

Cowes Week End of July/beginning of August

Cowes Week (recently sponsored by Skandia Life) is the largest and most successful sailing regatta in the world. It is a week-long celebration of yachting based in Cowes. Yachts of every size, from small dinghies to ocean racing Maxis compete in a variety of races each day. It is also the sailing event to be seen at, with a carnival atmosphere on the Island throughout the week. We offer packages throughout the week on our Bavaria 46's.

Cowes Week Firework Night August
The finale of the week's racing in Cowes is a spectacular fireworks display on the Friday that is usually regarded as one of the best of the year. We can arrange an extended day out on the water including an evening meal and viewing the display from out on the water. Accommodation onboard can also be included.

Fastnet Race August (odd years)
At the end of the Cowes week racing every other year, a fleet of yachts depart the Solent for the 600 mile offshore Fastnet Race. Starting at Cowes, the fleet races west along the Channel passing the three great headlands of Portland, Start & Lizard before turning NW across the open Irish Sea towards the Fastnet Rock. Having rounded the lighthouse, they race back to pass outside the Bishops Rock and the Scilly Isles before making the sprint back to Plymouth. Of course this race is known best for the infamous 1979 disaster, but it isn't always like that and the last race was characterised by very light winds. Whatever the weather though, to take part in this race is a true sailing achievement and one that you will remember for ever. The next race is in 2007 and we are now finalising an entry programme. Due to the nature of the race, the Royal Offshore Racing Committee insist that competitors have completed 3 qualifying races first together with a sea survival course. All of this will be included in our package.

Little Britain Challenge Cup
A race for those involved in the construction industry. Builders, architects etc are all invited to put together an entry team with one of our yachts and professional skipper.

Places to visit

No Manís Land and Horse Sand Forts built in the Solent to protect Britain from Napoleonís ships.

Osborne House
built by Prince Albert as a summer house for Queen Victoria.

Portsmouth Historic Docks housing the Mary Rose (built by Henry VIII between 1509 Ė 1511, she was one of the first ships able to fire a broadside), HMS Victory (built in 1759, housed in the oldest dry dock in the world) and HMS Warrior (built in 1860, in her heyday she was the most formidable battleship the world had ever seen Ė the first iron-hulled, iron-clad warship, built as a deterrent during a period of uneasy peace between Britain and her traditional enemy France).

Hurst Castle
built in 1537 for the defence of Yarmouth and its harbour against French squadrons entering the Solent. Behind the castle stands what was once the house of the Governor of the Island where Charles II made a short stay while on a visit to Hurst. It is now the George Hotel.

Osborne Bay Anchoring in the sheltered waters of this picturesque bay is a favourite and take lunch on board.

Newtown Creek View the rich bird life in this National Trust owned ancient harbour Ė teal, ringed plover, shelduck, curlew, redshank and oyster catches. Newtown was once the chief port of the Isle of Wight until the French destroyed it in the 14th century.

Beaulieu River and the historic village at Bucklerís Hard created in the early 18th century by the 2nd Duke of Montague for the import and export of sugar from the West Indies and subsequently used for the building of over 50 wooden fighter ships for the Royal Navy. The first vessel, the Salisbury, was built in 1698. The Agamemnon (Nelsonís flagship, built in 1781, on which he was serving as captain when he met Lady Hamilton in Naples), the Euryalus and the Swiftsure were all built there and fought in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The dispatch containing news of Nelsonís death was written on the Euryalus.

The Needles the rocks and the amazing multi-coloured sand of Alum Bay.

East Head is a sand spit owned by the National Trust just inside the entrance to Chichester Harbour and designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Bosham Channel, one of the four main channels in Chichester Harbour where King Canute, King of England from 1017 Ė 1035, who reigned from Winchester and believed to have owned a manor at Bosham, demonstrated to his over-optimistic followers that he was not all powerful and could not turn back the sea. The Bayeux Tapestry shows Harold setting off from Bosham in 1064 on his mission to France to parley with Duke William of Normandy whom he was later to meet again at Hastings in 1066.

A challenge
How many of the features named below have you seen in or around the Solent. Actually they're all there except one. Can you spot it?

A Historic ship wrecks
B Tidal flows in excess of 4 knots
C Dangerous rocks
D Car ferries
E A tidal causeway to an island with a monastery
F High speed catamarans
G Oil tankers and container ships with moving prohibited zones
H A sandbank suitable for hosting a cricket match
I The biggest yacht race in the world
J Radar speed traps
K In excess of 30 marinas
L A National Trust nature reserve
M The largest hovercraft ever made
N Underwater submarine barriers
O Defensive forts in the middle of the channel
P Cross Channel ferries & Ocean going liners
Q Warships & submarines
R Fishing vessels
S Active minesweepers
T Whales (dead)
U Dolphins (alive)
V Railway sleepers adrift
W Lighthouses, safe water marks and isolated danger marks
X Firing range danger area
Y Chain ferry
Z Submerged pipelines marked by a fresnal lens

This was our Boat Show competition and the answer was 'E' there is no tidal causeway to an island with a monastery.

Some other nautical feature you might encounter:

 A curved ledge with a trap in its hook
 Pile moorings
 A regular passenger hovercraft service
 A small boat channel
 Lighthouses, lateral buoys, cardinal buoys, safe water and isolated danger marks
 Locks
 Firing range danger area
 Sand bars
 

 
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