The last Cape Cutter rally, in May 2019, seems so far off now and, deep into our third lockdown, I’m both missing my sailing and not daring to plan much for the coming season. Still, with some extra time in my hands, I did get the chance to edit the video clips I shot at the East Coast rally.
For much of the time, I was sailing solo and I don’t have an auto helm, so I was shooting one-handed with my iPhone. My strategy was to record clips of about 15 seconds as often as possible. I ended up with lots of raw material to work with and the main challenge was to edit it down into some sort of story.
The audio was not great, with quite a bit of wind noise, so I’ve covered that up with some lovely music my talented daughter played for me and a bit of narration from myself.
I hope you like the result – I’m certainly looking forward to being able to get back on the water in spring, as soon as restrictions allow.
We spent a peaceful night in our berth at Cowes and the forecast for the following day was promising. We were planning to return to Gosport, so I decided to make the most of the trip by taking a cruise up the Beaulieu river for lunch.
I woke early so took a walk through Cowes, which was lovely and quiet at that time of day. Happening on a bakery, I couldn’t resist buying fresh pain au chocolate for breakfast, as well as cakes and bread rolls for lunch time.
This beautiful river winds its way several miles inland, and with the improvement in the weather, this was to be a lovely day to visit it. We enjoyed a lovely sail across the Solent, looking out for the Jack-in-the-basket which marks the entrance to the river. As today was a “sailing day”, we beat up the channel behind the sand banks which separate the river from the sea. The wind was increasing, so a reef made the boat more easy to control. We passed lines and lines of boats on their moorings and got good views of the birds as we tacked to the edges of the channel.
As the river turned, we had a lovely long reach through the moorings, admiring the many lovely boats at rest there. The green fields run right down to the water and the properties are impressive. Further up river, the New Forest presses to the very banks, and above the small but tightly packed marina at Bucklers Hard, the boats gradually shrink in size.
We picked up a vacant mooring almost under the trees and had a very pleasant lunch in the sun, of cheese and tomatoes with the fresh bakery baps, followed by those cakes. Alice insisted on a swim and eventually persuaded both Niki and I to join her in the water which was very warm and clear. It was strange to see jellyfish drifting by under the boat on the ebbing tide, when we were several miles inland and surrounded by forest.
By the time we slipped our mooring, the wind had increased somewhat and was on the nose for much of the passage out, so we motored down and only put the sail up as we turned for a long reach and finally a run out onto the sea.
What followed was a wonderful training run across the Solent, close past Cowes and on to Gilkicker. The sea was rolling, and Aurora rode the waves beautifully (expertly helmed by Niki) on staysail and reefed main. We made over 6kt for the first stretch, but reduced a knot or so as we passed into the lee of the island.
The Solent was busy with huge container ships passing into Southampton (no cruise liners in these Covid times), car ferries, foot ferries, hovercraft and even naval ships (RFA Lyme Bay, a 16000t tank landing ship). We had wonderful views of the puffy clouds scudding through the blue skies with Cowes, Wooton Creek and then Ryde on the island side and Fawley, Lee-on-Solent and Portsmouth poking up behind its headland.
As we passed Gilkicker, we gybed and passed very close along the shore to the narrow mouth of Portsmouth. We kept the main up as we motored through the harbour mouth and were able to give Henry a rest and sail up, dropping the sail only as we turned into the channel behind Burrow Island. The novelty of returning to “our own berth” had not worn off and it was very pleasing to come alongside in pole position for the gangway. A fitting end to a lovely day’s sailing.
No wind was again forecast for today (Sunday), so we left Yarmouth at slack water with the plan to motor over to Lymington for lunch, in the hope of a sea breeze to sail in the afternoon.
A large bank of rain cloud had been approaching from the south and as we motored across the channel, we could see it envelop Yarmouth behind us. By the time we entered Lymington, it caught us up, first giving gentle rain, increasing to a steady downpour.
Coming in, we spotted fellow Cape Cutter “Cockersootie” on a mooring, alongside a shrimper and a crabber. Sadly there were no berths available at the town quay, even for a short stay, so we borrowed a mooring nearby Cockersootie to have a little lunch.
We took a rest, whilst we waited for the ebb tide to turn in our favour, Niki and Alice below and me in the cockpit. It was not cold and it was quite comfortable to lay out in my foulies with my hood over my face and my head on a fender to doze while the rain rattled down.
We watched the dinghies sail out from the club slipway as we entered harbour, and noticed the skill with which these high performance boats were being sailed in the lightest of airs. There was little other traffic, apart from the car ferry shuttling to Yarmouth- it seemed large in the narrow channel, but the dinghies were well practiced at keeping clear.
Having been turned away from the town quay, I rang the marina at Bucklers Hard, our next intended destination, only to discover that they were fully booked weeks in advance. Although it is peak season, the water seems quiet and I was hoping the pandemic might have kept some away, but it was not to be. Our next choice was Cowes, as this was only a little further and offered the certainty of both a berth and a good meal in town.
Alice was eager to move on and was restless, having lost her chance for a “walk” (ice cream) ashore, so I set off early. I pulled the boom up high, so I could stand at the helm and motored off. There was still no wind and the tide had not yet turned, so I followed the 2m depth contour as soon as I was out of the channel, and motored close enough to observe the shore as we travelled.
We were actually moving faster than than the yachts motor sailing further out in the main channel, and after a while, I felt the zephyr of a breeze filling in. It was on the nose, but we had not sailed at all on this trip, so I put the sails up and we started to make steady progress using all of our canvas. Sadly, I found us being headed, so I tacked away towards the island and was happy that shortly the wind shifted again and I was able to tack back towards Cowes, this time pretty much directly towards our destination.
The breeze did not prove steady, but when the boat slowed, Alice asked to swim. Both our girls love to be in the water when the boat is moving and we tow a fender on a long line, so there’s something to grab. Alice had a whale of a time swimming alongside, climbing aboard to dive off the deck and holding the warp to be towed when a gust came.
By the time Alice came back aboard to get dried and have a hot chocolate, the wind had failed completely, so the sails were furled and the ever reliable Henry Honda pressed into service once again. It was not far to Cowes by now and we were at the harbour entrance by the time the swimming gear was tidied, bowsprit raised, fenders and warps arranged.
Entering Cowes, the were welcomed by bright sunshine and it’s always more pleasant to admire the goings on of a bustling harbour in such conditions. We radioed Shepard’s Marina, and were offered a spot on the end of a long pontoon. We then took the opportunity to dry out not only our damp sailing gear, but also the towels, seat cushions and Niki’s sleeping bag. When the weather is damp, it’s hard to keep things dry inside the boat with the humidity of three sleeping aboard.
Having showered, we walked into town for a meal. Early post-lockdown, I had heard reports of Cowes being extremely quiet, but there were plenty of people about this evening – mostly moving about as normal. It seems odd that it is a requirement to wear a mask in a shop, but not in pubs or restaurants. In shops, staff do not wear masks, but in restaurants the staff often do. We chose the curry house we had enjoyed on our previous visit and were not disappointed this time either.
It’s not how I hoped to begin our family trip, but the weather gods decreed a damp, still day. We briefly considered delaying our departure by a day, but the forecast was not for an improvement. We motored out of Portsmouth and the breeze died completely. I put the main up, but there was not a flicker of life in it. Down came the sail and we motored down the Inner Swashway to Gulkicker Point.
As we passed into deeper water, we picked up the fair tide and were making over 5kt. The Island was invisible at this point, so we kept a sharp lookout for traffic. Our route kept us clear of ferry traffic and the pandemic meant that there were no cruise liners.
We quickly reached Cowes, at which point we sped up even more, making 6kt past the hazy Newtown Creek. Visibility was less than half a mile and the only large ship we saw was at anchor. About a mile from Yarmouth, the mist turned to drizzle and then fine rain, so we arrived at the harbour rather bedraggled.
The marina was pretty busy and the motor boat in front of us was turned away onto an outer mooring. However, there’s always space for a Cape Cutter, and we tucked in between two boats on the finger pontoons in pole position near the showers.
We then had time for a stroll round the town and a late lunch, before a well earned siesta, followed by a pleasant meal at The King’s Head.
Having launched Aurora the day before and taken a quick shakedown trip around the harbour, John and I had time enough for only a 24h jaunt. The wind was in the SW, but forecast to back to a southerly. The obvious destination for an overnight stay was therefore to sail East from Portsmouth. We’ve had lots trips in Chichester harbour, but none since being based in Gosport.
So it was we chose East Head as our destination, a favourite anchorage of ours not far into the harbour. John and I were able to make a leisurely start, leaving Portsmouth on full ebb down the small boat channel. We crossed the main channel when we were level with Southsea pier and made for the “tripod” to cross the long, submerged barrier reaching out to sea. This obstruction is a line of blocks stretching from the shore just to the East of Southsea pier towards Horse Sand Fort, added during WWII to augment the 19th century forts defending Portsea Island. Despite extensive building works over many decade, none of the defences were used in anger. The obstruction is approx 1.8m below the surface; this is probably deep enough for a Cape Cutter to pass, but I’m not very willing to experiment!
There are two passages in this line, one near the shore and the other just over half a mile off shore. I chose the latter, as this gave us a reach directly East towards West Pole at the mouth of Chichester harbour and avoiding the Winner sand bank outside Langstone Harbour.
We romped along with main, staysail and genoa, staying above 5kt the whole way. Turning north at West Pole into the harbour, we ran in on main only with the wind and the flood behind us and swept up the Emsworth channel. We didn’t know if there was a way of getting ashore and so were delighted to spy a public pier!
Our timing was impeccable, as we were an hour or so before HW, so had plenty of time to go ashore for lunch. We were amused to see the pier busy with families crabbing, despite the prominent “no crabbing” sign on the gate!
We enjoyed a tasty lunch and (between us) three different pints of Fullers ale at the Coal Exchange before moving the boat on the retreating tide to find a spare mooring for a siesta.
Duly rested, we beat nicely on reefed main and staysail down the channel to East Head, where we nosed Aurora onto the beach and let her take the ground. This allowed me to stretch my legs and make a loop around the dunes.
As we waited for the tide to float us off, John cooked us new potatoes in sea water and steaks fried in butter, which he served just as Aurora levelled off. I had remembered just in time to put the anchor out astern, so we could haul off and drop the pin again in deeper water.
East Head is a popular anchorage, but not too busy on that weekday night and we passed the night comfortably enough, though the boat rolled a bit around high tide.
We made an early start the next morning, to catch the westbound tide back towards home berth. The wind was forecast very light southerly, but turned out to be perfect for us and we enjoyed a fast reach with genoa and full main.
An unexpected band of rain approached just as we neared Portsmouth, and we lost the wind, so I dropped the sails whilst they were dry and we motored back onto our new permanent berth. It may have been only 24 hours, but it had certainly felt like we had used the time fully!
We experienced a first today – not just the first sail of 2020, but when we came in Aurora “returned to her berth“, as we now have a permanent pontoon berth at Gosport.
I towed Aurora down to Gosport from home in the company of long-time sailing & diving buddy John Kingsley. It took longer than usual to rig, despite having John’s assistance, because many parts had not been reassembled following an extended period of varnishing and polishing during lockdown.
At last, in the late afternoon, Aurora stuck her nose out into the harbour and we turned left, up towards Wareham. The two carriers HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth were both in harbour and they framed HMS Victory nicely.
It was a generally light but quite gusty SSW breeze which carried us nicely all the way to the Wicor moorings on the same tack. As we reached this point, the wind was funnelled right on our nose, so we turned back down and followed the last of the ebb back to Gosport, again all on the same tack.
After some tweaks to the rigging and some victualling, we’re ready for a longer trip tomorrow! 1hr 49min, 6.7nm.
Every season, when I renew the varnish on the mast, I notice that it is heavily worn where the gaff jaws sit. The stainless fitting has some covering in the form of plastic pipe sections, so the metal does not test directly against the wood.
It has been in my mind to leather the jaws, as this is the traditional remedy, but I was unsure how to accomplish this. The extended layoff ties spring has given me the time to research and the urge for some vicarious sailing. I have many ideas for the boat, but usually not the time to execute them.
So after some digging around, I found a supplier for the materials and had some guidance in the method from the Solent OGA supremo, so took the plunge. My first time effort is not perfect, but it was a satisfying job, and when I’ve had a chance to see how well it works with repeated use, I’ll probably repeat the job (and hopefully make a better job it!). I struggled to find explicit instructions on this task, so I am posting this in case anyone following finds this useful and so that I can remember how I did it when the leather needs repair or replacement!
The first step is to cut the leather to the correct size. The curve of the gaff jaws caught me out and, even though I cut it oversized and then trimmed to size, I cut it a little small. Next time, I will have a template to work from!
Having cut the basic shape, I marked even spaces for the stitch holes and then used a fine drill to pierce the leather (because I didn’t have a suitable awl, which would probably have been easier). I made the holes 1cm from the edge and at the same interval. The spacing was good, but ideally the stitches would look neater (and have been easier to lace) if they were several mm closer to the edge.
Before lacing, I soaked the leather piece in cold water to make it flexible and then I stitched it using waxed polyester twine, following a lock-stitch pattern I found in a YouTube video (https://youtu.be/FHTuLV1L1tg). The stitching was easy enough, but finishing off was tricky to get both neat and secure. Time will tell if I succeeded.
The girls had an uncomfortable night in their tent and demanded to sleep aboard the boat the next night. This removed the need for a location where we could camp.
As the wind was from the western quadrant today, but was due to drop and swing S or SE the next day, the most sensible plan seemed to be to move back East. As it was a sunny day in prospect with an afternoon high tide, we made for Bembridge.
It was a lovely sail, varying between dead run and a beam reach, and made excellent time with the tide and wind both behind us. Andy helmed the whole way and we enjoyed the sun and watching the busyness of the Solent- ferries, hovercraft, cargo ships and the aerobatic Spitfire again. A couple of gybes were needed to avoid the ferries, then we skirted the edge of Ryde sands before reaching down towards the prominent lifeboat slip outside Bembridge.
Lots of other people had the same and there were many boats anchored in the Bay. We ended up close to the shore at Seaview (perhaps it should be called Landview when you’re anchored there).
There was then time for rowing, swimming and diving off the boat. As has become traditional, both Alice and I swam under the boat; the girls also swam ashore for a while. We then had a leisurely lunch in the sun, though I was disappointed not to be able to provide hot chocolate for the swimmers, as is usual on Aurora.
Shortly before HW, we motored into Bembridge and were allocated a convenient finger pontoon (I was glad we did not have to raft three deep, as has happened here on several previous occasions). We then had a lovely tea at the The Vine pub in St Helen’s, followed by a beautiful starry walk home across the sea marsh, which included a view of an impressive fireworks display in Ryde.
We fitted surprisingly well into the four berths, considering we all ranged between 5’8″ and 6’4″. It was a blissfully calm night, but at about 5am I was woken by the sound of one engine after another starting up. After a while, the penny dropped and I realised that many boats were leaving. I checked the tide, saw that HW was 0500 and calculated that if we did not leave by 0700, we could end up trapped in Bembridge all day. Nice though this harbour is, we all needed to get back home to the midlands that evening.
So I prepped the boat, woke Andy at 0630, apologised for the unexpected early start and we were away shortly after 0700. The girls stayed in bed and we motored out of the harbour channel; I had the centre plate line ready to pull up if we touched the sand, but that turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. The sea was glassy flat as we motored across to Gosport, but I opened each sail in turn, to dry it in readiness for de-rigging.
The crew enjoyed the busy Portsmouth harbour entrance, as our arrival coincided with a cross channel ferry, an Isle of Wight ferry and a hovercraft in quick succession, as well as the usual foot ferry and pleasure traffic.
Our early start gave us plenty of time to de-rig Aurora and re-fit the galley, ready to haul out as soon as there was enough water on the slipway. With many hands to assist, it was a swift and simple task.
The Folly Inn is a lovely waterside pub on the river Medina, and is a popular destination for boaters, due to its large mid-river pontoon and efficient water taxi service, quite apart from the good food and drink.
Alice wanted to camp there with a friend, so we set off from POG four-up: myself, Alice, her friend Joely and Joely’s dad, Andy.
The weather was lovely and warm but the wind was light and right on the nose. Nevertheless we made efficient work of tacking up the Solent with the ebb, on all three sails and made good speed on the thankfully calm water.
Lots to see, as usual: hovercraft, ferries, cargo ships, sailing boats large and small, even a Spitfire giving us an aerobatic display overhead!
Motoring up the river in the evening sun, we were allocated a berth on the river pontoon and put the girls ashore with the camping gear. Andy and I got the shipshape and then rowed over to the folly in Aurelia. This was her first outing – a Walker Bay 8′ rowing boat. She rows really well with one aboard, but with two large adults, a lot of care is needed. I asked Andy to sit in the bows, and we nearly swamped her!
After a pleasant meal, good beer and a decision about the next day’s passage, we saw the girls to their peapod and returned to Aurora.
Varnishing seems to be an inherent part of boat ownership and I usually find myself varnishing either pre- or post-season. Since we’re not taking a long trip on Aurora this summer, she’s been in the pig shed for a few weeks and I thought some TLC was called for before she goes onto her mooring.
I’ve been indecisive about the exterior woodwork for several years. I don’t like varnish on the rubbing strakes, as they get knocked so often. I’ve tried proprietary products such as Deks Ojlie but I don’t like the look of them much. I ended up leaving the wood naked, having removed the aforementioned, but it just looked unloved. I noticed some of the wood degrading on the grab rails, so I decided to act.
In the end I’ve opted for varnish on the grab rails and Samson post, as these dong get badly knocked about. I took the chance to varnish a few other parts (I bodged the varnish on the tiller last winter, and the wash boards always benefit from a fresh coat).
I was given a tip by Nick Scroggs of Cape Cutter Marine, to use disposable foam brushes. They work really well- don’t drop hairs and don’t need cleaning. Finish looks good too.
I chose natural linseed for the strakes, applied 50:50 with turpentine. Easy to apply but did leave streaks on the hull which needed cleaning off after. Time will tell. Hopefully I can do a quick top-up with a cloth, a couple of times a season.
Anyway, Aurora looks spick and span, ready to go on her summer mooring in a week or two.