The last day of the rally saw some of the fleet join the OGA race, whilst a few of us took the lazy option and anchored. Aurora, Ladybird and Moneypenny sailed over to the beach at Hurst Point and anchored near the shore. The beach was busy with many boats anchored, RIBs pulled up on the shingle and kite surfers. Plenty happening to watch while having lunch; Niki and Alice swam but, without wetsuits, it was a bit chilly. Alice stayed in for quite a while swimming with Josh and Erin from Ladybird.
After a siesta, we pulled the anchor to watch the gaffers racing. These lovely boats made an impressive sight and it was great to see the cape cutters doing well.
The day was rounded off with a pleasant walk along the Yar for our evening meal at a converted railway station. We were sorry to be gathering fir the final time on this rally, but there was much talk of the summer mini rally at Kielder in July and what location should be chosen for next year’s Whitsun rally.
We returned to the boats, to find that several had won prizes – the Cape Cutters had done well in the race, Ian and Cath on Bella coming 4th overall. Adam on Meisje was first overall on the passage race, with Gary on Moneypenny not far behind in 3rd place.
Thanks once again to Paul for organising such a great rally.
Our fleet had arrived in Yarmouth to join in the OGA festival. This annual event was cancelled the previous year and we were glad we could support it, especially with so many boats. It is always a colourful event, with gaff-rigged craft of all sizes and ages. The stars of the show are the older wooden boats which are lovingly maintained by their owners. The number of boats attending was a little less than previous years, perhaps not surprising given the pandemic.
A band of early rain passed through in the early morning, but soon dried up. The main event was a gaffel race, an race in which the skipper chooses their own course between a selection of marks. The skill is judging the tide and wind strength to visit as many as possible, scoring being based on distance travelled.
We had decided to take Aurora cross to Lymington instead, so my crew could explore the town whilst I helped Dennis haul out Mary Ann for her journey back to Kielder. The wind was very light and Aurora sailed out to watch the start and though the boats made an impressive sight with all their sails set, most were actually going backwards in the tide! Sadly, the race was eventually abandoned.
We motored across to Lymington and returned to Town Quay, where we were welcomed back by the harbour master. We had to raft up again, though not with a fleet of cape cutters this time. Mary Ann was quickly recovered onto her trailer, I bid farewell to Dennis and rejoined my family in town.
By the time we left the harbour, the wind had filled in nicely and Niki sailed Aurora down the channel, with one quick tack to avoid the ferry and then we sailed close-hauled with all three sails all the way back to Lymington.
The OGA is normally a very sociable event, with everyone eating together, but with the current restrictions, this was not possible. The clever solution to this was a fish and chip supper. The pre-ordered food was collected at set times from the local chippie and eaten in our cockpits. Fortunately it was a gorgeous evening and the food was excellent. I washed mine down with some excellent local beer.
As the evening wore on, our pontoon party continued, including the cape cutter fleet choir. Adam of Meisje gave an excellent rendition of South Australia and Ian of Bella had modified “What shall we do with the drunken sailor” (with a verse for every boat in the fleet), accompanied by all for the choruses.
We passed a comfortable night at anchor at South Deep in Poole harbour. During the night the wind swung from the south easterly it had been most of the previous day, to a westerly, which was very convenient for our return to the Solent. This made the boats a bit restless when the tide turned in the night, but I am always very confident in the holding of the cape cutter’s anchor.
The plan today was to sail back to Yarmouth and use the trip as a passage race. A benefit of this was that we didn’t all need to begin at the same time, useful given the number of boats involved. I had an appointment to keep, so I set off earlier than the others, gybing gently through the channel to the mouth of the harbour in the light breeze. With a quick burst of outboard to cross the chain ferry, I turned to port and followed the East Looe channel close to the shore and then turned out to sea once clear of the sand banks.
There were two main strategies to return to Yarmouth. One was to sail out to sea and then pick up the Needles channel and the other was to take a straight line route, close to Hengistbury Head and pass into the Solent close to Hurst Point. I chose the latter route and found myself dead downwind.
One benefit of a gaff rig is that it is comfortable dead downwind, with little risk of a crashing involuntary gybe, because the gaff will stop the boom popping over. This means that it is not hard to fill the jib on the opposite side to the main. The sea was very smooth, but sadly the roll prevented the jib from driving very much, but it was good practice.
I shook out my precautionary reef soon after leaving Poole and it was a very quiet sail past Bournemouth, but to my delight, the wind freshened and backed to the SW. A reach is the most enjoyable point of sail, and Aurora picked up speed as I was able to use all three sails. I made fabulous progress with a little tide under me to nudge the boat speed to about 6kt.
My course took me very close to Hengistbury Head, passing inshore of the little patch of rocks lying 0.5nm off. The shallow draught of the cape cutter meant I had no worries about passing through the shallow water; in fact I had the centre plate (aka the clonking plate) pulled up during this journey. However, a sharp lookout for the many lobster pots in this area was essential.
I had been using North Head buoy as a waypoint and this was fast approaching. The boat speed increased to well over 7kt and Aurora popped into the Solent, passing a few yards from the fort on Hurst Point. The water here is always choppy and confused, but in the current neap tides, it was not fierce. Aurora was through this water in a couple of minutes, making 8kt, and I was able to aim for the race end point at Black Rock buoy.
This was an exciting end to a wonderful day’s sailing and I motored into Yarmouth with a big grin on my face. As the fleet arrived, we rafted up together – 17 boats in all, with the arrival of Grilla.
We were joining the OGA Yarmouth festival, so to be in keeping with the spirit of the event, many spent time dressing their boats with flags, ribbons and even flying fish wind socks! It made an impressive sight – many had clearly gone to some lengths in preparation.
We had a lovely evening meal at the Royal Solent Yacht Club and various presentations were made to recognise sailing achievements, the distance many boats had travelled (the furthest from Inverness!) and to our organiser, Paul.
Our honorary cape cutterers, Bob and Loretta Steele have been with us on their Sadler yacht Narwhal II, having recently sold their cape cutter (and, despite the Sadler, were missing it). At the last rally, Bob presented each skipper with a cartoon of them and their boat. This time, he “cape cutterised” a piece of local glass art which was presented to Paul, signed by all the participants.
Every cape cutter rally has included a longer passage and this year, our organiser Paul had planned an overnight trip to Poole. I always enjoy anchoring overnight and this trip provided that too.
This trip needs the right tides to exit the Solent, so we had a relatively early start. A few boats left really early, but most of the fleet passed out of Yarmouth harbour just after 6.30. We were blessed with bright sun, but little wind. Even so, the strong tide ebbing out of the Solent carried us along at nearly six knots.
With conditions very benign, we followed the Needles Channel and passed very close to those iconic rocks. Once past the turbulence up to the final west cardinal at Bridge, we passed into Christchurch Bay, but progress here was slow, owing to the very light winds. Even the very modest sea state serves to stop a small boat like the cape cutter in its tracks without a decent breeze to power her up.
I eventually made the decision to drop the sails and motor, but within 3 miles of Handfast Point, the wind returned and I had a lovely sail up to Harry’s Rocks and then gybed north into the Poole harbour.
The chain ferry at the mouth was easy enough to navigate around, but the channel markers are confusing for newcomers. Poole harbour is a huge island-strewn lagoon, but very shallow (indeed drying) over much of its area. At low tide, it was important to follow the torturous routes indicated by the maze of markers. The early birds dropped anchor to the NW of Brownsea island, whereas the majority of the fleet put their pin down at the South Deep (not a literally accurate name!). After a lunch break (and/or siesta!), most of the fleet pulled anchor to explore Poole harbour. The crew of ladybird went ashore to explore Brownsea island.
Looking at the chart does not prepare one for how lovely this place is. There are many islands, which are heavily wooded and many low-lying banks. To the south and west, the harbour is peaceful and natural, whereas the north and east is well developed. There are two large marinas and a huge (not very attractive) commercial port near the town. There are moored boats everywhere and the water is busy with all manner of water craft from canoes and SUPs to ferries and tour boats, as well as large shipping too. A very busy place, but with a cape cutter easy to explore the shallow quiet creeks, or go ashore. I sailed Aurora in a complete lap of Brownsea island, though I did feel like I was beating the whole way!
Ten of the fleet anchored overnight at south deep, Ladybird remained off the beach at Brownsea island and a few opted for marina berths overnight. The weather was rather grey in the evening, but it lent a rather attractive pastel air to the moored fleet and I always enjoy the peace and tranquillity of an anchorage at dusk.
Various meals were cooked aboard and crews gradually retired to their cabin for the night. In the morning, our return to Yarmouth and a passage race.
We were heading for Yarmouth on the far west of the Isle of Wight today, which is a relatively short distance. As a result about a third of the fleet chose to stay at Buckler’s Hard and spend the morning exploring Beaulieu village before setting out, whilst the majority decided to sail early and anchor in Newtown creek again until the tide had turned.
We had been enjoying fine warm weather since the beginning of the rally but today we were expecting the addition of more wind. We followed the last of the ebb tide to the river mouth and then most of the party chose to sail around for a while to delay arrival at Newtown Creek, allowing the tide to rise. It was wonderful to have all sails up with the boat flying along, in the company of so many other cape cutters.
Newtown creek is actually several creeks which flow into a tidal pool and is accessed from the sea via a single narrow channel. It is a very beautiful place; the mud flats bring much bird life, there is a shingle beach where small craft can land and the oak woods come almost to the waters edge on the west side. The views are beautiful, but the attraction for sailors is obviously as a very sheltered anchorage. A large number of visitor moorings are provided, but many prefer to anchor. It’s managed by the national trust who charge a modest fee for using a mooring and ask for a donation from those who anchor. On busy weekends it gets very busy indeed, but was a little quieter on this midweek lunchtime.
About ten of the fleet entered the creek and some did try to raft, but the wind was quite strong by now, so we anchored individually and passed the middle part of the day in the sun.
After lunch, the tide flood tide had decreased and we set off for Yarmouth. By this time, the wind was F5, but we were sailing downwind, so made excellent time on staysails only. It’s a short hop from Newtown to Yarmouth and we soon arrived at this busy harbour.
On approach one must be very vigilant for the frequent and rapid Lymington ferries arriving and departing. The berthing masters are very helpful and we were shepherded one by one into a group rafted five deep. Coming alongside in the strong breeze requires skill, but the test that day was to account for the strong tide passing through the marina, which straddles the river Yar.
After a well earned drink in the sun, we went off to get stores for the following day. There is only one food shop and there was a definite “day after a busy bank holiday” feeling. We take the availability of a wide range of food at all times for granted, but on this occasion the choices were limited. The evening was rounded off with a very pleasant meal at Cucina and we repaired to our bunks ready for an early start the following morning on a passage to Poole.
Today’s journey was to be from Cowes to Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu river. This is not a long journey, so most of us elected to sail to nearby Osborne Bay to enjoy the sun and light winds. We sailed upwind and down tide to the sandy bay and dropped anchor in standing depth water and relaxed waiting for the tide to turn.
We started leaving just after lunch and used the pre-slack back eddy in the tide to pass west close to Cowes. By the time we reached that point, the tide had turned in our favour across the whole Solent.
There were two strategies – dead downwind to the mouth of the river, or else to sail off the wind, gybing towards our destination. I preferred the latter strategy, as it involved better boat speed. The wind was light and the “dead down” method did not feel very comfortable, though we all arrived at the river mouth within a few minutes of each other.
The Beaulieu river is one of the most lovely places on the Solent. We sailed into the mouth and reached along its winding course as the river transitioned from sand banks at the beach, though mud flats and little creeks, finally to oak woodland which comes right down to the water’s edge.
Bucklers hard marina is an exceptionally beautiful place and we were made most welcome. An outside barbecue area had been set aside for us and we had a most sociable evening. It was so pleasing to see so many skippers and crew swapping notes; we had a mixture of experience, length of cape cutter ownership, those who had been to several rallies and those for whom it was their first.
We awoke to the fine sight of the morning sun shining on 16 Cape Cutters rafted in Lymington town quay and the prospect of a warm fine day, though with light winds.
The fleet left en masse and made their way down the busy channel out into the Solent, which was also thick with pleasure craft. The strong favourable tide made up for the light winds and we beat east, making for Newtown Creek for a lunch stop.
It was a fine sight to see so many boats, most with all their canvas flying and we were soon arriving at the creek and made our way through the many moored boats enjoying the sun on, in and by the water.
We found a shallow spot, Meisje anchored from her bow and Bella from her stern. As each boat arrived, it rafted alongside, creating a circle of boats, bows in. Eventually, we had 11 boats together, though the holding on only two anchors was not great!
With the favourable tide fading, our stop could only be brief and so the raft broke up and we continued towards our next overnight stop in Cowes. Sadly the wind faded just as the tide turned against us, so we were soon all motoring into the strong current.
On arrival at Cowes yacht haven, we had a large finger pontoon to ourselves and were soon tied up and ready for a beer in the sun, as everyone discussed the day’s events. The day was rounded off with a curry in the town. A flying start to our week’s sailing!
With eight boats in the water already, the rest of the fleet arrived during the day by road. Many had travelled long distances to join us – two boats from Kielder and one from Scotland. We set to launching the boats as soon as they were rigged, whilst those that had launched the previous day went out to shake down.
The weather was spectacularly kind, with clear skies and long-awaited hot sun. Those that went out for a sail enjoyed the trip but did not find much wind.
By the end of the day we had 16 Cape Cutters moored up, along with Narwhal II, a Sadler 35, owned by Bob and Loretta Steele, previous owners of Cape Cutter Irene.
With everyone set up and ready for the week’s sailing, we rounded the day off with a formal start to proceedings and a lovely meal at the Mayflower restaurant. Although covid restrictions are relaxing, catering establishments are still wrestling with online booking systems. Nevertheless we had service with a smile and a very tasty meal.
This year marks the sixth annual gathering of cape cutters, delayed from last year. For the first time I’d be joining the rally by sea, as the location for our cruising would be the western Solent.
As I wasn’t working on Friday, I drove to the sailing club after work on Thursday, laden with the gear for a week’s expedition. Friday morning saw me early to the mooring and I brought Aurora to a berth and loaded her up with gear.
To my disappointment, the storm that battered the south coast the week after launch, had made the quarter berths quite damp. Fortunately the forecast was for warm fine weather – ideal for drying cushions!
I left Gosport an hour before HW and motored out of Portsmouth. The tide was running in strongly and Henry Honda had a good workout before I turned into the Inner Swashway and headed for Gilkicker point. The wind was almost directly behind me and I sailed for a while on genoa only, but after rounding the point, I made excellent progress on main and genoa.
In the past I have always used a sail combination which includes the staysail, but an email conversation with Dudley Dix, the designer of the cape cutter had pointed out that the boat is not necessarily intended to always sail as a cutter. Often the staysail will shield the larger foresail a take a lot of power off.
The two large sails worked well together on a training run down the Solent and my pace was helped considerably by a very strong spring tide. The wind was rather variable in strength and the boat speed would drop at times, but the tide kept me rushing on.
It was a great pleasure to see all the comings and goings on this busy stretch of water – ferries, cargo ships, hovercraft and all manner of pleasure craft.
Sailing downwind has the advantage of very little apparent wind, so it was very peaceful and the only indication of the boat’s speed and the strength of the tide was when I passed a bouy, heaved over by the current.
I arrived in Lymington in late afternoon and weaved my way to the town quay, right at the top of the busy harbour. It’s a very picturesque spot and has lovely facilities.
Meanwhile several boats had arrived for the rally by road – Moneypenny, Halcyon, Kira and Waddudu were rigging up for launch. The tides on the Solent are unusual and many ports in the area have strange characteristics. In Lymington the tide rises quickly, holds for a longer time than expected but then falls very quickly. The consequence of this was that by the time the boats were ready for launch, there was not enough water on the slipway.
Our response was simple – have a well-earned evening meal and return when the water had come back. Accordingly we repaired to the King’s Head for a lovely dinner and by 9.30 there was enough water again. Tony’s truck was used to launch four boats, one after the other and then we motored in the dark up to the quay. A night launch was a first for me, but with many hands to help out, it all passed smoothly.
With the Cape Cutter rally only two weeks away, it was time to launch Aurora and begin the 2021 season. I chose Fareham slipway this time, to make a change from launching at my club, which was going to be very busy this weekend and I was assisted by a long-time sailing buddy, John K. The slipway is public (free) and the local marina are very friendly and helpful, and I used their car park to rig Aurora ready for launch. I had timed my arrival so that she was rigged at the top of spring high tide; the slipway is quite short and a bit green, so I wanted as much slipway as possible. The first part of the rigging was completed in fair weather, but final preparations and the launch itself were completed in torrential rain!
Once afloat, John and I motored up-river and we used the beanpole to find our way to the head of the river where the river runs down a weir among swans and much weed – I have often seen this pool when driving past and fancied taking Aurora there; I always enjoy pottering right to the top of any waterway Aurora finds herself on! We then turned downstream and followed the tide downstream towards Aurora’s mooring. The wind was largely behind us, so we sailed all the way on Genoa only, mostly in very gentle conditions, but with some interesting gusts as we passed through the moorings near Gosport.
Aurora seems in good shape for the coming season, though there seems to be an irritating leak at the fore hatch which will need some attention. The weather remained very wet and rather blustery, so having set up the mooring and settled Aurora on it, we declared mission accomplished. It always gives me a pang to leave Aurora on her mooring and drive away, she won’t be unattended long, as the annual gathering of Cape Cutters will take place quite soon now.