Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Boats, canals and trains

By John Simpson

There are many interesting ways to take a holiday. Recently my son Wes visited Morocco with friends so he could go wind surfing and skiing on the same day. It seemed an exciting thing to do but wasn’t cheap! Quite awhile ago my cousin Chris and I had an interesting if less expensive couple of weeks break, partially using my little 22 ft. sailing boat. Our plan gambled that the weather gods were on our side, to allow it to work…

We departed about lunch time from a pile mooring on the Hamble. About as early as we could manage after travelling to the boat, rowing out and stowing up.

It was a fine Saturday in August with not much wind. We’d catch some of the flood tide, unfortunately though the stream turns west early in the Eastern Solent but ‘Miss Content’ had a reliable 7 ½ HP Honda four stroke outboard to help her along. Given time our constraints, we decided to press on as far as was possible. Foul tide through the Looe Channel rounding Selsey Bill slowed us down, so Littlehampton harbour looked a sensible bet. Our time of arrival that evening was late and just after low water. Rather to Chris’s horror we managed to bump in across the bar in smooth water, tying up in time to find a pub before last orders.

Leaving earlier the next morning with enough rising water to clear the bar, it was surprising how quickly the tidal stream was rushing into the River Arun. We had a pleasant light spinnaker run in a gentle SW’ly enhanced by an afternoon sea breeze to Brighton . On Monday taking full advantage of a brisker westerly winds and twelve hours fair tide given by an Atlantic flood and the North Sea ebb, we anchored that evening in the Outer harbour at Dover . After a wonderful sixty miles sail, we were hoping the weather would be fair enough to cross to Calais the next day. Luck was with us bringing a moderate NW’ly airstream that wafted the little boat rapidly across Channel playing dodgems with the big ship traffic. Here we joined a queue of French boats all madly circling round in the outer harbour. They were trying to agitate the bridge/loch gate operator and arouse him into opening for them!

On Wednesday morning after visiting the harbour master and obtaining permission to leave ‘Miss Content’ for awhile in the inner harbour; we hopped on a train to Strasbourg . Here we joined my parents and sister on their old 36 ft. wooden motor boat ‘Ronjo II’. We enjoyed a lovely quietly contrasting and mellow time gently exploring the French countryside by canal. Blessed with much warmer Continental weather and some wonderful local food and wine, occasionally rousing ourselves enough to try our hand at wind surfing, without much success!

Being so far from the sea it’s amazing to think of Strasbourg classed as a medium sized French port. The cathedral spire is visible for miles on the flat land surrounding the city, a medieval skyscraper when it was built and the tallest in the world between the 11th and 14th centuries. French canals are still used for trade and much wider than those in UK . My sister Pat had recently bought a barge ‘Audace’ to live aboard. A standard 123 ft length Peniche that made a wonderful sized living space moored close to the city in a pleasant spot.

Our train journey to Calais late the following Wednesday soon returned us back to Miss C, allowing time to prepare for departure early in the morning for the leg home. Re-crossing the Channel in a moderate SE’ly breeze felt quite lively, after the gentle week pottering in the canals.
But it gave more time to push on west and round the headland at Dungeness. Here we anchored off Rye in the pitch dark in smooth water as the wind collapsed. Spending a few hours watching a magnificent Perseids meteor shower in the dark, which we’d noted would occur from the almanac. Chris managing to count well over a hundred shooting stars!

Light variable winds then plagued us all the way back via Newhaven and Chichester , but the outboard kept us plodding along.

Finally returning the boat to her Hamble berth on Sunday lunchtime, after enjoying a couple of weeks with two varied types of boating.

Yours Aye,
John Simpson.

1 comment:

Alden Smith said...

Pity you still aren't writing about your adventures - I enjoyed reading them.

Alden from New Zealand