They say smooth seas never made a skilled sailor. But that’s exactly what I was praying for over Easter bank holiday weekend, after signing up for my very first offshore trip with the London Corinthian Sailing Club (LCSC) on a Solent sailing trip. I joined the club almost two years ago, after completing the RYA Level 1 & 2 dinghy sailing course. Initially inspired by my old boyfriend, Laurens, who dedicated his life to sailing, I thought it might be something I’d find solace in. After a weekend learning the basics, I was instantly hooked and vowed to make it my main hobby. But I also have a habit of starting a lot of hobbies and becoming competent at none of them. Climbing, spin, netball, Pilates, yoga, running… all sporadic pastimes that I participate on a VERY ad hoc basis.
Unsurprisingly, two years has now passed since I initially joined the club but my sailing experience is still limited – I’ve done the odd race and river banking trip down the Thames, but I joined with the ambition to go on off-shore trips and maybe, one day… to cross the Atlantic. So when an email dropped into my inbox inviting members to join a Solent sailing trip over Easter weekend, it felt like it was a sign. I signed up before I had chance to talk myself out of it.
The Jurassic Coast is only visible from the water, and the best way to appreciate it is from the sea.The coastline is famed for its 200 million year old rock formations including Stair Hole, Man O’War, St Oswlads Bay and Durdle Door. After doing my research I learnt that Solent sailing trips are the only way to fully appreciate this natural wonder. From the water, you can peer up at dramatic sea stacks, admire sweeping beaches and explore intimate coves and cliffs at close range. I decided that if the Solent sailing trip didn’t lure me back into sailing, nothing would.
DAY 1: THURSDAY
We arrived at Hamble Point Marina on Thursday evening and found our charter boat, aptly named ‘Be Rude Knot 2’. The gleaming white 38 sailing yacht would be my home for the next four nights and four days. Taking my debut Solent sailing voyage with five complete strangers was a daunting prospect. Mainly because I had virtually zero big boat sailing experience, apart from a brief stint aboard a sail boat in St Vincent and The Grenadines.
On the first night we went for dinner at the Ketch Rigger, a sweet little restaurant in the harbour. I listened intently as my crew mates (of varying ages but infinitely more experience) indulged in sailing chat about navigation, conditions and their previous escapades. It dawned on me how knowledgeable they all were and how little I understood about sailing. Thankfully, this wouldn’t prove to be a problem.
Over the four days of our Solent sailing trip, we travelled a distance of 130 tidal with max wind of F7 and I never once felt excluded or patronised. Sailors are a pretty welcoming bunch and there was no sense of hierarchy onboard, I was encouraged, supported and taught a great deal.
DAY 2 Solent Sailing: Friday
I was hugely nervous about the first day sailing but our competent and good-humoured skipper, Nigel, instantly put me at ease. After using the salacious facilities at Hamble Point Marina, we set sail for Poole, tacking around from the Isle of Wight through to bramble bank and Lymington. I knew how to tack a small dinghy, but tacking a big boat is a different ballgame altogether. In some ways it’s easier – slower, more controlled and with less to worry about since each crewmember was given just one responsibility, like grinding the winch.
We had a bit of ‘fun’ trying to avoid a tanker in the shipping lane (the first of many ‘hairy’ moments) and continued our route past the iconic Needles. Finally we arrived in Poole after 7 hours of soggy sailing in relentless rain and inconsistent wind. The views made up for it though as we gawped at the posh houses of Sandbanks and watched in awe as a helicopter land in someone’s front garden.
After dinner, our Skipper took us to his favourite pub – The Lord Nelson. Imagining a quiet, quaint local watering hole, we ended up in a lively rock music pub with a live band and leather jacket-clad crowd of aging rockers who looked on at amusement at us in our fleeces, waterproof jackets and sailing gear. 2am and we finally dragged ourselves back to the boat. I think I’m going to like offshore sailing…
DAY 3 Solent Sailing: Saturday
With slightly groggy heads, we awoke to glorious sunshine and grabbed coffees in the harbour before setting sail up the majestic Jurassic Coast. The highlight was Lulworth Cove and Durdle Dor, a big rock formation resembling an archway. I was grateful that our skipper factored in time for us to bask in the beauty of these iconic natural landmarks.
In total we sailed 30 miles, doing roughly 7 knots the whole way with strong wind gusting at 27 knots. We were forced to put the engine on for the last couple of hours to make it into Weymouth harbour in time for a mustard-colored sunset.
Arriving at Weymouth by boat is nothing short of spectacular; we glided past Nothe Fort and were greeted by an almost mirage-like scene of colourful houses reflected in the still water. And after another 8 hours at sea, I’ve never been so grateful to see a gin and tonic. Even if I did have to make it myself and drink it out a plastic cup with one ice cube. After a much-needed hot shower, we got to know each other better over a hearty dinner at a cosy pub in the harbour before retiring to our boat for a bottle or two of red wine. I was glad somebody had prioritised our list of on-board supplies!
DAY 4 Solent Sailing: Sunday
By day 4, I had settled into life aboard a boat again. Living in a confined space with strangers forces you to bond quickly. My group consisted of Malcolm, an enthusiastic yachtsman who enjoyed deliberating over navigation with the skipper.
Alice, a friendly American girl who has sailed her entire life and wholeheartedly embraced the quintessentially English culture onboard of tea drinking, Cornish pasty-eating and kit-kat munching throughout the day.
Debs, our official photographer who you would think has salt water running through her blood, given her obsession her encyclopedic knowledge of The Vendée Globe and obsession with the Fast Net.
Our skipper, Nigel, was a calm voice of reason who navigated us through a challenging few days of weather and engine failure! More on that later…
Today we began to retrace our route back down the coast, giving us opportunity to gawp again at the beauty of the Jurassic Coast. The day started promisingly with a relaxed 9-17 knots of wind all morning and reached speeds of 3-5 knots. Ideal conditions for an amateur like me.
We jibed into Durdle Dor for a second glimpse of The Bull (a protruding rock formation) before continuing to Lulworth Cove for a closer look. Sadly the wind was going the wrong direction so we couldn’t drop anchor here and our Skipper made the decision to stop for lunch further down the coast. It was sometime mid-afternoon that our engine problems started – which we were alerted to by the sound of an ear piercing (and unnerving) alarm.
With little choice but to continue, our Skipper made attempts to remedy the problem but eventually, the ‘AA’ of the sea was called to our rescue. Within half an hour we had an engineer onboard, digging around to check we were OK to continue.
It turned out the source of our problem had occurred back in Lulworth Cover when our batteries had overcharged due to the fact we had no alternator. Not disastrous, it turned out, so we continued in the hope that we’d have enough wind to do without relying too much on our knackered engine.
We were also acutely aware that our boat was chartered and didn’t want to have to explain ourselves to the charter company back in Southampton! Despite this set back, we bedded down for the night in Studland Bay, a breathtaking spot that offered incredible views at dusk and dawn.
DAY 5 Solent Sailing: Monday
Today was our most challenging in many ways. We woke early to depart from Studland Bay and complete the last 30 odd miles to Hamble Point past the Needles and Alan Bay. Should have been straight forward enough but sadly there was no wind (a theme of our trip!) and our engine continued to play up. Not only was our engine and instruments down but we ran out of water, gas and… TEA BAGS. Shock horror. We had to use old-fashioned maps and charts to determine our depth and navigational route.
It was an eye-opener for me and I was impressed at how, even without an engine, our Skipper and the more experienced crewmembers managed to navigate us safely back to harbour. Overall, the trip definitely reengaged my interest in sailing and I’m already plotting my next offshore trip…
PRICE: Our 4 day Solent sailing cruise from Hamble to Weymouth cost £160 per person (charter only) but our fuel, mooring fees and onboard food only came to £50. Factor in a bit extra for meals ashore in the evening.
EXPERIENCE: The club encourages sailors of all levels to participate. If you’ve never sailed before and aren’t a member of a club yet, perhaps charter a boat with skipper to take you out and get a taste for it.
WHAT TO PACK: Pack light! I took a small hold all and threw in a towel, underwear, lots of thin and lightweight layers (quick to dry out), minimal toiletries and, of course, some chocolate to keep morale up.
LEARN TO SAIL: If this blog post inspires you, why not try out sailing at the London Corinthian Sailing Club? They often host ‘open events’ to give you a taste of sailing and there are regular club nights which are open to non-members.