Being asked to prepare a Hamble to Weymouth passage plan for my Coastal Skipper exam got me thinking about doing the trip for real, and the recent bank holiday weekend seemed the ideal time to try it.
I had a strong crew in Richard Ash, Judith Hankey and Debbie Roberts and the weather was looking reasonable. The only problem was the tides: they were west flowing from 0400 to 1000 before turning against us for the afternoon. I didn’t think my crew would thank me for a 3am start on the Saturday morning, so suggested we planned to get to Yarmouth on the Friday evening ready to make an early start on the Saturday morning from there to make the most of the west-bound tide.
Having confirmed that my crew were up for the challenge, the next step was to firm up the passage plans to cover the rest of the weekend and request a temporary upgrade from Inshore to Coastal skipper from Skipper Officer, Tony Riley. Tony couldn’t have been more helpful or supportive and, after asking for more details of refuge ports (Poole and Portland) and obtaining a second opinion from Trevor Nicholls, who suggested leaving Yarmouth no later than 0700, the plan was approved.
On the Friday evening I had hoped to be away from Haslar by 1800 but the bank holiday traffic on the M25 and M3 put paid to that and it was 1930 before we slipped – and only then because Richard and Judith had completed the start-up checks while they were waiting for us.
Friday evening: Haslar - Yarmouth
The four-hour voyage to Yarmouth was uneventful and we enjoyed a chili on the way before mooring up on the yellow pontoon at 2330. It was nice to get in a couple of hours night sailing and we enjoyed a tequila-flavoured beer that had originally been planned to go with the chili before hitting the bunks (or at least I did, the rest of the crew were not convinced to take the Mexican theme this far and chose their own night-caps).
Saturday: Yarmouth - Weymouth
We motored for an hour, as far as the “Bridge” buoy and then once we were clear of the Shingles, hoisted sail and set our course to 245T for a 19 mile leg that would take us to a waypoint two mile off St Albans Head and clear of both the Lulworth gunnery range (not that any firing was expected on a bank holiday weekend, though I checked anyway) but more importantly to stay clear of the St Albans race. The wind was a rather cold NW4 and we initially made good progress but the wind dropped at about the same time as the tide turned and, only making 3kts over the ground, decided to start the engine. With the engine’s help we made our waypoint on time at 1100 and altered course to 300T to cross Weymouth Bay. By 1400 we were on the leading line into Weymouth Harbour and by 1440 tied up on the waiting pontoon in plenty of time for the 1600 Town Bridge raising. By now the weather was gloriously sunny and Quartette attracted many admiring stares from the passing tourists.
Like Haslar, Weymouth is a Dean & Reddyhoff marina and when I phoned in for a berth I mentioned we were based in Haslar. The lady I spoke to told me that it was her first day working in Weymouth and she had previously worked at Haslar and knew Quartette and Spellbinder. She came out on the marina RIB to meet us while we were waiting for the bridge to open and we had a pleasant chat – even more pleasant when she confirmed that we didn’t have to pay because PYC still had free nights left as D&R berth-holders.
We knew when the bridge was about to open, partly by the tannoy announcement and light signals but mainly by the mad dash by cars and pedestrians to get across! It only took a few minutes to get into the marina and onto our berth. The shower block isn’t as convenient as Haslar, but is certainly up to D&R standards, and after we had freshened up we headed into the town centre and Manbo’s Bistro (the #1 Weymouth restaurant on Tripadvisor) for dinner.
Sunday: Weymouth - Poole
Sunday was a more relaxed start because we were aiming for the 1000 bridge opening. We were possibly a bit keen to slip because we were underway by 0940 and at the bridge by 0943! Over the next 15 minutes we were joined by other yachts with the close quarters maneuvering resembling the start of a RORC race, but with pontoons to avoid as well as other boats. Once the bridge went up the chaos resolved into a orderly queue as we all headed out through Weymouth Harbour.
Our passage plan to Poole was to stay close inshore to minimize the small amount of tide against us, on the assumption that it would be slack by the time we got to St Albans race. I was watching the couple of yachts ahead of us with some trepidation, but the sea was slight when we got there and we were soon around the headland and passing Old Harry Rocks.
On entering Poole Harbour we took a detour to the left – not because we were lost as suggested in the previous Mainsheet – but for Richard and Judith to show us a sheltered place to anchor should we ever wish to do so. On this occasion we had a berth booked in Poole Quay Boat Haven so retraced our steps and headed to The Quay and dinner in the Poole Arms, who do wonderful seafood (especially their Smoked Haddock Pot!)
Monday: Poole – Haslar
It was a bit murky as we slipped just before 0900 on the bank holiday Monday to head back to Haslar but once we were out into Poole Bay the wind picked up to a steady SW5 allowing us to make good progress with just the genoa for an hour before adding some mainsail (and a gybe preventer!).
We were across the bay in a little over three hours, allowing us to catch the flood tide past Hurst Castle and tick off the familiar landmarks and buoys back to Haslar, arriving at 1630.
The lesson I learned is that it is perfectly feasible to push the boundaries a bit over a long weekend rather than staying in the Solent – both in terms of sailing plans and the support from more experienced members of the club. All you need to do is to plan carefully, then ask for advice and permission from Tony Riley. Setting yourself a bit of a challenge builds experience and confidence. Hopefully this will encourage other inshore skippers to go that little bit further!
Steve Greenham - 27 May 2016