DAY 16 – Thursday 5 May 2022 – Portland to Cowes

Miles logged: 53
Total miles logged: 526
Days since leaving Fleetwood: 16
Days at sea: 11

It turned out that we should have sailed this leg yesterday. Yesterday we took a rest day in Portland and there was some wind; there was no wind today. We did toy with setting sail yesterday but after a lie-in we’d missed the opportunity to ride the tidal streams all the way along the coast. Today, once again, there was fine sunny weather but almost no wind. We are finding at the moment that by setting out early in the morning we can gain the benefit of at least six hours of favourable tide and that with the tide, and engine power, we can cruise at over 7 knots for all or most of that time. So by setting out early and getting the tides right we can expect to cover rather more than forty miles, relatively easily and comfortably, when there is insufficient wind to sail. 

We left Portland Marina, after our pleasant day off, at 0700 by which time the sun was up and we needed sunglasses from the off. A Royal Navy ship, HMS Duncan, was anchored on the other side of Weymouth Bay as we emerged from Portland Harbour via the North Ship Channel. Once away from the great harbour we began to feel the east-going tidal stream under us and were soon making 8 kts over the ground. For 18 miles or so we are able to savour an unimpeded view of the spectacular Dorset coastline illuminated by the golden morning sun. Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and miles of spectacular cliffs slipped by.

Pagets Lady off the cliffs of the Dorset coastline

St Albans’s Head is the last promontory before the great expanse of Poole Bay and as is so often the case in the neighbourhood of these features a tidal race forms here. In the light airs we felt that we didn’t need to make a detour to avoid any chop. As the sea coming up to the Head was so flat it was possible to make out very clearly the line at which the race began to kick up and once within it it was surprising to see the extent to which the race caused the sea to become disturbed. If anything it was more severe than we had experienced around Portland Bill. 

St Alban’s Head
Entering the race off St Albans Head …
… and within it. The sea would become smooth again a quarter of a mile later

After St Alban’s Head it was a 15-mile straight line across Poole Bay towards the Isle of Wight. Passing Swanage, we could make out the Old Harry rocks, Poole, Christchurch and Bournemouth. The western tip of the Isle of Wight is formed of vast cliffs of chalk and these came into view many miles out. I was eagerly anticipating seeing the Needles for the first time and they were soon visible, as was their lighthouse, but they seemed tiny under the cliffs which towered above. 

The western tip of the Isle of Wight

Closer in, I deviated a little from the buoyed channel to take some close-up photos and video of the Needles and of the cliffs. I enjoyed that very much.

The Needles and the Needles lighthouse
Looking west

We had planned to make for Yarmouth Marina but throughout our crossing of Poole Bay we had  continued to enjoy a considerable lift from the tide so we agreed to keep going, along the north-west coast of the island, heading for Cowes. That was a good decision; the western arm of the Solent is quite narrow so the tidal stream there is accelerated; for us that meant a ground speed of in excess of ten knots for periods. So we reached Cowes quickly. We now have eight or nine miles fewer to cover tomorrow which will be useful because we must reach Brighton where we have committed to be tomorrow in order to meet up with family.

Cowes is a great, perhaps the greatest, centre of yachting in England and it is home to several fine marinas. We chose Cowes Yacht Haven due to its proximity to the sea and large number of berths for visitors. Berthing was not straightforward because the tide runs hard through the pontoons and, by the time we arrived, there was some wind. But we were soon tied up safely and could then take in the atmosphere of the place and imagine what it must be like at the height of the season when yachts must at times raft up to five deep.

The very smart Cowes Yacht Haven
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