To the Med via the French canals

N 50° 50' W 00° 46'

Chasing Cap'n Jack Sparrow into Chichester Harbour

September 29, 2011

On Monday the 26th, with Torquil and his friends back at work in the City, we took our leave of Lymington, sailing quietly off our pontoon and out into the Solent. By lunchtime it became clear that the 2.5 knots we were making under sail were exactly counteracted by the 2.5 knots of tide running against us. We were pleasantly sailing along but going nowhere!

Motoring gingerly into Southampton Water, dodging the odd supertanker, we made for Hamble, the epicentre of the well-heeled sailing gentry. Having said that, we found the marina facilities to be the best we’d encountered so far – even complimentary champagne in the loos (I jest of course!).

Just one more passage to make now – Chichester was on the horizon. It began quietly. motoring with no wind and smooth seas. Our main concern was to avoid the myriad ferries plying into and out of Portsmouth. For the first time we were able to use our AIS tracking system to see various large vessels on our laptop chart-plotter, moving in real-time. This sytem picks up VHF signals which such vessels are required to broadcast every few minutes giving information on who they are and where they are going. It was particularly interesting to observe the various errors in the system, like ships going sideways across the chart, and appearing to collide because of the inflated size of the icons being used. I certainly wouldn’t like to navigate just by AIS alone!

As our journey progressed an old-fashioned three-masted square-rigger hove into view. Captained (we imagined) by Jack Sparrow, we tried to out-run her, but to no avail – they’ve obviously upgraded her with a diesel engine!

Crossing the dangerous Chichester Bar was no problem in such benign conditions. The sun was shining and there was a distinctively warm, Mediterranian feel to the day. We finally passed Jack Sparrow and headed further up the river to Chichester Marina, but there was one more drama to come.

We moored on the ‘holding pontoon’ outside the lock that leads into the marina so that we could visit the office to introduce ourselves. I’d already made arrangements to berth Gwennol here over the winter months. However when we returned to the boat we found ourselves hemmed in by a party of yachts the occupants of which had disappeared off to the resturant for lunch. As well as this, the tide had turned and water was rushing out of the open lock and swirling along the side of the pontoon.

Betsan and I did our level best to get Gwennol clear, but as soon as she turned her keels slightly against the flow she became jammed against one of the yachts, grinding against its teak rubbing strake. We fought valiently against the power of the stream, and with much grunting we finally got her clear, whereupon I repeated my Swansea Marina exit with another complete pirouette, only this time backwards!

Then I hammered through the turbulent lock and worked my way into our allocated berth – Betsan arriving panting from her run around the marina to catch us up! It was an adrenaline-inducing experience which left some minor scratches on Gwennol’s starbord side. However, we soon calmed down and took in the glorious beauty of our surroundings. We’d made a good decision to come to Chichester – such a lovely place.

So this first stage of our voyage is over, and looking back, so much has gone well. Sailing can be a ticky business because endless things can go wrong – and very quickly – when at sea. However, virtually all our safety, navigational and domestic ‘systems’ had worked well, we’d planned our passages successfully, and most important of all, the weather had not just been kind, but distinctly helpful. As many sailors will know – this is quite remarkable!

We’ve also been able to experience a fortnight of living aboard with Jac and, despite his abject fear of all forms of water, both he and we have survived! Indeed, life on board is actually very comfortable with heat, hotwater and a dependable system of electrical power on tap. I’m already looking forward to April next year when we set sail for France. In the meantime we’re going to explore Chichester Harbour via its numerous shoreside paths and its picturesque creeks, over the coming winter months.

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