Solent Sailing 1
On a brisk March morning and accompanied by my step daughter Magenta, I was delighted to join the RAFYC’s Easter Rally which saw sixteen yachts sailing in company from Hamble to Marchwood.
Fortunately the recent rain held off as we motored down the Hamble River on Squadron Leader David Le Mare’s yacht ‘Lady Penelope’, a Swedish built Maxi 34.
Our passage took us out onto Southampton Water where our skipper swiftly unfurled our mainsail.
‘It’s new,’ he smiled, before doing likewise with the genoa.
In fact Lady Penelope was extremely well maintained, and as we discovered, a comfy yet lively yacht, its sail handling systems being simplicity in itself.
I was lucky enough to helm for most of our outward journey which tested our skills as the breeze, NE 4 to 5, was right on the nose, and although this necessitated tacking all the way the exercise quickly blew the winter cobwebs away.
Magenta was allocated responsibility for the starboard genoa winch and I watched anxiously as she used three different winch handles, none of which fortunately, went over the side.
The breeze was strong enough to give us quite a heal in the gusts, but the fourth member of our party, Admiral of the club, John Chitson was excellently sheltered by the boat’s windshield and canopy, and there was plenty of seating for us all.
Southampton Water is actually an excellent choice of venue on an inclement spring day being sheltered enough to avoid the flying spray of open sea waves while at the same time sufficiently wide to prevent shore structures acting as a wind break.
There was plenty on the water to keep us on our toes ranging from club sailing dinghies hugging the shore to a big bulk carrier which gave us a little toot, no doubt to remind us that it was restricted in its ability to manoeuvre as it had a tug attached to either end.
With the rising tide behind us we made a good passage time of just under two hours which was long enough as fingers were getting increasingly chilly.
We found that most of our companions had already arrived having opted to motor sail, a wise choice perhaps for the last bit as the spring tide had turned and shallows were becoming more frequent close in.
There was space for us on the moorings and Marchwood YC clubhouse was a short walk away.
Bright and airy, we were given a warm welcome in relaxed surrounding although their catering was a bit overwhelmed by our numbers, and we were confused by the bar accepting bank cards for drinks but demanding that food was paid for by cash.
The return journey being downwind was quieter but no less uneventful as it was Magenta’s turn to helm. But I need not have worried as under our skipper’s expert instruction she soon had Lady Penelope perfectly goose winged.
‘I’ve also taught RAF students to fly helicopters,’ he added in passing.
The fun continued right up to the very end, as by now the water was pouring out of the River Hamble requiring the skipper to demonstrate highly skilled reversing onto the pontoon with Magenta and I energetically jumping ashore to get a turn on with the mooring lines as quickly as possible.
The following day, as part of the centenary celebrations to mark the RAF100 a parade of sail was conducted past Calshot, the original base of the RAFYC.
It was a fabulous start to the season and both of us realised we were extremely privileged to have been in such excellent company and we owe a big thank you to the Royal Air Force Yacht Club for arranging it all.