In 2006, I was laid up for several weeks and wrote a series of articles for the Yateley Offshore Sailing Club newsletter based on my experiences in visiting some of the lesser known anchorages, creeks and harbours around the Solent, Isle of Wight and Poole Harbour plus a few further afield. This series gathers together these articles and is reproduced for the benefit of Yateley Offshore Sailing Cub Members (YOSC). Most of the photographs come from my own portfolio, others supplied by YOSC Members and a few culled from the public domain. The details in the narrative should be tempered with caution due to the passage of time since written. Current almanacs and charts should be consulted if in doubt but the notes should give some useful guidance. The articles are by no means exhaustive and are indeed ongoing but by being adventurous and more confident as you experience these "Creeks" you will build up memories of your own adventures.
One day whilst laid up with one arm and a leg in plaster my neighbour Ken Budd, a very early member of YOSC dropped in and suggested I bide my time writing a series of articles titled “Up the Creek” on all those creeks, ditches and rivers I had experienced over my sailing years. Then early one morning at dawn whilst sleeping on the settee downstairs still recovering from an accident most of you will have by now heard about (see YOSC article “Tying Knots – the Adat Way”), I awoke to the usual sound of the birds dawn chorus and my mind wandered. Soon words came flooding through describing my many sailing memories of those times both good and bad and I immediately started writing. Ken had sowed the seed and I only hoped I could do it justice.
I suppose it all started as we all did with a Pedallo “at sea” or realistically just off the local beach or maybe even earlier with that model boat in a puddle we “Captained”. My sailing or motoring as it then was started in the late 1980’s with a 27 foot twin engine Fairey Marine Dell Quay Ranger motor boat owned by another club member, Carole Willis. “Sea Ranger” as she was called was berthed on a swinging mooring at Wicormarine in Portsmouth Harbour and it was then that I gained my sea legs. The late Norman Willis and I passaged many miles in what turned out to be a not too reliable vessel but the experience gained both in and around the Solent and across the Channel was to be treasured. Once bitten, my experience then passed on to sailing vessels large, small, bilge, long, fin, cats, sloops, ketches, not forgetting more power, etc. and my sailing areas varied from many areas in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Sardinia, the Balearics, North & West coasts of France, West coast of Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Irish Sea, West & East coasts of England and not forgetting the good old South coast. A nice large deep fin keeled centrally heated and well crewed yacht is definitely ideal for long passages especially from Marina to Marina supplying both electricity and water although a long keel is an advantage in deep seas. With both speed and comfort passages are made in no time but to me they seem on reflection to be somewhat clinical and miss something.
The advantages of having a shoal-draught vessel in and around the Solent are many but most importantly we may visit those moorings that are mostly free, natural, quiet and undisturbed by the likes of Sunsail. One may also observe the local wildlife on both sea & shore and of course some glorious sunsets & sunrises without interruption. Of course this type of experience takes full advantage of the Dinghy and it helps to have a reliable outboard. Have you experienced porpoises or dolphins under the hull in the Solent yet? Shoal-draught cruising is sometimes referred to by the Americans as “Gunkholing” but I prefer to call it “Ditch Crawling”. Many moorings are not accessible by deep fin keeled vessels, some not even by deep bilge vessels but most with some careful navigation are accessible to those who have the patience and confidence to “have a go”. This is where the benefits of having a vessel that “takes the ground” come into their own. Looking at the chart with all those rocks so close to each other is enough to put you off straight away but study carefully and you will see that its not too difficult really. The rewards are well worth it. My experiences on just the East coast on a catamaran sailing past the many marshes, through the Maplin and Goodwin Sands, the river Crouch for Burnham, the rivers Stour and Orwell at Harwich and of course the many treacherous sands at the entrance of the Thames have given me memories that I will never forget. Try reading “The Magic of the Swatchways” by Maurice Griffiths for it was that book that brought back so many memories of just some of the waters on the East coast I had sailed. Most of all are the memories of nature itself, the changing colours of the sky, sunsets & sunrises, the weather, the sea life, the many different birds some even making our vessel “home” for a few days but most of all I found that one can only get really close to nature when near the shore and that’s Ditch Crawling to a fine art.
I’ve sailed bilge & triple keel yachts, shoal draught power craft and not forgetting catamarans all using their draught to maximum advantage. As most of you know my first yacht a Westerly Chieftain named Hector was bilge and the latest (our yacht) Adat is a lifting keel vessel drawing somewhat less than 3 feet with the keel raised (even with the Drinks locker full) so we can take the ground be it mud or shingle and gives me the opportunity to get even closer to nature. Running aground on passage is embarrassing but not so when deliberately planned for example an overnight stay or maybe a BBQ beside the vessel (see photo above). Be adventurous and have a go. You may be out of your comfort zone but the rewards are many, the memories last a lifetime and the experience gained gives more pleasure & confidence than any book or course can give.
Over the few months laid up at home I wrote a brief article on many of those creeks I had actually visited. The list is not by all means extensive and some moorings with some careful navigation may be suitable for fin keel vessels or those that cannot take the ground. The aim of each article is not to teach you to navigate or as they say “suck eggs” but show a little interest in the mooring or area. The emphasis is not so much the cost of a mooring in the characterless, expensive confines of a Marina but getting back to and observing nature at its best and closest, getting the most out of a shoal draught vessel. You never know, I might see you there some day!
My thanks go to Ken Budd for his help, advice and encouragement in my research for some of the articles.
Warning: The Chart extracts may well not be up-to-date in reality. Content of the articles are also now dated so please beware of caution.
The Series is split into 3 parts.
This part covering local areas on the South Coast centering around the Solent.
The second part covering the Isle of Wight
The third part covering areas Further Afield.