Solent Gaffers


Getting to Yarmouth for the Regatta weekend

Sea Filly's trip to Yarmouth
©J Tall

The day we went to Yarmouth

The Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival held every June on the Isle of Wight seems to have legendary status. Having attended as a family over 15 years ago in our Norfolk Gipsy when my daughters were just 4 and 6, the highlight was for us all to dress up as pirates and try and win the fancy dress competition. This year, the daughters have flown the nest, so I decided to revisit Yarmouth with my chum, Caroline, in our Norfolk Smuggler- without the dressing up!

Due to other commitments, we both only had one day to do the passage from Emsworth to Yarmouth. It was “only” 26 nm according to the chart. I had meticulously made a passage plan for our route and it all looked doable: we would leave at 0915, punch the tide out of Chichester Harbour, catch the west flowing tide just as it turned at the Bar and we would be there by mid-afternoon. Or so I thought…

My day started very early as eldest daughter needed a lift to Gatwick at 4.30am. Being en route to the coast, I thought that would give me a head start to get the boat all ready for our passage and possibly squeeze in a quick power nap, and that part worked well. However, at 0700 Caroline texted to say that there were few trains out of London Victoria, and she would not arrive before 0900. My heart sank and suddenly my passage plan all seemed a bit academic. Being a novice sailor, I felt it was important to give Caroline a full briefing on safety etc before we left and there was no way it could be rushed. So, we eventually left at 1015, spirits high at the prospect of a weekend away from chores and commitments, if both a little tired.

We motored out of the mouth of Chichester Harbour and roller coastered over the Bar. It was relief to finally be able to turn west into calmer waters and get the sails up. Wind was a steady F3, and with all sails rigged, we were off. I kept a watchful eye on the shipping lane and made sure we stayed well out of it, but as we neared Portsmouth Harbour entrance there seemed to be a constant stream of them and I felt it best to wait until the coast was clear even though others were making a dash for it.

Meanwhile, Caroline was beginning to look a bit green and I realised I hadn’t thought to pre-prepare food or drink and we were already 3 hours into the passage. Caroline not being able, it fell to me to make sandwiches. Being still relatively new to the boat, I had not managed to practice using the tiller pilot, but after trial and error and the boat doing a very interesting slalom course, she eventually found her groove and I darted down to the galley, popping up like a meerkat every two seconds to check the coast was clear. Lunch did the trick and we both perked up and relaxed as Cowes came into sight and then the final leg to Yarmouth – that is after three transatlantic liners came out of Southampton water and thankfully turned east behind us.

By this time, we were 6 hours into our journey and the tide was now against us. I pored over my trusty copy of Bruce’s Solent tides and decided the it best to hug the shore where there was less tide and use the engine to help us along. We zig zagged our way slowly but surely towards Yarmouth, tacking as soon as we hit the 2m depth mark and by the end Caroline had tacking two sails at once down to a fine art. The weather seemed to improve the further west we sailed, and our spirits were buoyed at the prospect of food and rest. We finally arrived at 9pm to a beautiful setting sun and still waters within the marina and it seemed hard to believe how it could have taken so long. The gaffers were all ensconced in a sea shanty evening in the local sailing club and had kindly saved us some supper and as we entered into the warm festive atmosphere amidst cheers of “Hurrah, you made it!”, we felt a bit like pirates ourselves”.

Jo Tall, Solent Area

11 Jun 2019