Bembridge and the Isle of Wight

Duver Marina, Bembridge, has a bar on approach from the sea, not the kind you find in an Inn, a ledge of sand, mud or rock that sits close to or above chart datum, which at low or falling tide can be a real hazard. Sailors have a tendency to get stuck in both.

When we called the marina, the harbour master assured us we’d be fine with our draft of 2.3m as long as we waited until the tide was 3m over the bar. After this, he said, it was plenty deep enough the entire way to the marina. They even have a live sensor, and as long as you can get internet connection, you can monitor the height of the clearance in real time and don’t have make your own calculations. We waited at anchor until we could see 3m above the bar on the iPad, then confidently made our way towards the buoys marking the safe passage into harbour.

0.3m under us as we flowed over the bar, and it got shallower. Fear and trembling filled the cockpit as we trepidaciously progressed as slowly as possible, gliding past a beach a few feet away with 0.0m under us, touching the sand as cruisers sped past churning up a wake in our path. By the time we reached the pontoon 20 minutes later, we were gibbering wrecks, eyes bulging, hearts pumping at 20 knots, both shaking like a bucket full of marbles in an earthquake.

It was Friday evening and after getting a concise run down on how sparse and unreliable the local bus service is from our neighbours on the pontoon, Mike & Val (sailing with their lovely red & white border collie Ted), we thought it wiser to hire a car for the weekend. We just caught the boss of Value Rent-a-Car in Sandown as he was locking up shop and he had one car free, a Skoda Octavia for £30 a day, and we could keep the car until Tuesday morning for the price of three days, no deposit, and he came and picked us up from Bembridge. What a result, and what a great guy he was too. Owns a car body-shop so any bumps and scratches his guys fix and I’m glad to report that the only marks the Octavia returned with were seagull poo!

What a difference having wheels compared to our normal mode of transport in harbour towns (our legs) and as Duver Marina was a few miles from Bembridge village, we were able to forage for provisions in comfort. We stocked up the fridge and fruit bowl and replete with home made Spaghetti Bolognese we took an evening stroll across the sand dunes and along the local St. Helen’s beach at low tide, marveling at how on earth we’d managed to make it in.

Cpn Jack & Fergus at Bembridge Marina, Isle of Wight

Cpn Jack & Fergus at Duver Marina, Isle of Wight

Our freezer has been running badly the last couple of weeks and process of elimination, with the help of Clive’s brother David on the phone, revealed the gas refrigerant needs replacing. Sigh! In the meantime it has been slowly getting warmer as it has struggled to keep going. Averaging -8C and no chance of finding a refrigerant engineer on the Isle of Wight, let alone during Cowes Week, we decided the wisest course of action was to purchase a small stand alone domestic freezer which, once the yacht’s freezer is repaired by David when we get to Torquay, we could usefully transfer to the cottage in Harwich.

It took most of the afternoon to achieve our aim and by the time we got back to base, it was time to set off once again for Cowes and to Sarah & Rob Peace’s house, pals I met when I came back from travelling in 1993 and who I’ve not seen for about 14 years. It was brilliant, a big rambling house, four children, Barney 17, Hugo 15 (the only two I’d met before), Willow 13 and Phoebe 9, and it was fantastic to see them all. Rob’s cousin Andy (a British Olympic sailor) was staying too and they were both racing all weekend and most of next week. We had a lovely dinner (beef casserole and lots of trimmings) in the garden before hitting the town centre, which was like a festival in full flow on the first day of the famous Cowes Week. Thousands of people celebrating sailing in all its forms, families and loads of youth which was invigorating to see. After Rob’s comment, “Great to see you and you look great! I was terrified you might have become an old woman!” I was almost feeling youthful myself. It reminded me, make the most of life.

After breakfast the next morning, we walked to the Royal Yacht Club to watch the start of Rob & Andy’s Sunday race, before heading back to Distant Drum ready for an evening seeing Clive’s old friend Lucy in Bembridge, who he hadn’t seen in fifteen years…..

Cowes Week mmmmmadness out there in the Solent!

Cowes Week mmmmmadness out there in the Solent!

We picked up barbecue and salad ingredients and went in hunt of Lucy’s beach shack along Bembridge beach. What a spot, beautiful view along the coast and hidden among trees and shrubs on a hill. In fact the whole shack was a hill in itself as it was subsiding into the beach. It was time for Clive to be reminiscing instead of me and we had a fab evening as the sun set with Lucy and her little dog Ludo. The Co-op sausages and burgers were actually very good and we managed to roast sweetcorn and tomatoes on the barbecue to perfection. We arranged to dine at Lucy’s bungalow the following evening, which she’d moved into this year.

Clive and Lucy at the beach shack

Clive and Lucy at the beach shack

Lucy's Bembridge beach shack view

Lucy’s Bembridge beach shack view

Small world moment – Lucy’s sister Emma and her husband Paul are best friends of Sarah and Rob in Cowes. What are the chances!

Monday was overcast and downright foggy in places as we spent the day touring the Island. A welcome reviving Ice cream in Ventnor was delicious, and though the fog curtailed our appreciation of the beauty of the Isle of Wight, we enjoyed our day none the less, made even better by a delicious lasagna in the evening.

By Tuesday we’d recovered our nerve enough to brave an exit from Bembridge, and with baited breath took our leave of Duver Marina. Slowly slowly, depth alarm beeping the entire way, we wove through the marker buoys at high tide and over the bar into the Solent. What a relief! We anchored for a nerve soothing chamomile infusion and considered our options. We wanted ideally to get into Cowes for a couple of days however it was just too busy in the main harbour, and too shallow and too tight to manoeuvre in marinas further down river . We chose instead to sail to Portsmouth and to Gunwharf Quay in the shadow of the Spinaker Tower. You have to gain permission from the Queen’s Harbour Master to cross the busy harbour in to the Quay and it was quite hair-raising berthing into a tight spot surrounded by expensive fiberglass vessels along D pontoon, nestling amongst seafaring ghosts and large racing yachts getting ready for The Fastnet on Sunday.

Distant Drum in Gunwharf Marina, Portsmouth, dwarfed by the ocean racing yachts

Distant Drum  (with the red stripe) in Gunwharf Quay, Portsmouth, dwarfed by the ocean racing yachts

Gunwharf Quay is a special little marina with a huge shopping and eating centre built alongside, all new and shiny with water features and old warship’s figureheads prominently displayed. In contrast with Eastbourn, this has real soul. Centuries and layers of Naval history thrumming through the water. Wide pontoons with a smattering of decent outdoor furniture making a comfortable place to stop, and great showers!

HMS Victory being refurbished at Portsmouth Naval Yard

HMS Victory being refurbished at Portsmouth Naval Yard

A minor figure with a major figurehead

A minor figure with a major figurehead

HMS Warrior prow with refurbished figurehead

HMS Warrior prow with refurbished figurehead

pn' Jack & Fergus dwarfed by a major ship's figurehead with the Spinnaker Tower in the background

Cpn’ Jack & Fergus dwarfed by a major ship’s figurehead with the Spinnaker Tower in the background

Cpn Jack & Fergus relxaing on the midday cannon

Cpn Jack & Fergus relxaing on the midday cannon

Where to next…..

Bog watch

Duver had lovely shower cubicles, with plenty of hooks for hanging towels, clothes, bags, a soap dish (a rarity in marina showers) and little bench seat. Let down by the shower itself, fixed height, one temperature (hot) and push in button giving 20 second bursts of water, A 2 overall.

Portsmouth Gunwharf Quay gets a 4. Lovely bathroom cubicles like your own en suite. Would have got a 5 if the shower heads were moveable.

A Thames Barge silhouetted in the sunset at Gunwharf Marina, Portsmouth

A Thames Barge ‘Alice” silhouetted in the sunset at Gunwharf Marina, Portsmouth


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