Portsmouth Old Harbour looked intriguing from our vantage point at Gunwharf Quay, so on our last evening we decided to explore and it was a delight. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area. We meandered towards the Isle of Wight Ferry Port and from there we headed across to the old harbour walls and defences from where you get a magnificent view of the historic harbour entrance and across The Solent to the Isle of Wight.
Rather disappointing formulaic pubs, owned by Fullers and Greene King breweries, dominated the outer harbour. Though tumbling hanging baskets looked beautiful from afar, close up the actual nature of the establishments became clear. One of them The Bridge, was downright hostile, serving vinegar in place of Fullers Pride, and the landlord couldn’t give a stuff when he begrudgingly stomped off to change the barrel, leaving one of his unhappy staff to eventually pour out the contents of our glasses, which no doubt cleared the drains, and pour us a replacement pint.
We abandoned all hope of a pleasant local atmosphere and walked back through the old town. The cathedral was magnificent and the architecture was rather similar to Harwich Old Town, not surprising given their respective ages and naval histories. Much nicer pubs here though all of Portsmouth seemed to portray London prices in the hostelries. Sigh!
Friday morning and we cast off into the harbour, having to slip our extremely tight berth between four large racing yachts and a huge expensive super-yacht to port, whose owner, when asked if he might like to stand by with a ball fender as we departed, grumpily muttered, ‘get the marina staff to do it!’ We ignored him, and so did the marina staff, and we made sure to flow closely past as we made our way out.
The wind, for a change, was in our favour. It was raining however and visibility was limited, never good at the best of times and particularly troubling in The Solent during Cowes Week. Our initial obstacles were the Ferries, the Hovercrafts, the Naval ships and the tankers. We soon left these behind and instead were navigating through hundreds of competing yachts of all shapes and sizes. Our course was perfect and we rode on through at a good speed, reaching Yarmouth, at the north western end of the Isle of Wight, by early evening.
We settled into a good berth before locking up and catching two buses to join our friends in Cowes for the grand finale fireworks of Cowes Week. The bus journey from Yarmouth to Newport was far more hair-raising than our sail through the hordes of yachts, as the island’s B roads were more akin to ploughed fields. A lovely new bus having its suspension sorely tested, as were our backsides!
We arrived at Rob and Sarah’s house where lashings of food was laid on before we all trooped to the sea front in time for the Tornado aircraft flypast and display. It was loud and it was scary!!!
The fireworks were great and a fitting end to the week of racing. Rob’s team had been leading in their class all week however on the last day came a disappointing fourth – still excellent in our books and we felt very proud of him.
The following morning they lent us a car and we went to explore Osbourne House where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set up their own home in the 1800s. Set in acres of gardens with its own private beach, the place was loosely based upon the Doges Palace in Venice. Albert designed many features himself and was a real creative character. He died young of Typhus at 42 and it’s rumoured Victoria blamed their eldest son ‘Bertie’ who was a philandering tyke whose loose living and Albert’s attempts to tidy up after him led indirectly to his contracting the disease. Superb house and grounds and a monument to the grand days of ‘Empire’.
Back to Yarmouth on the bouncy bus that evening and the following day we invited our pals to lunch aboard Distant Drum to thank them for looking after us so generously in Cowes. The highlight of the day, apart from spending it with good friends, was the heaving in to view of the Fastnet race fleet, thundering down the Solent from Cowes, enormous sails set on their course to the legendary rock off the Irish coast at Cork, and from there the homeward leg to the finish line at Plymouth.
Later in the afternoon there was a kid’s regatta in the harbour during which a shout went up for the Lifeboat to be launched. A Fastnet yacht was floundering on a falling tide after going hard aground on the shingle bank lying to the west of the Needles Channel. An appalling navigational error, it turned out it was an American owned and crewed boat ironically called “Lucky”, which had only last month won the transatlantic New York to Cowes race. With 18 crew aboard, the lifeboat stood by for about five hours until the rising tide lifted them off and they limped tail between legs into Southampton for a haul out and inspection. There’s one navigator who’ll not work again!
With this in mind, we cautiously departed from Yarmouth the following day on a rising tide in the early afternoon. With one eye firmly on the chart plotter and the other on the shingle bank to our starboard side, we sailed past the Needles and on to Weymouth. An enjoyable sail with a few deep tacks en route, we reached harbour at 9pm, both of us tired though happy. And what a delightful place Weymouth is….
Yarmouth gets a ZERO! Shower tokens had to be purchased for £1.30, which gave you six minutes of water. The slots for the shower tokens were outside each individual shower and the countdown began the moment you insert the token. The floors were worn with yellow and brown stains showing through the blue and white vinyl flooring. We showered aboard in our lovely shower!