Commissioning a new boat can be exciting, enlightening, challenging, sometimes frightening, often frustrating, but mostly a delightful experience. At least that's how it's been for Paul and me for the last few weeks as we go through the process with our new Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, the latest variable-draft cruising boat built by Northshore Yachts in England. We took delivery of our new baby in mid-March at the Northshore Shipyard which is located on beautiful Chichester Harbour on the south coast of England.
Chichester Harbour is a fabulous cruising ground which reminds us very much of Chesapeake Bay (found on the east coast of the US). Like the Chesapeake, Chichester Harbour is one of the country's top yachting centres. It is an area of great natural beauty (an official AONB – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), much of the country's important history took place here, and for cruising sailors, there are numerous protected creeks and rivers to explore. In fact, many local sailors never leave its embracing arms. With 17 miles of deep-water channels dotted with picturesque historic towns and villages, great anchorages and mooring fields, modern marinas, and numerous welcoming sailing clubs, why would anyone ever leave?
The fact that it is connected to the Solent, the stretch of water lying between the Isle of Wight and the south coast of mainland England, another huge sailing Mecca (home of Cowes Week, Around the Island Race, etc.) further expands its appeal and potential for cruising adventures. So as we took the new boat through her paces, learned new ropes, read numerous manuals directing us how to push numerous buttons on top-notch electronic gear, conquered docking a 7-foot longer boat (our previous boat was a Southerly 42), discovered the boat's idiosyncrasies, raised and lowered sails, tested and re-tested all the gear from freezer to chartplotter, we got to do it in one of the loveliest and yet enticingly challenging cruising grounds we have encountered in quite some time.
The first thing that one has to get one's head around when cruising in this area is the dramatic importance of the tides. For our friends living and boating on Canada's ocean coasts, the art of dealing with tides is old hat. But Paul and I are Great Lakes sailors and even though we have sailed over 76,000 nm to various countries in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Middle East, they've been places with minimal, if any, tide.
The tides on the south coast of England are forces to be reckoned with. Whole harbours dry out at low water leaving boats inside sitting on the mud! Whoa! There is a pretty different mindset here with regards to the definition of a safe harbour. Many marinas have locks so the boats inside stay afloat but at certain periods of the tide, the entrance channel may dry out. And the currents associated with these tides can stop you dead in your tracks if you try to sail against them. You can't just decide you're going to head out at a certain time and come back when it suits you. The tide rules! Weather conditions come second as a determining factor for when or if and where you are planning to go.
Paul and I are members of Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons (CPS) and keep all our CPS course manuals on board so it was back to the books to refresh ourselves on Tides and Currents, Set and Drift, Springs and Neaps. But as I said, Chichester Harbour is a beautiful and protected cruising ground, so it is a good place for getting your feet wet with regards to new aspects of boating.
Since we wanted to test out the boat's anchor windlass, we ventured out to Pilsey Island for our first night at anchor. Although it is only about 10 minutes from the dock at the Northshore Shipyard, it is a very secluded and quiet anchorage with good holding. It was just past low tide and rising when we arrived. On the exposed mud flats and shingle (gravel) beaches surrounding us wading birds picked and twittered, flocks of water birds swirled and twirled, and seals slipped and slid as we successfully dropped the hook against the backdrop of a stunning sunset.
Since the water was going to rise another 3 metres by high tide we had to set a 5:1 scope for the depth at high water, not based on what the depth metre was currently reading. We also had to account for the change in tidal current which would be strong. We had a lovely relaxing evening and checked off "Test Anchor System" on our list.
Our next outing was to the picturesque village of Bosham (pronounced Bozzum), believed to be the birth and burial place of the last Saxon King – Harold, King of England & Earl of Wessex. It was from Bosham that Harold sailed for Normandy in 1064 and was defeated and killed by William the Conqueror. Both he and Bosham Church are depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. A copy of this famous tapestry is displayed in the old church here. Bosham is also home of an excellent pub, The Anchor Bleu. It was here that Paul decided that while in England we should plan all future outings to ports with good pubs so Dell Quay, Newtown, Beaulieu Wootton Creek and Cowes were added to the list. It was also in Bosham that we dried the boat out for the first time. Another test to be made. Our Southerly 49, has a full retractable keel so at low water with the keel up we sit flat on the bottom resting on the large metal grounding plate that's built into the hull and constitutes part of the ballast as well. The weight is also supported by the skeg protecting the propellor. The rudders are built to take load but the boat doesn't rest on them.
Boats drawing up to 2 m (6 ft. 6 in.) can dry out against Bosham Quay in soft mud. Access is two hours either side of HW. There is also a drying grid – a concrete platform on the bottom at one end of the quay – for those that want to scrub the bottom. The quay master can provide fender boards and a pressure hose to visiting boats.
We timed our arrival at the Bosham Quay just before high tide and tied up with fenders and fender boards out. Once again we had to take into account the tidal range so left our dock lines long enough so the boat would ride down to the bottom at low tide. It is not good form to tie too short and find your boat hanging in mid-air halfway down the quay at low tide! She settled beautifully in the late afternoon while we watched from quayside enjoying a nice long lunch at the pub. However it did feel strange to see our lovely new boat with her bottom in the mud – but what freedom! We could go anywhere and not worry about depth.
"Next weekend is a good weekend to sail to Newtown Creek. There's a pub tide," advised local sailor Pete Jordan who with his wife, Yevette, were beside us on the quay scrubbing the bottom of their Moody 42, M'Lady, on the drying grid.
"A pub tide?" We were both puzzled by this one.
Pete's wife Yvette explained. "There's a great pub in the village at Newtown on the Isle of Wight which is an area protected by the National Trust and has the most beautiful anchorage. But if you get a low tide in the evening the creek head dries out and you can't get back to the anchorage with your dinghy so you can't go to the pub. Next week, the tides are perfect for getting across the shallow water of the bar at the entrance to Chichester Harbour in the morning and out into the Solent, there's a positive current in the Solent to carry you to the Newtown Estuary, you anchor before low, and there's enough water to get to the pub for dinner and back. Want to join us?"
Of course we did! And so another friendship was made. And together another new challenge of the cruising life was faced and dealt with and the result was fun. You never stop learning no matter how long you've been on the water and that's why we never get tired of boating. See you out there!