Welcome to our virtual Solent sailing cruise – a five day sail in the south of England from Bosham Quay in Chichester Harbour at the east end of the Solent to Lymington in the west.
On our five day sailing cruise of the Solent we will be sailing more than 65 nautical miles, from Bosham Quay in West Sussex to Lymington Yacht Haven in Hampshire. We will go via the Nab Tower at the extreme eastern end of the Solent, passing by some of the Solent’s historic sea defences en route to the Needles Rocks at the western end. As the tide turns, we will head back up the Needles Channel to Lymington.
The forecast is for champagne sailing conditions every day with plenty of summer sunshine, variable winds and favourable tides. Our most important navigational aid will be a good tidal atlas, as the Solent tides can easily catch out the unwary sailor.
Day One – Chichester Harbour
Chichester harbour has 17 miles of deep water channels with five marinas and eight sailing clubs. The harbour can get very busy at the weekends, but if you choose the right time it is a wonderful place to sail.
We start from Bosham Quay just before high water.
The quay is beside Bosham Sailing Club, the oldest sailing club in the harbour.
Bosham is steeped in history. Legend has it that in the 11th century it was Bosham where King Canute tried in vain to command the tide to go back, demonstrating to his loyal courtiers that the power of kings is nothing compared with the power of God. Another interesting piece of local history is that historians believe that King Harold was buried in Bosham church after being killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Our cruise starts with a sail south down the Bosham Channel, winding its way down to Cobnor. We then sail around Cobnor Point and head west into Chichester Channel, anchoring at East Head for lunch.
East Head is a popular sandy spit at the eastern side of the entrance to Chichester harbour and is managed by the National Trust – a great place for picnics.
In the afternoon we head north up the Emsworth Channel for a fabulous sail with a nice south westerly breeze. This should enable us to get our spinnakers up.
We make a U turn when we reach Emsworth and head back down towards the Hayling Island Sailing Club, then change course in an easterly direction towards Pilsey Island.
The plan is to anchor at Pilsey for the night, being careful to check our depths. Quieter and more secluded than East Head, Pilsey Island is an uninhabited seabird sanctuary, making this a fabulous spot for those interested in wildlife.
We’ve logged about 10nm today.
Day 2 – Chichester to Seaview, Isle of Wight
It is Day 2 of our five day sailing cruise of the Solent. We leave Pilsey early, sailing out of Chichester harbour, crossing the Bar with the tide.
We pass close to the Winner buoy which is right on the edge of a treacherous shingle bank, as these two photos taken at high and low water show.
We then sail past Hayling Island Sailing Club situated on the sand spit to the west side of the harbour entrance. Behind is Sparkes marina, a good place to stop for fuel and provisioning.
Chichester harbour entrance is dredged to 1.5 metres below chart datum giving a depth of 2m at Mean Low Water Springs. It can get very rough in wind against tide conditions and give you a real soaking. Not today.
We pass the Chichester Bar beacon and then West Pole at about 10:00 GMT.
After passing West Pole we head due south and have a 7 or 8 mile sail out to the Nab Tower with 15 knots of breeze. As we head out to the Nab we will need to watch out for merchant and passenger ships entering the Solent.
Nab tower was planned for anti-submarine protection in World War 1 but not completed until 1920. In World War 2 it was equipped with anti-aircraft guns to defend the Solent and succeeded in shooting down numerous enemy planes. It is no longer manned and is a forbidding, unwelcoming sight when you eventually reach it.
Now we head West North West towards Bembridge. The tidal range in the Eastern Solent can be as much as 4.5 metres so timing is critical here. Access to Bembridge Harbour is only possible for us 2.5 hours either side of Low Water. So we need some more wind to get there in time.
We pass St Helens fort to port and then the channel winds its way into the harbour where we tie up for a short break at Duver Marina – “Duver” being an Isle of Wight dialect term for an area of sand dunes.
It is a short walk from here to the Duver cafe for fresh crab sandwiches.
The plan is now to sail back out of the harbour along the coast to Seaview in order to watch some Seaview Mermaids evening racing at the Seaview Yacht Club.
The Mermaids are brightly coloured keelboats that race during Cowes Week. The club is also famous for the Seaview One Design dinghy.
We pick up one of the club’s moorings for the night and are ferried to and fro by the yacht club rib.
We’ve logged another 15nm or so today.
Day 3 – Seaview to Osborne Bay
The plan today is to sail via Portsmouth harbour and to anchor for the night at Osborne Bay. First we are going for an early morning walk from Seaview to Priory Bay, one of the Isle of Wight’s many perfect beaches.
We sail across the Solent almost due north to Portsmouth.
On the way we pass No Man’s Land Fort and then Horse Sand Fort, two of the four iconic Solent forts. These forts were built on the orders of Lord Palmerston in the 1860s to protect Portsmouth from attack by the French.
The French never did launch an attack and the forts remained armed until the end of World War 2. They are now in private hands.
As we approach the mainland here is HMS Queen Elizabeth, all 65,000 tons of her, heading into Portsmouth, her home port. This vast aircraft carrier has a draught of 11 metres and can only enter Portsmouth at slack water, either side of High Water.
The harbour and the approaches had to be dredged to enable the ship to be based here and there are new radio beacons to help with navigation. There is a 15 knots wind limit for the carrier’s safe entry too.
We have time for a quick sail around Portsmouth harbour before heading back south and west across the Solent towards Ryde.
Another distinctive feature of the Solent is the hovercraft passenger service which goes to and fro across the Solent from Southsea on the mainland to Ryde. This is the world’s only year round hovercraft service, carrying up to 78 passengers. It is quite a sight and sound as it thunders past!
Back along the Island shore, we sail on to Osborne Bay, where we anchor for the night. The back up plan is to head into Cowes, but if it is peace and quiet you are after then Osborne Bay is a great spot.
We’ve logged about 10nm today.
Day 4 – Osborne Bay to Newtown River
It is Day 4 of our five day sailing cruise of the Solent. We are up early after a night at anchor. The plan is to head to Beaulieu River in the morning and then back across the Solent to Newtown River in time for a late afternoon walk along the beach.
We have a short visit to Cowes for provisioning, stopping at Shepard’s Marina for an hour.
The entrance to Beaulieu River can be a little challenging in the dark but in broad daylight it is fine and just a question of keeping a close eye on the channel marks. However, the entrance can be dangerous and should not be attempted until two hours after low water. Careful planning is needed to enable us to get in and out.
The Beaulieu River is full of history. It was here that shipwrights constructed warships for Nelson’s fleet. If you are interested in maritime history this is the place to visit. As is the Master Builder’s Inn for a refreshing pint of beer.
It is time to head back across the Solent to Newtown River.
Newtown is one of my favourite places in the Solent, also steeped in history but nowadays a haven for wildlife. It is a perfect place to moor for a couple of days and go on some fabulous walks.
Newtown is not just a river. It is actually a large natural inland harbour with several small rivers and mini estuaries. It has a very narrow entrance with a bar that can catch out the unwary. The thing that really hits you is how peaceful the place is, surrounded by marshlands and distant hills. There are a number of moorings but it is first come first served – anchoring is also possible.
You will need a dinghy to get ashore but then you can walk a mile or so to Shalfleet where there is a great pub and a small shop.
The sunsets in the Newtown River are stunning.
15nm logged today.
Day 5 – Newtown River to Lymington
It is the last day of our five day sailing cruise of the Solent cruise and what a day it is going to be.
Leaving Newtown can be quite magical. If conditions allow, it’s fun just to raise the sails, let go of the mooring and head quietly out of the harbour without disturbing the peace.
Now we have an exciting sail down the western Solent, heading towards Hurst Castle in the distance. We have the tide with us so we are going to pick up speed as we head towards the Hurst narrows. The prevailing south westerlies will work fine here for us, because we can tack our way towards the Needles while the favourable tide does most of the work.
Hurst Castle was built by Henry VIII between 1541 and 1544 and continued to defend the western solent right up until the Second World War. It is now run by English Heritage.
Fort Albert was built in the 1850s and was also designed to defend the Needles passage from French attack as part of Lord Palmerston’s defences. It has been in private ownership since the 1950s.
So we are through the Hurst Narrows and now there is nothing between us and the Needles. With excellent planning the tide will soon be turning and we can head north east back up the Solent towards Lymington. On reaching Lymington, we meet up with some familiar faces at the Dan Bran pontoon, a stone’s throw from the Royal Lymington Yacht Club.
15nm today – making a total of 65 nautical miles in all.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual cruise and that you get sailing soon!