Isle of Wight weekend

John B text & GPS trace, Richard B photos

This trip is certainly one of those that has an ‘element of risk.’ It consists of almost 53Nm (100km), reasonably long times on the water, busy shipping lanes, open crossings, tidal races, overfalls and some areas where landing is just not possible, no matter how close you stay to shore.

There were 19 paddlers originally signed up but on the day only 10 others joined me at Lee on Solent to attempt to get round the Isle of Wight. Of the 10, four had never been round before. The other six had been round at least once so knew what to expect – either that or the agony had now been forgotten. Three others were starting from Eastney and would meet us at Cowes. They had all been round before and ‘knew’ what to expect – even if they would be paddling against the tide for a while to meet us (fools!). That meant there would be 14 of us taking over much of the Solent.

The weather cannot really have been better. It was calm, sunny and visibility was great. I had slapped plenty of sunscreen on and decided the cag and long sleeved top would spend the day in a hatch. The only down side was that I got to Lee on Solent at 7am to secure a good parking spot. By 09:45 we were all ready to push on for Cowes – bang on time.

We split into two groups to make it easier to avoid the various ships that might impede our way. Progress to Cowes was perfect and the tide was obviously going our way, as planned. The ‘Eastney Gang’ met us at Egypt Point and from here we followed the Green/Starboard channel markers to lunch at Fort Victoria. The nine miles was covered in just under 2 hours and all landed on the beach easily whilst ice-cream eating folks in sun loungers looked on. A few made use of the ice-cream shop which was packed thanks to the amazingly sunny weather. Well it was July!

Threading the Needles

After lunch our plod to the Needles was easy. Some went round the outside of the lighthouse whilst others took a direct route threading the Needles through the gaps. The tide was still reasonably strong behind us but even so it was possible to nip through and ‘thread the Needles’ properly. With the tide still flowing West we followed the cliffs for ½ mile then headed directly for the campsite at Grange Chine. It was ‘only’ 5.5 miles away but actually spotting it was impossible. We all agreed one thing ‘it’s not easy to see it’, hmmm. Thankfully the bearing worked out right and we arrived at the beach 15 minutes ahead of schedule. All that remained was to get our gear up the hill to the campsite 80ft above us.

People spent the evening in small groups, either because they were too tired to move far from their tent or because we were too big a group to ‘all join in’. Ian had not decided to bring his guitar this time so no campfire songs, he did say it would not fit in the rear hatch. No dedication some people, he could have had a large dry sack and tied it to the rear deck. It was an early night for most of us as the 6am on the water time would mean alarms going off at 04:15!!

Alarms set for 4am!

The alarm call went off and we were all ready on the beach by 6am.

The sun was low behind St Catherine’s Hill and the wind was non-existent. As I saw a few folks in cags I was feeling unsure as I had followed the same dress code as the previous day. Once off shore we were soon being pushed to the infamous point 5 miles away. As we drew closer the waves and fear often felt here were not needed. It has to have been one of the smoothest runs I have ever seen there. We stayed off-shore to make the most of the tide and arrived offshore of Ventnor 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Nice tidal indicator off Ventnor

Way off in a slight haze loomed Culver Cliff marking the other end of Sandown Bay just under 6miles away! We held our off-shore heading and found the tidal assistance better than expected, even achieving a speed of just over 6knots. This was helped by no wind and by 10:20 we were landing 200 yards after the Lifeboat station at Bembridge. The lunch was relaxed and gave all a chance to see where we were heading next. It was at this point that the ‘Eastney Gang’ headed 6 miles north(ish) to their car.

There was still no wind, much to the frustration of a small yacht we passed who wanted to borrow a paddle. As we pushed out towards No Mans Land Fort the tide was doing nothing. By the time we arrived at the Fort it was very clearly in our favour and a bit bouncy. We had seen a number of tankers moored East of the Island and one had passed by as we were heading out. How many more were due to sneak up behind us?

With plenty of assistance we arrived at North Sturbridge Buoy. Just a short while earlier two car ferries had crossed paths, a Ryde FastCat was heading North and the hovercraft had landed. There were no big boats coming behind and way off in the distance was a large vessel that seemed to be moored. This all meant a safe easy crossing all the hectic bits to just inshore of the Northern part of the deep water channel. The wind had picked up but was behind us. The sailors were all over the place but did not cause us any real issues.

Only Dean followed my advice and stayed out in the deep water before turning 90 right straight into the beach. The rest of us gradually curved inward on a more direct route. Dean was the first to arrive at the beach, 30 minutes ahead of schedule (13:50). The beach was covered in bodies taking in the UV but soon the kayaks were dragged up the shingle and ramp to their respective cars. The 'Eastney Gang' had landed at Eastney at 13:15 but I suspect still too late to watch Andy Murray win at Wimbledon.

We covered almost 25 miles on Day 1 averaging 3.5knots, despite lots of initial tidal assistance. Day 2 was 28 miles but we covered it at 4.3knots. It just goes to show that even when the tide seems to be racing in our favour it is not guaranteed that we will break records.

For the five who cancelled, thanks for letting me know but you missed a really great trip. For those who came, well done on getting round, hope you enjoyed it – let’s hope the weather is as good next year. There are many who might have liked to come along, well I hope we see you next year. This year was a great paddle, easy and with great company. I can only hope next year is just as straight-forward.