I'd been planning on doing the IOW circumnavigation for quite some time, studying paddlers blogs and GPS tracks from the others who had completed this challenge and constantly adding and updating data to my IOW spreadsheet. It was probably around March I felt like I had got things into a reasonable order. It was just a case of picking some dates with Spring tides and then keeping fingers crossed for the weather and hoping no family emergencies would crop up. In the meantime, if I wasn't getting out on the sea, I was training up and down my local stretches of canal.
One of the dates I picked was for 16th July. The tides were mean springs, so not massive, but not neaps either. I'd still get a good push around the island by the tides. Due to the way I had built my Excel spreadsheet it was just a case of entering the date, HW time for Portsmouth and revising the tidal diamond speeds, averaged over the hour accounting for the spring rate.
So, for the 16th July it was looking like a 07:25 start from Hurst Point, with a planned time of around 8 hours and 50 minutes. All that was needed now were for all the logistics and weather window to come together.
As I would be in my van, I had noticed that it was possible to stop over night on New Lane, New Milton, near to Hurst Beach. Note: New Lane is about 1 meter higher than Saltgrass Lane and Saltgrass Lane floods at HW springs!
So, leaving with plenty of time on Friday 15th July, I made my way south to New Milton. The traffic was pretty awful, with my estimated 3.5 hour journey actually taking 5.5 hours. After shuffling the van from space to space three times on New Lane, to get a spot closer to the beach and one where I could easily unload my boat. I was all set to go. The only problem I could see was that the wind was blowing pretty strongly off the sea and was well in excess of a F4! It was quite windy! Looking at the weather forecast for the next morning the wind was expected to have eased off. Fingers crossed the weather people were going to be right. I had a chat with the ice cream van lady, who when I told her what I was doing, told me she would look out for my return to ensure I was back safely. I set my alarm for 06:00 in the morning and turned in for the night.
I was awake at 05:50 so got up and cracked on with it. I was all set to go at about 07:00, or so I thought, and set off, only to realise I'd not put any suncream on - it was still in the van. Having run back to the van and sprayed myself with suncream I set off once again. The wind thankfully had eased overnight to a light breeze. As I wasn't planning on leaving Hurst Castle until 0725 I had plenty of time for the short paddle to the castle and any last minute faffs. The tide would be coming in/flooding at 07:25, at a fair rate too, which meant ferry gliding across to the Island and using the various back eddies, make my way up to the Needles. Eddies I hoped would be there.
Drinking water was one of my biggest concerns when planning this trip. How much fluid would I get through during the trip. I knew from the forecast it was going to be hot. I toyed with taking just 3 litres, then 4 litres and in the end I took around 5 litres of fluids, mostly water, a couple of espresso coffee cans and two cans of Red Bull (to give me wings!). I also took some paracetamol (pain killer) and Ibuprofen(anti-inflammatory). I did take an Ibuprofen before setting off. When I used to do long distance cycling 20 years ago, I soon learnt from other riders the benefits of Ibuprofen and also stashing a can of Red Bull in my jersey pocket for emergencies. When you well in to a ride and you are dropping out of the pack, a can of the Red Bull and Ibuprofen would see you back at the front in no time. Ha! Drugs in cycling eh!
My other concern was the seat in my boat. I had only recently found out, that paddling in my boat for more than 2 hours could be extremely uncomfortable on ones derrière. I have tried different bits of foam and even cut up an old Etain seat foam pad to fit, to try to improve things. The Etain foam seat pad did help, but it is still not right... I also placed a light weight plastic carrier bag on the seat as I had read it helps going able to rotate your hips/bum when paddling (ahem, properly).
At 7:23 I set off - close enough to the plan. The ferry glide across to the island was fairly straight forward with all sorts of messy boils and mini races to contend with. Then it was a case of trying to find those back eddies. There were quite a few boats moored, which helped a lot in determining which way the currents were flowing. On my plan I'd estimated my speed over the section from Hurst Castle to the Needles as 3.4 kts. I actually achieved 3.9kts, but obviously didn't know this at the time. All I did know was that I was up on the plan by about 7 or 8 minutes. There was a lot of current coming through the Needles, but this was easily overcome by the use of "spangle" (speed and angle), through the fast moving water. The Needles looked superb in the morning light. On the far side of the Needles the water and wind were both really calm. Beautiful.
I could now see St Catherines Point way off in the distance, so set off on what I hoped would be a good course to make the most of the tidal flow. I knew from my planning the initial tidal flow was not going be great, but I was pleasantly surprised at my speed. As I passed Freshwater Bay well to my left, the wind suddenly got up. Soon after this the swell also started to build. I was now head on into the wind and swell. I hate, really hate paddling into the wind. Oh well, not much I can do about that. Keep calm and carry on paddling (and secretly hope the wind doesn't get any worse). The sun was also directly in front of me. I think I did most of this section squinting through one eye - it was very bright. As I approach close to St Catherine's point, there were quite a few races with associated messy water. I tried to pick a route with the fastest flow wherever I could. By now my bum was hurting quite a bit too!
I stayed in close to St Catherine's point, as I had heard how the sea can kick up around the point. But in the end St Catherine's was pretty flat - just the same old wind and swell - in my face. I did notice my speed had dropped right off, which I wasn't expecting and realised I must be paddling into a back eddy. So I set a course for further offshore and my speed soon picked up again. I have to say the South Coast of the island was really peaceful with only a couple of yachts and fishing boats to keep me company.
You would have thought having now changed course from St Catherine's to Bembridge, the wind and swell would have been more on my right, but no! It was still blowing directly into me. Thankfully the sun had move south and I was no longer having to squint all the time. I decided the wind hates me...
When I was a kid we had a couple of family holidays on the Isle of Wight. Paddling passed Blackgang Chine, Ventnor, Shanklin and Sandown all evoked memories for me. I was quite enjoying plodding along.
Not far off Sandown, maybe about 1.5nm offshore, I had my first encounter with a speedboat, who came very fast and directly towards me. I think I heard it first, then thought he's coming straight at me, ooh, he really is coming straight at me, err I waved my paddle in the air and shouted. Not the he would have heard me due to his very large, big deep throated inboard v8. But he did spot me and adjusted course a little - which wasn't exactly very considerate. His swell was huge! His penis, obviously wasn't!
On rounding the corner at Bembridge, I stopped briefly for a bite to eat and drink whilst floating in the boat. A good time to ease my bum out of the seat for a little respite. Although having said that it was pretty dead by this point. It was now 12:50 and I was 10 minutes behind schedule. Things changed drastically though, the wind had more or less gone, but there was one hell of a lot of boat traffic. So much so the wake from all the boats really made the sea challenging. Quite often I would struggle to keep on coarse as my bow would be swinging from one direction to the other. I was struggling to keep my speed up over this section and realised I was paddling at a far slower speed than I had anticipated on my plan. My plan reckoned on 4.8kts - I covered the section from Bembridge to Nettlestone Point in 3.8kts. By the time I reached Nettlestone Point it was 13:31. I was down on the plan by another 6 minutes.
Nettlestone to Cowes was equally bad. Lots of Stink boats (motor yachts), speed boats, jet skis, tankers, dredgers, a big container ship, various ferries and a hovercraft. I had to wave my paddle several times to avoid collision with speed boats, then had to put up with big wake as the offending kn*b(s) passed far to close to me. The Sailing yachts on the other hand were really considerate. For instance I saw a yacht coming towards me under sail, so I changed course, but as I did so the yacht tacked, gave me a big friendly wave a speed off in the other direction. I was even buzzed by a low flying helicopter! The wind from his downdraft actually being most welcome. But now, my shoulders were really beginning to ache now and my mind was playing all sort of tricks to get me to stop paddling: a drink of water, a bite to eat, the map on my deck not being secure/quite right (it was), adjust my cap, splash my face... anything to get me to stop. I gave in a few times, but on the whole, another part of my mind kept telling me to keep at it, 'cus if I stop, I'll never get there! But relief came slowly as my speed did start to pick up. It was around this time I had a little panic looking for some bottles of water in my day hatch - they weren't there! Oh no I will be short on the last leg, and I stated to panic. But then I realised I had stashed them behind my seat and they weren't in the day hatch after all. OK, so I was getting tired.
Cowes was Mental! Boats and more boats everywhere!! I stuck close'ish to the breakwater (which I don't remember being there the last time we sailed from Cowes - 30 years ago mind). But I was thankful for its presence, as it protected me from much of the chaos, as I made my way along it. As I did so, I heard first and then looked up to see a Spitfire banking low overhead. A glorious sight against the deep blue sky. Just as I was about to cross the channel I heard a canon shot go off for the start of a race. It wasn't pirates, but I could just picture me being halfway across the channel as perhaps twenty or so yachts were about to come charging out of Cowes harbour. They didn't and the traffic coming out of Cowes did give me space. I pulled over and drifted down parallel to Queens Road, whilst I got a drink, scoffed some grub, and downed one of those Red Bulls. I also took an ibuprofen too - it was well over six hours since I started. The tide was running well down here. I wasn't paddling, but was still getting pushed along at between 1.5kts and 2kts. I had a chat with a swimmer who couldn't believe where I'd been etc etc... I was now down a total of 17 minutes on my schedule. Bum was so numb.
I was now on the last leg, but I still had to clear the Cowes chaos. Just as I was leaving a big stinkboat came passed me at speed, far too close. The Skipper waved at me grinning, I waved back with a two fingered salute and pointed at his wake, whilst I quickly changed direction to deal with the large 4-5ft swell now heading rapidly towards me. All I saw after this is, after I glanced back at the offending boat, was an arm out stretched from the cockpit with a finger waving in the air! Only then, was I to consider the skippers actions in the politest way possible... grrr!
Speed was now picking up, But where was I heading for? I couldn't see Hurst Castle or its lighthouse. Up until now all the previous legs were dead easy to navigate. But now there was just a large expanse of water, with not much land showing on the right and certainly no lighthouse in the distance. It also looked a long long way to still to go. I reverted to my planning sheet and tried to keep on a course of around 250 degrees. By now I was feeling so much better. The shoulders weren't hurting and I was even able to maintain a good paddling rhythm/style. But of course the wind was now blowing back into my face and the swell was picking up and heading towards me. I had dreamt of this section being a nice downwind run, whilst I was paddling along into the wind on the south of the island, thinking I'd get blown back down the Cowes - Hurst Castle section. But of course the Law of Sod dictates, if you have wind against you going out, you will have wind against you coming back! Not only was the Law of Sod well and truly applied, I was also back squinting into the sun again!
The further down the channel I went, the quieter it became for traffic. It wasn't until I neared Yarmouth that I could see my destination - Hurst Castle, or more specifically the lighthouse. Probably not helped with having the sun in my eyes. The land around Keyhaven is certainly very low lying. As I approached Yarmouth there was just a handful of sailing yachts, tacking back and forth, along with the chain ferry from Yarmouth to Lymington. The chain ferries passed each other nicely well ahead of me and my progress was unhindered. I also was keeping a sharp lookout for any big ships coming down the channel. You really don't want one of those sneaking up on you! Soon after I passed the ferries, the sea became really rough. I guess the wind against the fast tide and narrowing of the channel, all helped to create biggish seas. At least ploughing through some of the waves helped cool me off. Not only was it fairly choppy, I could also see breaking waves ahead, signalling one of the several tidal races which lay between Hurst Castle and Fort Albert. I had already started to make my way to the north side of the channel, and so I ran the races, which were nowhere as bad I as had anticipated. Hurst Castle shot passed me in the blink of an eye, glancing at my GPS on my deck I was travelling at between 7 and 8kts. I'd made it! It was now 16:45, so 30 minutes down on my schedule. But then I guess I did have a 6+ minute stop at Cowes. I continued with the flow, as I could see it arced its way back to Hurst Beach. Moving inshore at Hurst Castle to soon puts you into a large back eddy - so best avoided.
Back at the beach, I couldn't stand up my legs and bum were dead. Standing was out of the question. So falling out of my boat, I had the most glorious float in the sea for ten minutes or so whilst my legs and bum recovered. Bliss!
On the whole, I was pretty pleased with my tidal planning. To be just 30 minutes out wasn't too bad. The lost time was most likely due to the constant wind and swell conditions not exactly helping my progress, along with the amount of traffic making progress slow through some very messy water.
I am going to have to do something about that seat!
What a fab day!
48.6nm round the Island in 9hrs 22 minutes and 18 seconds. Or including from my get on and off points on Hurst Beach 51.2nm in 9 hours 49 minutes, 10 secs.
GPS track on OpenSeaMap