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Solent Weekend

It was a fateful day in July when I encountered George on the train from Southampton to Portsmouth. The sun was shining, it was the start of the school holidays, and the trains were so crowded I was squashed into the corridor with my bike. George squeezed on after me with a huge pack. "Where are you going?" I asked. When he answered "Sailing", my ears pricked up, as only that week I had been looking at sailing classes online. When George told me that he was part of the Brighton Belle syndicate, and suggested I might be able to join the crew on a trip, I was hooked.

A month later, as I parked up in the Premier Marina car park, I wondered what the *** I was doing here! Friends were quite in awe, even if a little concerned, about my decision to spend the weekend on a boat with four men who I had never met before. Though I didn’t admit it, I was a little daunted too, but I was determined to get onto the open sea and experience the whole adventure. I'd show my friends, and the four men, what I was made of!

Making my way down through the gates I realised with some trepidation that not only was this a completely new world to me, but it was a maze of jetties. Would I even find the boat??. But as I breathed in the night air and the smell of the sea I knew that I was in the right place, and I walked - and walked – and eventually, far in the distance I could see activity.

Hopping onto the boat I found three men at work – not, as I had presumed they would be, attending to complicated technical matters, but putting the shopping away neatly into the cleverly designed storage space. I found the interior of the Belle intriguing and loved the way the drawers opened, the holders for pans on the stove, the amazing expanding dining table – all of it. There seemed to be an impressive array of food – and drink. Clearly there were some impressive shopping skills at work. Only later did I spot ‘the list’ of provisions and realise that these items – particularly the ingredients for cheese, ham and tomato sandwiches – were as much part of the Brighton Belle fixtures as the dining table and charts.

To my surprise, I was not the only one new to this. In fact, apart from Nigel the skipper we were all sailing virgins. I noticed a slightly anxious look in Nigel's eye as he told us this news, as well as the news that Sunday storms were forecast. David would arrive from Bristol tomorrow and we hoped, for all our sakes, that he would prove a worthy second-in-command. In the meantime Nigel got me, John and Gary up on the deck for an essential lesson in rope knotting and throwing, and fender control.

First mate David arrives on Brighton Belle

David arrived bright and early, and proved to be an essential asset to the team. With the sun shining and the sky blue (but very little wind) we set off to catch the tide. Nigel gave us newbies a detailed explanation of the effect of the tides, and to our satisfaction we were able to coin a new technical term for this - the ‘whoosh factor’. I look forward to this highly useful term being introduced into the Brighton Belle lexicon. Across the Solent we all took a turn at the helm, and eagerly we set out to prove our seafaring ability. It was a gentle introduction, thoroughly relaxing apart one moment where a boat headed straight for us (with my name on its hull, according to a Nigel – such a reassuring teacher!) and which we had to tack to avoid.



 We had hoped to reach Yarmouth but instead opted to motor gently down the Medina river past Cowes, to the Folly Inn. It was one of those beautiful late summer days, so we took the water taxi to shore and walked to a tiny marina nearby. As we reached the end of the path we came across the old Ryde paddle steamer, skulking amongst the rushes and rusting away. We returned to the Inn for dinner – and I discovered that the sailing fraternity clearly knows how to party, with good food and very abundant drink, and dancing on the tables (Nigel was too tall for this but I managed quite well).



Jassy by the mast

Next morning we took our time, breakfasting on a fry up. As we made our way back up river, there was no sign of the storm and we began to relax – but on the open sea, it was suddenly a different story. The rain lashed into our faces like needles, visibility was just 300yds – and the wind was force 6-7. We sailed straight into the wind and sailed with reduced sails, tossed by the waves, keeping our wits about us and straining to spot hazards including first a buoy and then a freight carrier which loomed out of the rain at close quarters. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to Linda for her wet weather gear, without which I am quite sure I would have been thoroughly miserable. As it happened, I clipped myself to the mast and loved it!

 Jassy a bit apprehensive

We called up the harbour to standby for our arrival – now was our chance to show our mettle and carry out the drill. Fenders and ropes at the ready, we prepared to approach land. Oops – somehow John’s fender untied itself and dropped into the ocean at the harbour entrance! Onward to the moorings, I stood rope in hand and threw it confidently out. A sharp reminder from the others brought me back to earth, alerting me to the fact that I had not tied the rope to the boat. Fumbling as the rope sped through my hands, I managed to fix it, just in time. John leapt off the boat and disappeared, only to return 20mins later, soaked to the waist – and with rescued fender in hand. However, despite our few mishaps we were a solid crew.

After a final clean up, we departed through the still battering rain, and I left for home with exciting memories of a first sail.

Jassy Denison

Jassy Denison



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