Sunday 7 August 2016
East Cowes to Hamble le Rice, Southampton
10 miles (+ ferry)
Riverside Park Campsite
Despite an interrupted sleep I was up early. It had rained! Only for about half an hour at 5am. The skies were grey with no sign of sun.
I headed for the chainlink ferry across the River Medina to Cowes. Although only separated by a river, and sharing a name, East Cowes and Cowes are quite different. East Cowes is small and known for its shipbuilding. There are still big sheds facing onto the river. The most famous is the Columbine Shed, which belonged to the Saunders-Roe firm who built seaplanes (beginning in 1913) and then hovercraft. The world’s first hovercraft was built and launched from here in 1959. Since the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 the Columbine Shed has been recognised by its Union Jack door.
The chainlink ferry has been running since 1859 and before that there was a rowing boat and a horse-winched barge. It cost me £1 for a return ticket, which saves a trip into Newport and out again. What a bargain.
Cowes is known as the home of world yachting and the birthplace of the America’s Cup. At 8am it was pretty quiet, which was understandable after last night’s party. Sailing types were appearing though and could be distinguished by their slightly dishevelled (but not too dishevelled) appearance, Musto clothing and enormous kit bags. I did not look the part. Never one to let that deter me I headed straight for the marina.
Around the moored yachts sailors were scurrying around like little ants. I stood on a jetty and watched. From the variety of accents and the markings on the boats (e.g. a big silver fern) it was obvious that this was an international event.
I had company and we started chatting. This man was sailing on a very nice yacht (worth £80k) that his (very rich) friend owned. He filled me in on what happens at Cowes Week. It did sound like a lot of fun. In return I told him about my trip and he thought it sounded cool so we were even.
Next I wandered through the town. More sailors. Everywhere. All getting coffee. I bought a pain au chocolat from the bakery and carried on. I wanted to see the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS): the home of yachting. I wondered if I might be able to blag my way in for a spot of breakfast, but that was never going to happen. One has to be a bonafide member of this place.
I discovered that the RYS runs Cowes Week. In front of the exclusive clubhouse was a flagpole (able to hoist 9 flags) and a row of cannons. Katy was prepping the cannons and then Paul arrived in ful rig (complete with hat). They were both employed by the RYS. I chatted to the two of them and learnt lots about how the racing works. Essentially, flags are hoisted to signify which class of boat is due to start, then the small cannons signify prep and the big cannon the start. However, while some are prepping, some are starting so it all gets complicated.
The first race started around 10am and by then there looked to be scores of different sized yachts milling about near the start line. To add another complication, there were also ferries, container ships, sea kayakers and moored yachts. This was chaos. Fun though.
I wandered back through town and stopped for a coffee and bacon sandwich. I had had enough of the “sailing set” so caught the chainlink ferry back to East Cowes and returned to the campsite to pack up. Within an hour I was on the ferry to Southampton.
I had a great view of all the races as we crossed the Solent and entered Southampton Water. The wind had picked up and some of the boats looked like they were flying.
We docked in Southampton and I walked along the edge of the old town and across the bridge over the River Itchen.
I walked all along the Weston Shore, past Netley Abbey and the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, both of which were landmarks from the ferry.
Aside from the wind, it was a lovely walk along the shoreline to Hamble-le-Rice. There were lots of anglers out and plenty of people enjoying the parkland.
The sun had come out and I walked up the River Hamble to my campsite.
I was relieved to find the campsite was next to the Mercury Yacht Harbour, which had a bar and restaurant overlooking the marina and the river. Perfect.