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I must go down to the sea again,

Our first stage of our Channel voyage takes us east along the south coast of England. Topsham is an ancient port dating from 55AD when it supplied the newly founded Roman fort in Exeter. It was still thriving as a port well into the twentieth century and was a major setting of point for Operation Neptune in 1944, about which more in future blogs. Snark will be berthed on the main quay throughout May and it is from here, on the 1st June, that we set sail for our summer adventures.

Snark sailing
Snark under full sail

The berth is tidal that is to say it dries to soft mud for 2/3 of the tide. We have to depart at high tide so on the first evening when we will motor down the Ex estuary to an anchorage in deeper water closer to the mouth of the river. The following morning we will be off early on the ebb tide, across the bar, into Lyme Bay. Our course will take us past Lyme Regis and the beginning of the Jurassic coast then parallel to Chesil beach to the notorious Portland Bill. Here the tides and swell can create a dangerous race or turbulence. By timing our arrival to match the slack tides we can avoid the worst and round into Weymouth Bay and the huge ex-naval Portland Harbour to anchor for the night.

The tides run along the coast and around the various headlands at between 1 and 3 knots, that's nearly half our cruising speed. If we 'plug' the tide we might only cover 3 nautical miles per hour but if we sail with the tide we cover 9. So it really matters which way the tide is going and when. Our third day will start early, at around 07:00 , sailing from Portland across Weymouth Bay, around the military firing ranges, and the race off St Albans Head to Swanage Bay, then on past Old Harry, a limestone stack that marks the beginning of Studland Bay. At the north end is the entrance to Poole Harbour, our next stop; maybe on the Town Quay but more likely anchored nearer the entrance and the bullying chain ferry.

The tide times shift by 40-50 minutes each day so the east going stream doesn't start until 08:00 on the next day when we will set off for the Solent. We will enter via the North Channel, past Hurst Castle, originally built by Henry VIII to keep the French out of the Solent. Here the flood tide runs at five knots (about 6 miles per hour) which will power us up the Solent to get our next stop at Gunwharf Quay in Portsmouth by lunch time. This will allow time to visit the Historic Shipyards the home of the spectacular Mary Rose, Henry VIII ill fated flagship and the Victory from which Nelson commanded the Battle of Trafalgar and on which he met his death.

Heading out from Portland on the next day we will pass the Henry VIII forts that guarded the east end of the Solent and we will be back in the English Channel heading through the Looe to either Littlehampton or Shoreham. An onshore swell can make entering the former hazardous so we might have to sail on to the all weather port of Shoreham and lock in to the fish quay, a less salubrious berth than the pretty Littlehampton quay.

Both arrival and departure from Littlehampton are only possible 1 hour before and after high water. This is around 10:00 - 12:00 on our departure, this coincides with the tide turning against us so we will inevitably have to plug the tide, sailing close inshore where the tide is weaker, all the way to Beachy Head where we should pick up the first of the flood. This is no bad thing as we will be traversing one of the most dramatic sections of this coast, past Brighton and Hove and then along under the rolling white cliffs known as the Seven Sister before rounding Beachy Head and sailing past Eastbourne to lock in to the Sovereign Marina.

Sailing around Beachy Head
Sailing around Beachy Head on a blustery day in 2022

Again the history of invasion and defence comes to the fore. The berth is just a short walk from Perversely Beach where William the Conqueror landed in 1066 and changed the course of British history and culture. If all has gone to plan we have a spare day in hand which would give time to explore the history of the landing and the nearby Perversely Castle or just to enjoy the charms of a traditional seaside town.

We have a strange connection to Eastbourne, through Lewis Carroll, who regularly holidays there. The Snark is named after his nonsense poem which he conceded was an allegory for the pursuit of happiness - but in a rather bittersweet way.

' In answer to you question 'what did you mean the Snark was?' .....The one I like best (which is partly my own) is that it is an allegory for the pursuit of happiness. The characteristic 'ambition' works well into this theory as also its fondness for bathing machines, as indicated by the pursuer of happiness when he has exhausted all other devices, betakes himself, as a last and desperate resource, to some wretched watering-place as Eastbourne, and hopes to find, in the tedious and depressing society of the daughters of mistresses of boarding-schools, the happiness he has failed to find elsewhere....'

Eastbourne has improved a lot in the 150 intervening years!

Our last sailing day is a long one taking us from Eastbourne, on an eight hour passage, past the strange and haunting landscape of Dungeness to the White Cliffs of Dover. Whether we can make this our final stop depends on the accessibility of Dover for visiting vessels. The ongoing migration, or 'invasion' as some would have it, across the Channel by refugees in small boats has resulted, somewhat irrationally, in Dover being closed to visiting leisure boats. We were allowed an overnight berth a couple of years ago but we are not yet certain of one this year. It is also doubtful that we can use it as our change over port. We will know this soon and we may have to finish our first stage in Eastbourne. If that is the case we will add one of two additional stopovers during the week, there are plenty of fascinating places to visit after all.

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