Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cobnor (Day One)

On Thursday, 16th August the forecast for the weekend at Cobnor was not great – SW veering to NW 5 – 7 on the Saturday, but decreasing on Sunday, and better for the coming week.

An examination of the chart for Chichester Harbour showed an area of outstanding natural beauty with navigable water of 11 square miles distributed in four ‘fingers’ running from South to North: the Emsworth Channel, the Thorney Channel, the Bosham Channel and the Fishbourne Channel. To my mind, this configuration was promising for some interesting sailing at a location I had only visited to await passage when cruising the English Channel and the Solent. If the general winds were from the West, South West or North West as could be expected, exploring these waters would be great fun. In the event, generally throughout the week, cold winds persisted from the north accompanied by periods of rain, drizzle or showers, but there were some periods of hazy sun and several hours of good sunny weather.

It was a long time since my last attendance at a Dinghy Cruising Association meeting, largely due to the fact that meanwhile I had built two boats and owned a sailing cruiser which I sailed extensively for a couple years. After an uneventful road journey to Emsworth Marina I launched ‘Faith’ shortly after mid-day on Friday, 17th August. In the short passage to the west after leaving the protective walls of the Marina I encountered the wind and current from ahead. No matter how hard I tried with the yuloh I could not make any progress; indeed I lost ground and drifted into the natural backwater north of the Marina where I asked the owner of ‘Brise’ to tow me into open water, to which he agreed. There I hoisted sail for a close-reach down the Emsworth Channel.

To the Fishery South Cardinal Buoy is a distance of about 6 nautical miles and sailing against the incoming tide presented no problems. A good many yachtsmen and dinghy sailors were out enjoying the sunshine. Not being totally familiar with these waters I took due note of where ‘Faith’ sailed. Emsworth Channel is particularly well marked with port hand and starboard hand beacons, as indeed is the case with all of the navigable waters within the jurisdiction of the Chichester Harbour Authority. Soon after my departure I took a good look towards Northney Marina where I guessed Al would be launching his Paradox, ‘Little Jim’, but there was no sign of him or of his boat. Next came Marker Point, a small peninsular of land to my port hand. Rather more quickly than I imagined possible, we moved southwards over the smooth water brought about by Hayling Island to windward.

A mile or so north of the Island Sailing Club at Sandy Point I lay a course towards East Head which is a gorgeous sand spit to the east of the Harbour entrance with a popular anchorage for day sailors and over night cruisers. By then the tide was ebbing, but there was ample wind for ‘Faith’ as she ran before it along the approach to the Chichester Channel which lay to the North East. I was a little concerned that my boat may get caught on the sand near the derelict wooden pilings leading to the mouth of Thorney Channel, but beacons marked the deep water all the way. The expanse of water narrowed between Cobnor Point and the wooded Itchenor bank to the South; there ‘Faith’ had to negotiate a safe path between hundreds of racing dinghies doing their thing. Among the melee I found the green conical Fairway Buoy which marked my turning point to the north for the Bosham Channel and the Cobnor Activities Centre where nearby I found the slipway to be used by the DCA members for launching and retrieving their dinghies. I had been unable to use the slipway, because ‘Faith’ was heavier than a Wayfarer dinghy and the rule stated that such boats were taboo. I think the main reason for the weight restriction is to prevent many vehicles using the very narrow and unsuitable road leading to the slipway. The whole of that part of Thorney Island is privately owned and it is only by consent that visitors can use the facilities which include a washroom, toilets and showers. There is a field set aside for campers who must book in advance, and that’s where the DCA contingent set up their tents and campervans.

At quarter past four in the afternoon on the dot I set the anchor a cable or so from the slipway. There was no sign of any other DCA members or their boats, but as the meeting was not due to commence until after 11.00 am the next day I was not concerned. I was happy to be afloat again with all I needed for a comfortable night aboard my little boat. As the water receded and the expanse of mud increased either side of the fairway a white Egret with a black beak and black legs searched the water’s edge for morsels to eat. A cormorant perched on a nearby beacon spread his wings to dry and a bird hidden in trees surrounding a private beach house made an unusual shrieking call I did not recognise.

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