My original plan was to wait until the end of March, when my license for Poole Harbour expired, before taking a week off to potter about in Idris waiting for a suitable weather window and the slog back home to the river Exe. I had a rather ambitious, rose tinted dream of crisp sunny skies beckoning me West whilst being wafted gently onwards by a steady north easterly breeze. In this plan Becks could have a gentle introduction to our new craft and the whole episode would be a beautiful haze of hot meals and red wine in a snug, charcoal warmed cabin followed by two sparkling days of progress accompanied by dolphins, sea otters and unicorns.
Needless to say, it didn’t happen like this at all. It wasn’t even a little bit like this. In fact it was pretty bloody horrible. Firstly I was getting itchy about the prospect of a good weather window miraculously appearing just when I wanted it on my proposed week off. What if it didn’t? With my Poole license gone I wouldn’t be able to go back to my nice safe winter mooring in Holes bay. In fact I wouldn’t be able to go back into Poole at all without shelling out a whole heap more money. No, leaving things until the last hour was not likely to work. Secondly, by the end of the first week in March, it was becoming clear that an enormous high pressure system was becoming stuck at the top of Scotland. This was likely to give me those perfect north easterly winds I had planned for…. but a few weeks early. So, after a swift bit of apologetic rescheduling of my upcoming work, I got moving on loading equipment and planning the route.
Becks was determined she wasn’t going to let me do the trip alone and therefore we also had to take our new puppy Orla due to a lack of willing puppy sitters. Besides, we could end up being away for up to five days and we would miss the little pest terribly. So with bedding, provisions, dog food, charts, dinghy, pump, outboard, diesel, petrol and countless other bits and pieces, we set off for Poole. We arrived at lunchtime. The fine folk of Davis’s boatyard had agreed to let us launch our ancient inflateable from their slipway. This meant we could then leave my car on the west side of Holes bay for a few days, away from the extraordinary parking restrictions that blight the east side where I normally launch. It took two dinghy trips to ferry everything across and then I had to take the car away and find somewhere to leave it. With our mountains of provisions plus ourselves all safely stowed aboard Idris, we dismantled the rusty winter mooring shackles and back up lines before motoring slowly towards the two lifting bridges that separate Holes bay from the main harbour. It felt great to be underway at last, I’d become quite apprehensive about the whole trip. To sail an unknown boat in a rather sad condition following a long period of little useage, around some of the most notorious tidal nasties in the U.K at the beginning of March suddenly didn’t seem such a fun prospect anymore.
Fifteen minutes later, we were tied up again. It seemed we had arrived at the bridges exactly as everyone in Poole was leaving work. They wouldn’t open again for another two hours. We made tea. It got darker. We exercised Orla along the pontoons. It got darker. We made more tea. The bridge claxon shocked us into activity, it was now very dark and the bridge was lifting for us. Fire up the motor (thank god for that inboard diesel), nav lights on, charts out and headtorch on. We gunned the engine to get out and past the floodlit freighters and ferries before they had a chance to move off anywhere.
Out in the main shipping channel a baffling array of lights baffled us in all directions. Luckily during our two hour pontoon break I’d jotted down a rough sketch of which buoys would lead us away and their relative bearings. Having located the first one with some difficulty, we buoy hopped along a completely black and boat free river for an hour until we found somewhere a bit quieter with a good landing beach and a swarm of utterly deserted mooring buoys. It was a bit nerve racking as we were on a falling tide and could see nothing but distant shore lights and the occasional blink of a buoy in the gloom. If we had run aground we would have been left on our side for some 12 hours in the middle of the river somewhere (single long keel now remember). At 19.30 we picked up a buoy in 3 meters of depth, exhaled, lit the charcoal stove and rowed ashore to seek out a pub. A damned good pub it was too, The Yachtsman at Hamworthy. We toasted our own hopes of survival for the coming days and gorged on some amazing fish and chips. That night the wind blew hard from the East, shaking our little boat until everything banged and clattered about relentlessly. It was also well below freezing outside. We got very little sleep but we were in a safe spot and toasty so long as we kept feeding the charcoal burner.
The following day dawned crisp, blue and shiny, planning the next step was completed in relative comfort and we had plenty of time to stroll along the beautiful empty beaches around Hamworthy with Orla. This was the best period of our four day “holiday”. It was going to go very much downhill from here on.