IOPCC Trip Report

Isle of Wight Bivi
21st June 2014

Pictures of the weekend are on the
Galleries Page.


Tony Sandry  
Stew Burdis  
Tudor Grashoff  
Carlos Lopes  

Until John Christmas mentioned it on the forum, I didn’t know that Saturday 21st June was the date for the annual Round Island Race. According to the RIR website, the race would be heading towards the Needles from Cowes, so we wouldn’t have any potential problems until they reached the home stretch of the race. Worryingly, on the same website it mentioned that the lead boats could be home by lunch.

The Round the Island Race

As luck would have it (for us kayakers), the winds were light, and the race was becalmed for a time on the SE coast of the island.

Carlos and Tudor, two new club members based in London, joined Stew and myself for the weekend. The Met Office had predicted force 3 or less and a smooth/slight sea, and as a bonus, a cloudless sky. What a rarity….

We parked the cars only 5 minutes walk away from Southsea beach and set off to a background of singing and baptisms taking place in the sea only a few metres away (bbrrr..).

Baptism anybody?

Our initial bearing took us to Horse Sand Fort, one of the four Solent forts built in the 1860’s.The forts were built because of a perceived threat from the French. They are sometimes known as Palmerston’s Follies, named after Lord Palmerston, who was The First Lord of the Treasury when the forts were planned. The forts guns were never fired in anger.

One of the Solent forts

In 2012 Spit Bank was opened as a luxury holiday facility by ‘Amazing Retreats’. Also in 2012 Horse Sand and No Man’s Land were bought by Clarenco, and they are due to be converted into a museum and luxury hotel. St Helen’s fort is in private hands.

Apart from Brittany, and Condor ferries, and the rare sighting of a warship, there are a myriad of boats and ships that use The Solent.

Brittany Ferry

If we paddled between Ryde and Cowes, hovercraft, fast cats and other more traditional ferries would be added to the mix. Worst of all, however, are the ‘gin palaces’ and other assorted power boats and jet skis as they appear to race endlessly up and down The Solent. Yachts are large in number, but whether they are under sail or motor, most sea kayakers feel that their helmsmen are more likely to be aware of other boaters. They are also much slower than powered boats.

Large ships follow a well defined route that takes them between Horse Sand and No Man’s Land Forts, so they are relatively easy to avoid. Stuart Fisher in his book ‘Inshore Britain’ writes “There are more pleasure craft in The Solent than there are commercial ships in the whole world so it gets a bit busy at times”.

We arrived at Bembridge harbour after about one & a half hours paddling and had a short lunch break on a rapidly growing sand bank. Whilst we were there we heard a radio conversation between a group of jet skiers and the coastguard. There were about thirty of them setting off for Shoreham and they expected to take 2 1/2 hours to get there. Pity the poor kayaker/windsurfer/kite surfer, or yachtsman out for a pleasant day en-route.

Bembridge has an attractive new RNLI Station that was completed in 2011 at a cost of £7,000,000. The boathouse houses a Tamar class all weather lifeboat and an inshore boat. The concrete and steel walkway is 250yds long because of the Bembridge Ledges.

The new Bembridge Lifeboat Station

The Bembridge Ledges and Whitecliff Bay area are an SSSI. The area is important because of the extensive areas of intertidal sand, rock and shingle that is being caused by the rapidly eroding cliffs.

The Ledges themselves are of Bembridge Marls. Bembridge Marls are “shallow marine, estuarine and freshwater sediments that yield an abundance of fossils”. They are particularly renowned for the important fossil mammal faunas and fossil plant floras.’

As it was low tide we had to paddle some distance out to avoid The Ledges. It was at this point and about 14:00 that we saw the vanguard of the huge flotilla that was ‘The-Round -Island –Race’. They were a few miles offshore and filled Sandown Bay in a seemingly endless procession of yachts. The yachts continued to process across the bay in large numbers until about 22:00. By about 23:00, we saw what we presume was the winner of the wooden spoon award. I think that the cut-off time for the circuit was 10 hours; if so, my guess is that more than half the fleet would have been disqualified.

By mid-afternoon we reached the beach at Whitecliff Bay and decided to push on to Sandown. Culver Cliff was dramatic as it had suffered an enormous collapse several years ago.

Culver Cliff

With a weak tide against us and a hint of wind we took about 40 minutes to get there. En-route we passed Red Cliff which I tried to catch unsuccessfully as a background for a photograph. Sandown sea front had clearly seen better days. A ghastly building with a sizable frontage had been boarded up a few years earlier, and will probably remain like that for many years before anything useful is built in its place. The café/bar on the beach terrace served reasonable coffee although when Carlos asked for a glass of tap water, the guy behind the bar said they didn’t have any water. Yes, we know that the IOW is still trying to enter the 21st century, but no mains water? We weren’t aware that the island was suffering a drought so presumed that he was a tight git. We had a good vantage point for watching the yachts move almost imperceptibly from West to East, and lounged around for about an hour.

With the tide in our favour, and well rested, we made it back to Whitecliff beach by late afternoon.

“Whitecliff Bay is famous for the well-exposed rock sequence from the Cretaceous (142-65 million years ago) Chalk through to the Tertiary (65-2 million years ago) Bembridge Marls. The beds are vertically inclined, making it easy to access the complete succession from beach level”.

The extreme eastern side of the beach looked the best prospect for camping, and it was also the furthest away from the track that led up to the caravan park on the cliff top. We were hard pressed to find any suitable ground for the four of us, but after 5 minutes of shovelling shingle a moderately flat platform could be achieved. I had decided to try out a tarp for shelter. It worked out fine, but by the time I had attached lines to it and fixed my splits in place, the other guys had pitched their tents and were enjoying tea and biscuits. I had camped here a few years ago and had told the others that the holiday camp had a small bar, a shop and a decent showers/toilet block. A burger van had seemed very popular with some of the paddlers. Carlos and Tudor strolled up and came back laden with food and drink.

Tony's tarp

Apart from the two couples who were disinterestedly watching a fishing rod, we had this side of the beach to ourselves. We considered making a fire, but a dearth of decent material and group lethargy when it came to scouring the beach, decided it. It was pleasantly mild anyway as we sat around watching the now ghostly fleet making its way home. That night there were probably ten large ships anchored off-shore and a couple of them were so brightly illuminated that they could have been cruise ships full of middle aged couples partying into the night.

In order to take advantage of the tides, we left about 07:45 the next morning. Stew didn’t complain too much, so I presumed that he had slept reasonably well. There was a little more cloud cover today and the sea was slight. The ledges were covered as we were close to high water and we made good progress along the coast to Ryde and landed on a gently shelving sandy beach adjacent to the leisure harbour. Stew and I decided to check out the local cafes, but we were underwhelmed by what the town had to offer. Ryde Sand on big tides dries out to about a mile offshore, so we had to keep an eye on our boats.
The Island Sailing Club and the Royal Southern Yacht Club try to meet up annually for a cricket match on the Bramble Bank on a big spring tide. The Bramble Bank is approximately mid-way between Calshot and Cowes. Occasionally the match is rained off or the pitch is flooded. The next planned match is for September 11th 2014.

The wind, although light, had veered around to the NE as we set off towards Spit Sand Fort. With the light breeze in our face we expected to get a bit of spray in our faces. For the first half a mile we were paddling in water only a few feet deep. Our course took us east of the ferry route between Portsmouth and Ryde, so although we saw and heard many vessels, we were safely out of harm’s way. We only saw one large ship heading our way from Southampton and it passed safely in front of us before we crossed the deep water channel. We probably paddled over the site of the Mary Rose capsize as it is about half a mile SSW of the fort. It took about an hour to reach Spitbank Fort where we had a chocolate break. A small motorboat was slowly going around the fort dangling a couple of fishing rods. Perhaps we frightened the fish, or possibly he was getting dizzy, but he motored off soon after we arrived. There was now a short hop to the red buoy marking the fairway for ships leaving Portsmouth. After a quick look around for huge cross channel ferries or warships bearing down on us, and seeing nothing, we quickly crossed to the green buoy.

We had another 4km of Southsea sea front to paddle. Just after the pier we paddled over the anti-submarine barrier that had been constructed just before the 2nd World War. The barrier extends about two miles out and finishes close to Horse Sand Fort. There are gaps that allow small craft through. A little way after the barrier, the Royal Marines Museum is housed in a handsome Victorian building. Fort Cumberland was built at Eastney Point to protect the entrance to Langstone Harbour. It was built in 1746 as a pentagon. Our get-out was roughly equidistant between the two buildings, but as it was low tide and we were paddling close to the beach, I missed some significant points of reference. Ooopps. I was out by a couple of hundred yards, but the walk warmed us up on this already very pleasant day.

Thanks to Stew, Carlos and Tudor for their company this weekend, and apologies for the early start. “Tides apparently wait for no man”.

Back to the Trip Report Index

Report: Tony Sandry
Pictures: Various



Paddling on the Jurassic Coast