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OGA50: A close encounter, August 2013

Single-handed skipper of the 19 ft. shrimper ‘Nutmeg’, Viv Head, shares a challenging experience coming out of Portsmouth. Against a spring tide and with insufficient revs, he describes a close encounter in the narrows with larger boats, including a car ferry, before enjoying a great sail up to Keyhaven.

The 19ft Shrimper ‘Nutmeg’ (sometimes known as ‘Gumnut’) spent a few days exploring the waters around the Solent after the OGA50 Anniversary weekend at Cowes, 15-19 August 2013. She sailed up the Medina River to Newport, across to Southampton Water and the River Itchen, then hugging the mainland coast to Portsmouth. Coming out of Portsmouth against a spring flood tide provided a moment or two of high interest. Single-handed, I could tell it was going to be a challenge when we began to slow well before the narrows. I increased the revs of the 8hp outboard bit by bit until there was no more to give. The GPS unwaveringly read zero speed.

There is I discovered, nothing quite like standing dead in the water with the engine howling at maximum revs against a flood tide in a narrow channel. I was wary of larger boats inching past me on the starboard side, close to an imposing stone wall. Then over my other shoulder appeared a towering car ferry, overtaking not twelve feet away on the port side. Pushed along by its wash in the sea’s turmoil, we crept agonisingly slowly towards the mouth. Just as I could see that, brick by stone brick, we were making a tiny bit of progress, a forty-foot yacht appeared from around the fort on the corner. Entering the tidal stream she was tossed around in an on-coming rush of tide over wash. We were bows on and a collision looked odds on; I turned to starboard as much as I dared to offer my port side. She answered with a turn to port (!), changing the odds of a collision to almost a dead cert. At the last second her helmswoman seemed to grasp the collision regulations and she turned away to miss us by three coats of anti-fouling. What a collision would have done to ‘Nutmeg’ in that situation and at that velocity doesn’t bear thinking about.

But safely out in the Solent it turned into a great day to be on the water. Up went full sail and with the tide under us and a SE breeze, ‘Nutmeg’ raced the 19nm to Keyhaven on one tack in an exhilarating four hours. We just beat the ebbing tide to get back on her swinging mooring to spend a glorious evening sitting on the mud, conjuring up a meal from left-over tins.

Viv Head, OGA member, Bristol Channel Area

Contributed by Viv Head, OGA Bristol Channel Area