Don’t worry, we haven’t come to rob the place!” I said to the slightly bemused member of Keyhaven Yacht Club. The wearing of face coverings in shops had been mandatory for some time, but it wasn’t enforced in pubs, restaurants or clubhouses. With our oversized hand-sewn masks we probably looked like pirates – certainly not visiting sailors! We explained that we’d paid our mooring fee over the phone and had come ashore in the dinghy for a mooch around.
The Covid lockdown had prevented any form of cruising until early July and having spent more than 12 weeks living apart due to family lockdown commitments in Exeter and Poole, by early September we were itching to get sailing again. We set off with a deeper sense of appreciation of the freedom to slip our lines and had decided that this should be a sailing trip of new experiences, despite the familiarity of our local cruising ground. Our plan was to try destinations in the Solent that we’d either not been to before or had visited only once. Remembering the advice from a long-term liveaboard friend, we stocked up with supplies and dropped the anchor in Poole Harbour at South Deep to spend a day preparing ourselves and the boat for the adventure ahead.
Whenever we’d passed Keyhaven I’d always been intrigued by the cluster of bare masts gathered behind the fort at Hurst Point. Having delayed the start of our trip to avoid some squally conditions, we’d lucked out with warm sunshine and light winds. With Covid restrictions changing regularly, forward planning took top priority. In the past, we’d rarely booked a berth, but this time ringing ahead was essential. We dug out our trusty Shell Channel Pilot, which directed us to contact the River Warden at Keyhaven. He advised us that we were welcome to pick up any of the first batches of moorings that didn’t have a tender attached. We planned our passage from Poole to arrive on the top of the tide and set off the following day.
Boozing at a distance
First job after a picking up one of two spare moorings was pumping up the dinghy for a trip ashore. We followed the line of boats upstream, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere for visitors. With hindsight, we should probably have tied up to the small quay, but instead, we asked a fisherman for advice. With a wry smile, he told us not to use the fishermen’s dock and suggested we tie up on the Keyhaven Yacht Club tender pontoon. That done, we headed for the clubhouse. Once we’d gone through our “we’re not here to rob the joint,” precautionary facemasks escapade, it turned out that all racing was done for the day and we were free to leave the dinghy where it was. Armed with directions to the nearby Gun Inn, we set off with the option of returning for a drink at the yacht club on our way back. The proprietors of The Gun had set up a very well-appointed bar in the beer garden and we duly ordered our drinks and made camp at an appropriately distanced picnic table. Upon wandering back to the Keyhaven clubhouse, later on, we checked the dinghy pontoon only to find it wasn’t floating anymore! Removing our socks and shoes, we waded the dinghy across the mud and paddled back into deeper water, chuckling at our rusty cruising instincts. We’d been of the water for far too long.
Keyhaven turned out to be a magical overnight stop. We woke just after low water on Monday morning still floating at the edge of the channel, but close enough to the shallow river bank that we could see (and hear!) the birds wading along the waterline. Basking in beautiful warm sunshine, we sat at the cockpit table and enjoyed our breakfast surrounded by visiting swans and a man from an adjacent boat gently mooching past on his paddleboard, his seadog companion laid out on the low bow, soaking up the sunshine.
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