It was around the moment that we both huddled over the vent of our diesel air heater for warmth, droplets of condensation forming on the hatches overhead, the smell of mildew filling cabinets and closets, that we started to ask ourselves: why? Why did we, two American sailors, leave the balmy Caribbean to sail some 4,000 miles across the North Atlantic, only to spend the winter stuck in a marina on the south coast of England during a long lockdown?
It was really only by chance that myself and Roxy, my wife and Sonder’s co-skipper, ended up staying in England after travel restrictions delayed our planned sail south to the Mediterranean. But what started as a disruption turned to serendipity in early May, when restrictions lifted and we departed our Solent winter berth on the Hamble River for a cruise along the South Coast.
Sailing across Studland Bay towards Poole
A ONE - SIDED RACE
Our first planned stop after leaving the Solent would be Studland Bay, 20 miles of upwind sailing west from the Isle of Wight. It was early morning and the tide, near slack, would soon turn against us. Light westerlies were forecast to build steadily later that day.
At Hurst Point, I noticed there were two other yachts appearing to head the same direction. As any sensible sailor would, I immediately declared it a race (unbeknown to the other participants), Roxy and I wasted no time in sheeting in for a close-hauled port tack down the North Channel. One of the other yachts, slightly smaller than Sonder, started on the same tack as us to clear the Shingles Bank. The other, a larger boat with more crew, took the starboard tack down towards the Needles.
The sun fought hard against the clouds and cold spring breeze coming off the North Atlantic. As the tide turned, a distinct line appeared in the water in front of us as the clear, emerald water of the Atlantic Ocean met the brackish, brown Solent.
Tacking in towards Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight
This demarcation was an obvious start line, not just for this pretend race, but something more symbolic too. This was a departure point. From the Pilgrims bound for America, through to the fabled Golden Globe Race of 1968, the south coast of England had often featured in the seafaring books I’d read since childhood. This place was the perfect setting for the start of an adventure.
Roxy winched our mainsheet traveller to windward and we felt Sonder gracefully heel over 10° into the developing chop as if she too was excited by returning to the Atlantic. The wind stiffened to 22 knots apparent and I studied the progress of our unwitting race rivals. Both yachts were modern French designs that admittedly point higher in the wind than our 1986 Cheoy Lee Pedrick 47. Sonder’s designer, Dave Pedrick, modelled her after classic New England yachts built in Rhode Island and Maine shipyards. With her dark blue hull, narrow stern, moderate sheer and overhangs, and a varnished teak toe rail we’ve been told repeatedly she sticks out from other yachts in England as looking ‘very American’.
Sonder's saloon and a mid-ship companionway
The larger boat offshore had clearly secured the lead. But Sonder cleared Bournemouth for a final tack towards Studland and secured ‘2nd place’, a decent showing for our first sail of the season
Studland Bay, with its uniform line of white chalk cliffs culminating at Old Harry Rocks, is a majestic setting that immediately drew us in. We took the tender ashore and found a footpath that led from the beach to the clifftops Even now, after three years of living aboard Sonder, there’s still a special feeling of gratitude when you look down from a cliff thronged with visitors taking photographs to see her gleaming in the bay below.
Phil on deck
Separating from the crowds, we turned inland. The narrow path wound tightly through dense bushes before a powerful smell hit us, suddenly emanating through a grove of trees. Tens of thousands of little white flowers with glossy green leaves dotted the ground as far as the eye could see. Picking a few stalks, Roxy realised it was wild garlic in bloom, a sight completely new to us. We stuffed our pockets full with the pungent leaves and headed back down to Sonder to try our hand at some wild garlic pesto for dinner.
Over the next few days, a proper spring gale bore down on us, bringing strong south-westerly winds which forced us into the protected harbour of Poole. At the harbourmaster’s instruction we picked up a mooring buoy on the north side of Brownsea Island. Experience has taught us to be cautious about relying on someone else’s ground tackle in a storm, so we moored onto what looked like the strongest buoy with a beefy pickup line attached. All night, and the following day, winds howled into Force 9. Sonder bucked up and down wildly while Roxy and I hunkered inside, bundled up with a hot cup of tea (or the occasional gin and tonic) listening to the wind sing endlessly in the rigging.
Saling away from Lantic Bay en route to Falmouth
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