“Maybe this was a mistake,” I admit to thinking, as the Solent’s waves suddenly seemed to increase in size, and spray came over the cabin-top for the first time. The steely sky frowned down and the wind, gusting in squalls, seemed to change direction all the time. There were no other sails visible: just huge ships bearing quickly down the channel.
I pointed our bow towards Lee-on-Solent and scanned the horizon, hoping to catch sight of Tammy Norie, our sister ship and fellow-Coromandel. She was nowhere to be seen, as yet. My first voyage was under way, alone at the helm of Emmelène at last.
That was my first and only moment of doubt. The rest of the trip was simply fun.
Even in that initial moment of worry, the boat was fine: Emmelène was having a great time; two panels reefed, she danced joyfully and powerfully over the waves and seemed to want to sail onwards for ever. The only problem was psychological. My inexperience seemed to be shouting insults at me, as if to say, “Ha! Think you can do this, ya sissie? Just read a load of sailing books and head off for a voyage, single-handed? How’s ya breakfast feeling now?!” And so on. I realised how little I know. But it was just a moment.
Because my little Coromandel junk took care of me. These were not big seas, despite how they felt to me – it was just a bit of wind over tide and we sailed through it into fairer water. Then I realised that I didn’t feel sick at all; just the remnants of slight fear. Fear of failure. But here we were, making excellent progress. The fear evolved into elation.
Through the misty horizon came Tammy-Norie’s familiar Hasler-style crimson junk sail, making for Ryde and tacking westwards up the Solent. Emmelène was on the opposite tack, a mile east, heading towards Lee-on-Solent. We maintained our opposing courses. Tammy leapt ahead, making way to windward, and it took me a while to realise that she was simply being sailed better: Richard was making use of the currents along the north coast of the Isle of Wight, whilst I was fighting the tide, frequently crossing the shipping lane, and generally broadcasting my rookie status. I humbly began to follow him.
And then, to my surprise, I overtook Tammy-Norie. This is because of my new sail. It’s significantly bigger than Tammy’s. Mine is almost 20.4m² whereas Tammy’s measures, I believe, 18.3m². Although I was reefed down a panel or two, I still had the bigger sail area. This simple mathematical advantage improved my mood and confidence immensely, and I felt as if I could probably make it to the Polynesian Isles before tea!
We were now sailing close enough to call across to each other and we decided to try to make for Newtown Creek to anchor overnight. In a good wind, we beat up towards the river, two junks waltzing to windward as the sun began to set. We motored in to the creek as the wind subsided.
We anchored at the top of the “legal” area, where several other yachts had moored. Rafting up our two Coromandels, we had some dinner and then I fell asleep in Emmelène’s quarter berth, looking up, through the open companionway hatch, at the clear stars. It couldn’t have been a better day.
Day two started with a “re-positioning” of our two junks: we motored through the calm, sublime dawn from Newtown Creek to Keyhaven, to await the favourable tide westwards. This photo of Tammy hasn’t been Photo-shopped or filtered in any way – the view from my stern was exactly this:
It was a timeless pleasure to hang around for a few hours on the sunny dock in Keyhaven, doing odd jobs aboard, making breakfast, and chatting to passers-by, who were intrigued by our strange sails. Dinghies sailed past and children played on the little beach. It felt like (I imagine) a summer’s day back in the 1950s.
Soon the tide swung in our favour, and we headed out past Hurst Castle and set course for Poole Harbour, where I have sailed a lot in the past as member of the excellent NHYC – North Haven Yacht Club. As far back as 1983, I circumnavigated Brownsea Island (in Poole Harbour) as a Scout, aboard a “borrowed” Mirror Dinghy with a mate, returning two hours later to the wrath of our Scout leader who was understandably frantic with worry at the idea of having lost two of his troop. (Being 11 years old, we had not mentioned our departure or intentions).
By this stage, Tammy-Norie and I were in VHF contact with Peter Brown, my friend from NHYC, who had sailed out to meet us aboard his well-found Westerly Pageant, Karenzi. Due to his crew’s shore commitments, Peter had to return to Poole ahead of us, but we were grateful to him for organising us a comfortable mooring as guests of NHYC.
We were now on a beam reach, sailing due west across Christchurch Bay and Poole Bay in very light airs. For most of the way, the tide was with us and we made 3 or 4 knots over ground. Gradually, Emmelène drew ahead of Tammy-Norie, despite my choice not to trim the sail (or remove my 2 panels of reef) because I became happily distracted by my book, “The Idiot” by Dostoyevsky, which I sat in the cockpit reading, for about two hours, only looking up periodically to check our progress and to look for other boats in the vicinity.
This says a lot about the ease of use of the junk rig: in light airs, it sails OK regardless of whether I faff with the sail trim; the rudder sits happily amidships whether or not the tiller is lashed, because of the balanced rig; and the whole setup is relaxed enough to enable an inexperienced cruiser (me) to read his book and drink tea while making a single-handed coastal passage. I was half inclined to have a sleep, but Poole Harbour was coming into view.
We motored in through the very busy harbour mouth, with its strong counter-current and chain ferry to bear in mind. As we made our way towards our mooring, two friends of mine, Bobi and Colin, drew alongside in their powerful fishing motor-catamaran and threw me a bag containing two freshly-caught mackerel for our dinner. A wonderful welcome to Poole. Thanks, guys!
We spent the next two days sailing around Poole, in the company of Amiina, Edward Hooper’s delightful Splinter 21 with the split-junk rig.
Edward’s previous sail is now on Emmelène, so the two boats look almost identical from a distance. They even feature the same sail number, which is an oversight that I must correct this winter. Edward’s main interest is in racing, and little Amiina is sprightly indeed, with her fin-keel and experienced skipper. We had a lot of fun comparing boats and it was truly inspiring to see three small junk-rigged yachts sailing in convoy. We caused plenty of interest! We were lucky to have Karenzi sail along with us, acting as the photographer’s boat and providing us with some very nice photos of the three junks. Thanks, Peter and Heather!
Edward took these two photos from Amiina:
We rafted-up in South Deep, Poole Harbour for lunch:
Richard has posted an excellent video to YouTube about this informal “junket” as well as other scenes from our little cruise, and he has kindly allowed me to link to it here:
And thank you Edward, for being so welcoming and hospitable:
All too soon, after just a couple of nights in Poole Harbour, shore constraints meant that we had to leave and head back towards the Solent. The wind was almost nonexistent but it’s amazing how a little bit of tide can carry you along. My friend Jeremy sailed out with us, in his exquisite little Willow-Bay Shilling, Margherita, with her classic lines and gaff rig:
Because of our becalmed state, I plucked up courage to raise my entire sail – all panels – and was surprised at the difference. “No wind” suddenly became “some wind”. Her skipper learned another lesson – and Emmelène sailed forward…
Richard suggested that we enter the Solent via the Needles Channel, which was a new route for me. It was exciting to be so close to these spectacular rocky outcrops, and Emmelène seemed pleased, too.
Richard took these photos as we sailed towards and past the Needles:
Having already seen Newtown River, we opted to rest in the mouth of Beaulieu River this time. As soon as we had sailed in and anchored, two blokes came over to chat about our rig, one in a rowing dinghy and the other on a windsurfer. We certainly had a social cruise!
My never having sailed in the dark, Richard very kindly suggested that we make a night passage, and he spent some time explaining the rudiments of nocturnal sailing. Cups of tea in hand, with books and the chart spread out on Emmelène’s folding cabin-table, we went through the different types of ship-lighting patterns, and arranged a passage plan and also points of safety to which we could head if it all went wrong. I’ll cover our night-sail in a later post – but it was very-enjoyable experience and unforgettable for me.
All in all, an excellent first cruise for me and Emmelène; and I know that Richard and Tammy-Norie enjoyed it, too. I gained confidence and knowledge in light winds – and now feel ready to try slightly heavier weather conditions. I cannot speak highly enough of the split-junk rig that I have retro-fitted to my Newbridge Coromandel. It is brilliant. My boat performed impeccably.
Special thanks to:
- Richard and Tammy-Norie (his excellent blog is here) and several of the above photos are his, as is the video
- Peter Brown, skipper, and his wife Heather, of Karenzi, at NHYC
- Amiina’s skipper, Edward Hooper, of the Junk-Rig Association (which is a global community of quality “junk people” – I recommend that, like me, you join it – right now!)