With a heavy heart, Iíve decided to give up my beloved Hamble River mooring
This has been an incredible privilege
Ė a little spot all my own in this beautiful place, an ancient center of ship-building and yachting. My mooring
is far up the river near the famous Jolly Sailor pub, which dates from the 17th century, and almost on the very spot where Admiral Nelsonís flagship (Battle of Copenhagen) the Elephant was built. The bones of Henry Vís flagship, Grace Dieu, built in 1418, lie near here, and can still be seen on a very low spring tide.
is brackish up here, and so there is little fouling, which allows me to go three or four months between bottom scrubs. On top of all of it, I share my pontoon with the best neighbor in the world, a most lovely guy whose boat, one of Kim Holmanís last designs, is one of the most beautiful on the river.
The waiting list for a Hamble mooring runs about 20 years, and those lucky enough to get through it, are granted this wonderful privilege
for life. As a Hamble mooring holder, you pay annual harbour dues and a small rent for your piece of the river bottom to the Royal Estate (as the Queen owns all the estuaries in the UK except Beaulieu). It amounts to about $2000 a year, which is about 1/10 of what a marina berth costs on the Hamble for this size boat.
For someone living and working in or around London (Berkeley Square is just 90 minutes away by car), sailing on weekends and holidays, and/or cruising the South Coast in summer, this is an ideal setup. As a lovely bonus, if you come down for a weekend, say, and donít feel like going out, being on your mooring is NOT like being in a marina. Itís like being at anchor
somewhere, so you feel like youíre already out somewhere.
But there are a few serious drawbacks. First of all, you have to a place on shore to land your dinghy
or harbor tender
. There are a couple of public hards where you can launch but are technically not supposed to leave a dinghy
permanently, but a few people do. Otherwise, you have to rent a dinghy berth at one of the marinas
. This costs about $900 per year and makes you a ďcitizenĒ of the marina Ė meaning you can use the laundry
rooms, showers, etc., and you can park there. Thatís not a bad deal if youíre using it year round.
Then, you have to have something to use as a harbor tender
. If you use your normal dinghy, you will wear it out pretty fast with this duty. Plus it ends up staying in the water
most of the time, and the bottom will foul. I have a small hard rowboat which I pull up onto my pontoon when Iím not using it, but it is not very good, and so I end up using the normal dinghy, and wearing it out.
Then, thereís no electrical
power or water. No problem for the guy coming down from London for the weekend, but if you live on the boat for extended periods as I do, it means that you have to generate electrical
power and make heat. 5 hours of generator
use a day adds up Ė thatís 150 hours if you were to do it for a solid month, which is about $300 in fuel
alone, plus one oil change
. Bleh. Plus the Eberspacher heater which needs service
every x number of hours of use, plus more fuel
use. Of course I donít do it for a month solid at a time Ė Iím flying around Europe
on business half the time, and when Iím on the boat I go out. But thatís yet another expense Ė instead of going out and being at anchor
all the time, like I like, I will spend one or two nights in some marina getting a good charge on my batteries, hauling groceries, etc. On summer rates (April through October), thatís at least 45 and up to 75 pounds a night.
This stops making sense completely in the coldest months (December through February), so I have always spent these months in Cowes hooked up to electricity. This has worked out well as I have all my boatyard work done there anyway. But itís yet another expense, and when you add all of it up, itís not that far off the $20,000 a year I would have been paying in a Hamble marina, and a lot of trouble.
The last three years, I have been out cruising four months a year anyway Ė May through August. That means I have only used my mooring for a couple of months in the fall, and at most one month in the spring (and usually zero). Iíve been subletting my mooring during the summer to a friend, but the Queen gets the profit, I only get a small rebate of my fees
. Heís been using my dinghy berth, using it far more than I, but not participating in the expense.
It just doesnít make sense. So Iím giving up the mooring and will make Cowes my permanent base. The good news is that I can pay a waiting list fee in Hamble and maintain my original (from 5 years ago) place on the waiting list, which means I can get it back, or another mooring, pretty much whenever I want, should my circumstances change.
When I think about Cowes, my spirit is lifted again. I love this place! The Hamble is gorgeous, but the marina of which I was a citizen has, since the demise of the Moody boatyard, gradually become a center of giant motor
yachts and has become an increasingly alien place culturally. I feel out of place walking through it in my oil-stained work clothes, amongst the Princess yacht owners in their canary yellow pants. Cowes, on the contrary, is jam packed with sweaty racers during the summer Ė Cowes being, of course, the worldís epicenter of sail racing
. And in the winter time is full of quirky Caulkheads, who speak more slowly and gently than the ďOvernersĒ (mainlanders) from the other side of the Solent. And do not wear canary yellow pants or shiny shoes. Rather than gourmet gastro-pubs (like the one I got food
poisoning in in Hamble Village last year), Cowes is full of sleazy sailor dives. The yacht haven is at the ancient town quay in the center of West Cowes, so three minutes walk from two good grocery stores, an absolutely awesome 19th century style ironmongers, an excellent old fashioned chandler (Jolliffes Offshore
Chandlers, est. 1853), and a multitude of other infrastructure. London is two hours door to door by public transportation via the high speed cat ferry
The yacht haven itself is quite unlike the giant boat parking lots on the mainland. The floating part is small (the hardstanding, however, is huge). Tall ships and naval vessels berth on the outside of the breakwater. The staff are the most friendly and helpful Iíve ever encountered in a marina, and itís all the same people who were there 5 years ago Ė apparently zero staff turnover, unlike in the mainland marinas
I'm even tempted to try to get into the RORC, which has now merged with the Royal Corinthian. This would give me the advantage of having a club in London, and the fellowship in Cowes must be pretty interesting, too. On the other hand, why put down roots anywhere? One of the best things about cruising is the constantly changing scenery. Have to think about that one.