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Old 07-01-2012, 12:07   #1
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Beautiful Cowes

During my first couple of years of keeping a boat on England's beautiful but expensive South Coast I kept my boat in a marina up the Hamble River. The Hamble, a tributary of Southampton Water, is an ancient and traditional center of yachting with maybe a dozen marinas and thousands if not tens of thousands of boats -- an amazing and wonderful place for a sailor. Henry V's flagship was built here in the 15th century, and John Moody built his boatyard here in the early 19th century. I was very happy in the marina which now occupies the site of the old Moody boatyard, but the downside was cost -- I was spending $20,000 a year.

So last spring when my lease was up I didn't renew. Between cruises in April and May, I left the boat on the Hamble River visitor pontoon. Then I got lucky and was given a series of sublet berths on midriver pontoons owned by the Crown Estate. No walkon access, no power, and no water -- but the cost was $500 a month and I loved being on the boat on this mooring -- beautiful salt marshes on either side -- it was like being at anchor, rather than in a big boat parking lot. Still in your berth, you're already cruising

But during the winter it is really nice to have electrical power so you can run some heaters inside in case of a hard freeze. I was made an extraordinary offer for a berth at Cowes for even less than $500 a month, and prorated daily. Electricity and wifi included! Now Cowes is on the Isle of Wight, across the Solent from the mouth of Southampton Water. I figured it would be a PITA to get back and forth from, but pulled the trigger anyway. In late November I cancelled my sublease in the Hamble and moved the boat to Cowes.

How much I have enjoyed it here! It is not a PITA to get to. Instead of renting a car, I now take the train (or the bus if from Heathrow) to Southampton and hop on the Red Jet ferry, which whisks you to Cowes from the Town Quay at Southampton at 40 knots (it's one of those crazy Australian built high powered catamarans), making the trip in 22 minutes. The ferry terminal is a 5 minute walk to my boat. So door to door from London is less than two hours, and I don't need a rental car as I did on the Hamble.

I was supposed to be on a week-long winter cruise right now, but my young crewman had some last minute problems in his life and stood me up. So instead I am spending the time on the boat working through a list of things to do, and enjoying life in Cowes. The Cowes marina is right in the center of West Cowes, directly off the high street. So the whole life of the town is just steps away. I have not cooked a single meal on board so far because the pub food is so good and so cheap, and it is so pleasant to sit somewhere in the evening.

It would be a sin not to go up the Medina in the dinghy for an evening at the legendary Folly Inn, but there are so many nice places right here . . .

Oddly, there is not a decent chandlery, at least not on this side of Cowes (I haven't been to East Cowes yet). There are dozens of shops selling sailing clothing, but precious little actual gear. This can be remedied by a quick blast across the Solent in the dinghy (here having a RIB with 25 horsepower outboard proves its worth) in calm weather. On the other hand, rigging, electronics, sailmakers, and all kinds of other specialized services are on every streetcorner.

And Cowes has one thing infinitely precious to a person tinkering on a sailboat -- a real old-fashioned ironmonger. Nothing like modern chain stores, with a stupid selection of Chinese-made cr*p. But a vast storehouse of all kinds of odd metal bits in every conceivable form, plus tools and all kinds of household items, all carefully selected by the knowledgeable proprietor. Need a battery hydrometer? No problem. A pop-riveter? Four types of professional grade riveters. I can't imagine how they make enough money to stay in business -- all that inventory . . .

The only downside is that swell from the Solent somehow gets into the marina here, which is, as a result, a "rolly anchorage".
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Old 07-01-2012, 12:27   #2
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pirate Re: Beautiful Cowes

I can understand your appreciation Dockhead...
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Old 07-01-2012, 12:48   #3
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

We really miss the Hamble and our regular trips over to the Folly, The Jolly Sailor was very nice though.
Couldn't afford Moody's rates (robbery) so we parked up at Foulkes.
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Old 07-01-2012, 12:58   #4
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

I looked it up on google maps. Very interesting area. Great post!
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Old 07-01-2012, 13:00   #5
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

There is a chandlery at the south end of the high street. It's on the opposite side of the road to the river on a T junction with Cross Street. They moved recently from the other side of the junction.

We love Cowes too

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Old 07-01-2012, 14:09   #6
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

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There is a chandlery at the south end of the high street. It's on the opposite side of the road to the river on a T junction with Cross Street. They moved recently from the other side of the junction.

We love Cowes too

Pete
Oh, I know Joliffe's. I was there today. Let's put it this way -- for general chandlery, I would rather dinghy across the Solent and up the Hamble to Force 4.

If you're not busy tomorrow, sail over and I'll stand you for dinner at the Fountain Inn
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Old 09-01-2012, 04:53   #7
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

Nice post.

Please keep posting about your experiences because it will give the rest of us an insight into the idea of not being tied to permanent berth. We like the idea of changing berths because it gives variety.

I agree about chandlers. However, after spending time on the Hamble one is a bit spoilt for access to chandlers. I think that the Hamble has more chandlers and just all round access to yachtie goods and services, than most other places. We always found everything from servicing to repairs much easier to organise on the Hamble.

Cowes Yacht Haven is surprisingly rolly for a seemingly protected marina. I think that some of the problems come from the wakes of passing ferries and other traffic. And the amount of disruption is hugely dependent upon where you berth in the marina. Tucked up close under the offices seems much less rolly than the berths near the entrance in the North Basin.

We have always found the staff there very pleasant too.

Cheers

Garold
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Old 09-01-2012, 11:03   #8
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

Despite the allure of many sailors bars further afield, I'd rate the Folly Inn up the Medina River beyond Cowes as one of the top sailing pub destinations globally.
Its a sleepy looking sort of place, with showers for visiting sailors who hang off the pontoons.
But for those you who've never had the chance to visit, the landlord is a good drummer and likes a boogie.
Hence every weekend and holiday the meal tables get cleared by 9 pm at the latest, the live bands winds up (usually with landlord on the drums) and the place simply rocks. You can forget sitting down - dancing on the table is almost mandatory - irrigardless of age. You've got to go to experience it.
IMHO the pub alone is definately worth getting over from the Hamble. Good move.
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Old 09-01-2012, 12:27   #9
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

View from the Folly at low tide.

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Old 09-01-2012, 12:29   #10
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

Cowes

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Old 09-01-2012, 12:30   #11
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

The Medina River at low tide.

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Old 09-01-2012, 12:51   #12
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

Lunch in Cowes.

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Old 11-01-2012, 10:41   #13
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

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Lunch in Cowes.

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Now that is more like it, none of that french stuff of eating boiled to death mussels in a bowl of weak soup.

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Old 12-01-2012, 18:57   #14
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

@ Dockhead

On my trips to the South I always avoided the Solent, giving Wight a wide berth, heading straight for Falmouth.
If fatum allows, I' ll make an 'around Britain' tour this summer. Doing so, you have put Cowes on the priority list to visit.
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Old 13-01-2012, 02:04   #15
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Re: Beautiful Cowes

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@ Dockhead

On my trips to the South I always avoided the Solent, giving Wight a wide berth, heading straight for Falmouth.
If fatum allows, I' ll make an 'around Britain' tour this summer. Doing so, you have put Cowes on the priority list to visit.
I come from Falmouth, but I would recommend having a wander about the Solent as there are some great places to visit.
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