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
, 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".