Sunday 19 October 2008

Braving Southampton Water

What's the difference between the moon and Southampton Water? The moon is shiny and bright....
Which is just one of the reasons why I have never rowed there, another being fast-moving and upredictable threats ranging from jetskis to cruise liners. Which reminds me (read this aloud) what is brown and steaming and comes out of Cowes backwards? The Isle of Wight ferry.
However, the destination of the last southern meet of the Dinghy Cruising Association was Eling, a village on a little inlet off the River Test on the other side of Southampton from where I live. It was a case of either drive through Southampton, or row through it.
So I decided to launch at Weston, a dreary suburb dominated by Weston Shore, a line of tower blocks put up in 1965 by the old People's Republic of Southampton. In constrast, the slipway is fabulous, usable all states of the tide and having a free car park and (joy!) an extremely smart new public jakes.
The water still looked intimidating, with some huge carriers unloading gazillions of cars from the Far East on a quay on the other side, and a speedboat race taking place in the middle. The only other users of the slipway were two jetskis towed behind Kamikaze Testosterone V8 pickup trucks with bull bars so large they should be elephant bars. Usually, boaters exchange friendly banter on the slipway whatever their boating preference but these guys didn't acknowledge my presence.
Looked right, left and right again and rowed briskly over the water to Hythe, breathed sigh of relief and continued north. Period of alarm passing between the military port at Marchwood and the cruise liner port on the other - nowhere to climb out of the water if disaster struck. But of course it didn't.
Caught up with Al Law in his Paradox Little Jim off the sail training place. Left him tacking manfully but slowly upstream.
Got to Eling, a pretty place with a church on a hill, a tide mill and a pub. Unfortunately also an enormous stack of empty containers. And it is surrounded by housing estates, so it is infested with chavs. Two Fletcher speedboats launched as I ate my sandwiches. Nice blokes but lethal on the water - one nearly ran me down as I left.
So it was rather a joy to find that the DCA had assembled on the bank just to the south, a place with dramatically contrasting views - two lovely Georgian houses on a wooded hill on one side, and the container terminal on the other.
Regretted my long break afterwards as I felt stiff as a board, but much more confident. Even the departure of a cargo vessel, the Isle of Wight ferry and a huge cruise liner didn't phase me (much).

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