We’ve only spent a few days in the Solent – and only the western half at that. But it was enough to persuade us that, with the exception of Yarmouth, it’s no place for us.
We were congratulating ourselves on successfully navigating the Needles Channel for the first time (having dealt with a little jamming issue on the furler en route), and admiring the scenery as we headed for Cowes. Well, it’s the place to be if you’re a sailor – or so we thought. We couldn’t have been more mistaken.
It would probably be lovely, if it were not for the boy racers wilfully ignoring the speed limit and no-wake rule around the entrance, the Red Funnel ferry that makes that turn to port to begin berthing wherever and whenever the pilot feels like it (regardless of other vessels; and yes, we know that commercial traffic on the Medina has right of way – but nevertheless…), the unhelpfulness of the East Cowes Marina radio operator, the downright rudeness of some yachties (not the harbourmaster staff or the folk on and around well-loved boats, who were extremely friendly, but the Hooray Henries and Henriettas lounging in sweaters and deck shoes that would probably be discarded if they ever got a splash of saltwater), and the engulfing stench of over-privileged, unearned entitlement.
In fact, the only really positive thing we could say about Cowes is that the water taxi service is among the best we’ve encountered.
How different from Yarmouth (pictured), where you are met by a berthing assistant at the entrance, and guided to a spot that could have been made just for Amneris. It seems that it doesn’t matter how full they are, as long as you are not fussy about rafting up (“God forbid anything worth less than half a mil comes alongside, it’ll wreak carnage on the house prices”, say certain folk in Cowes). What’s more, Yarmouth is simply a pleasant place to be. The harbour facilities are exemplary (gas, oil disposal, luxury bathrooms, information and advice with a smile), and there’s a lovely chandlers just a few minutes walk away. It’s easy to get the ferry to the mainland should the fancy take you (these ferries behave in an extremely civilised manner around other vessels). You can also explore the whole interior of the Isle of Wight from Yarmouth – with absolutely no need to go anywhere near that other place.
Yarmouth isn’t especially cheap if you’re staying for the night, or just a few days (though nowhere in the south of England is). But we did notice that they have a range of very reasonable offers for longer-term berthing. If you’re a sailing family, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that the little ones can go crabbing off the pontoons without being dragged under and diced by a propeller.
We haven’t explored the eastern side of the Solent yet. Maybe we will – it might be different. For now, though, if you’re planning to sail in the west we recommend that you make Yarmouth your base, enjoy the challenge and beauty of the Needles, and simply put up with the vast amount of traffic (note that each vessel seems to have its own unique version of Colregs) in the general vicinity.