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Sunday, September 13, 2010, in Lymington, England

Hi all. We arrived today in Lymington, at the marina where the boat will spend the winter. Last week, we were in Weymouth, on the English south coast.

Some housekeeping forced us to stay in Weymouth for a full week, but it was no sacrifice. Weymouth has at least a dozen inviting and affordable places to eat for lunch, a variety of supermarkets and shops, and we were granted sunny and warm days, one after another. One day, a man rapped on our hull and said, “I think that we were in the 2004 Eastern Med Yacht Rally together.”

He was right, and clever, too, as we’re in a different boat, and it has a different name. They have a Hallberg-Rassy, too, so again we were in the presence of family. Their boat is in Antigua on our side of the world, but their home is in Weymouth. During our stay, we saw them several times. On our last day in town, they picked us up in their car and took us to nearby Portland Bill.

Portland Bill is a “tied island”, that is, a peninsula that’s connected by a thin spit of beach called a tombolo. That’s not the “bill" part; the bill is the shape of the farthest point into the sea. Whatever it’s called, the beach sweeps along the blue edge of the English Channel and connects to the hilly topography of the island. It’s surprising how fast the crowded town of Weymouth gives way to empty rural farmland in a matter of miles.

Portland’s claim to fame is its limestone, which was a favorite of architect Christopher Wren, who used it for St. Paul’s Cathedral. It has also been used in Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, and the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

We stopped at a restaurant in the area currently under development for the sailing events of the 2012 Olympics. I finally had my chance at a Portland crab sandwich, a local specialty. The restaurant is modern and has a commanding view over the large harbor. There was a huge, modern wind generator nearby, very still, though there was a breeze blowing. Apparently, this windmill was a great object of curiosity for the local seagulls, who thought that it would be a good idea to fly between the blades. So for a while, the patrons of the restaurant would find raw seagull parts, complete with feathers, dropping into their meals. So the windmill was switched off, for now. Soon, the whole area will become a huge Olympic village, not powered by wind.

I couldn’t confirm the story about this restaurant, but a nearby wind generator was attracting seagulls as well. This one was beside a primary school in the area. The poor children would go out for recess, or come to school in the morning, and there would be seagull carcasses in the schoolyard. One of the administrators would get there early in the morning in an effort to sweep up the evidence of death before the little ones got there. But eventually the cost of the kids’ psyches trumped the energy benefit and the generator was turned off.

Our drive took us by farms, including an alpaca ranch (the alpacas there are for the amusement of children, not for shearing, apparently), and old castles, manor houses and churches. We learned about the riots that took place because of the Royal Navy’s practice of ��������������impressment”.

Impressment, or press gangs, was a recruiting tool by the navy, when normal efforts simply couldn’t meet the needs of naval personnel. Sailors could earn twice as much from merchant ships. The press gangs would conscript men in the right age group and state of health, and sometimes overlooked whether the man had any sailing experience, or for that matter, whether he was a British subject.

The weather for our sail to Poole was mild. The winds were behind us, and we motor-sailed with our jib out. Our speed was assisted with gusto by a current that occasionally added about four knots to our pace, which was already close to eight knots. The marina assigned us a spot along a pontoon, happily very close to the shore. Often, the visitors’ berths are the very last ones out, a situation that makes for a long walk to town, and often means big swells from the nearby sea.

Poole is rich in seafaring history, like the other towns along this coast. The harbor was the third largest embarkation point for Normandy and was the headquarters for the US Coast Guard. Notable former residents of Poole include J. R. R. Tolkien, co-founder of the theory of evolution Alfred Russel Wallace, and the author John le Carré.

The place we wandered into for lunch boasts a 500-year history and once hosted the exiled king of France, Charles X. It had been a coaching inn that held the coaches, the horses, and funeral vehicles, and at one time brewed its own beer. Later in the day, we took a walking tour of the old town, assisted by a colorful brochure from the tourist office.

Apparently this town is quite haunted. At no less than three points on the brief tour, we were directed to places where ghosts have been spotted, or at least documented. A quaint timbered building, the King Charles Pub, is one of them. Another is the grassy lot behind the Parish Church of St. James, where “overspill” graves were placed. The Crown Inn was under renovation when a piano was heard to play by itself and some sort of fluorescent mist was seen floating down a flight of steps into a courtyard. We didn’t encounter any ghosts, but we were only in town for a day.

In the morning, we motored down the slender river that connects Poole to the English Channel. The tides are always important, and we were in a high tide part of the month. The sea was agitated for most of our trip, whether or not we had enough wind to sail, with a current that helped us by about four knots. We passed the pointed white rocks called the Needles, which herald the beginning of the body of water called the Solent, and made our way into Cowes.

The Isle of Wight sits just off of the south coast of England and was mentioned as early as Ptolemy. Roughly diamond-shaped, it’s long been a holiday destination and was a favorite of Queen Victoria. About half of the land has been designated as park in the most British of ways; it’s called the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Charles Dickens wrote a good bit of David Copperfield there.

Cowes itself became a boatbuilding city in 1589 when Queen Elizabeth I ordered an 80-ton, 60-man vessel. The ship was named the Rat O’Wight, no doubt as accurate as a name can be. Though the boatbuilding business lasted some time, today Cowes is known as the yachting center of the world, with Cowes Week one of the most spectacular racing events in yachting.

We chose a marina in East Cowes across the river Medina from the main town. To get to Cowes (it’s erroneous to refer to West Cowes), we took a chain ferry, which the locals call the “floating bridge.” The ferry is propelled across the river by pulling itself on a chain, grinding its way across with pedestrians and vehicles, depositing its passengers, and grinding across the other direction, all day long. There’s no timetable, and none is needed, because you can always see where the ferry is, and whether it’s on its way to you or away. In Cowes, the ferry is especially effective because it’s not affected by currents, or weather, or winter.

We wandered around in Cowes (the main one) for an afternoon, and the next day, we explored our own side of the river. Though we didn’t go inside, we walked to the summer retreat of Queen Victoria. Designed by Prince Albert, the castle once covered about 2000 acres. Victoria spent a lot of her time there after Albert’s death, and she herself died there in 1901. The castle served as a location for the Judi Dench movie Mrs. Brown about the Queen for the many years she survived her husband.

On our last day in town, we took a different ferry across to Southampton, to visit the boat show. Though we weren’t in the market for any equipment, and certainly not any boats, we knew that friends of ours would be with two of the booths, and it was an opportunity to reconnect.

The next day took us across the Solent to Lymington, a short trip made rather longer by an unfriendly current. But there were others having a worse day than we were on the Solent, the water between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight. There was a mayday call from someone, who had some problem with the equipment, or some lines, or a mooring, and six people fell into the water, with one person injured on board. The English Coast Guard and private lifeboat association, in coordination with a rescue helicopter, apparently plucked those six out of the water and delivered them to a waiting ambulance on shore, then went back and got the injured party who’d managed to stay on the boat. These waters need caution even when you’re in the boat’s cockpit, but the cold water means that rescues need to be quick, or even good swimmers are lost to hypothermia. Fortunately, all aboard were in lifejackets and the rescue services were expedient, and all were saved. The saga ended just as we pulled into Lymington Harbor.

We arrived in Berthons Marina at about noon, and tied up in a large berth near the shore. This was our last trip for the season, because Berthons is the place where the boat will come out of the water for its stay on land for the winter.

So our summer travels are over. We’ll be here for about another month, and then it’s back to Florida. We’re already looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

Love, Karen (and Art)