Briefly on the 23rd March 2020 the government in common with most of Europe banned close social contact except for safe or essential business and ordered us to stay at home, for three weeks. After a few days hesitation it took hold strongly. On the 16th April it was extended for three more weeks to the 7th May. Decisions are awaited. Meanwhile it is a matter of waiting for, abiding by, and respecting the appallingly difficult decisions the government is having to make. It can for many of us be a time to think and reflect and recharge the batteries. It has been the worst of times, people are losing friends and relatives, but the best of times must come again. Parkstone For Poole Harbour the second largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney Harbour to be so completely empty of vessels as Ken Latham says is amazing. His house on the shore facing right up the Harbour from the Royal Motor YC has a superb view and it was speaking to him that inspired me to do these reports. He has known it for at least 80 years. The leisure craft including those on moorings have all gone. Not an X boat or similar in sight. All having to wait ashore, including X120, the British one not the African, that Paul Rivers Latham bought from Yarmouth in the winter and is looking forward to her first season here. The marinas like the RM and Parkstone Y.C are all sealed off. PYC with its super new clubhouse, extensive yard and sheds are all locked off and the staff furloughed, just two men left making sure all the machinery is kept running and the boats safe. Up at the Town Quay there are some huge £150m super yachts, belonging the locals say to oligarchs, tied up, registered in the Cayman Isles it seems, quarantined. The usual places for them on the Med are blocked off. Otherwise just minimal commercial traffic left.
The cross channel ferries pretty well all soon stopped, the cargo one from Santander bringing produce from Spain still comes in twice a week. The fast cat shoots out for a trip once in a blue moon. A supply boat still goes to Alderney. The little local ferry to the oil wells on Furzey Island continues to take the oil men there and back each day. The regular ship bringing steel to Poole each week can still be seen, but the small fuel ship from Fawley for the ferries has virtually stopped. A large Dutch dredger was for a while working in the main channel disturbing the water and spilling silt on the mudbanks. By contrast during WWII Ken says the harbour was extremely busy, naval boats by the RM, flying boats active, moored in the middle of the harbour, one especially adapted to carry mail and diplomatic bags to the States. Once a German plane flew in and shot at them. Many Dunkirk rescue boats went from Poole, and Dutch and French refugee boats used to come in. Ken and Jane say it is brilliant to hear the birds at the sanctuary on Brownsea Island in the evenings, everything is so quiet. You notice the lack of aeroplanes. I was desperate to know if the dolphins were back and Ken told me they met one alongside their motor launch towards the Wareham River at the end of last summer. It blew spray onto them, probably on purpose. But the water is too cold for them yet, I’d love to sail an X with a group of dolphins. Even the chain ferry to Studland has been taken off its chains and towed up to the Town Quay. Yarmouth Like Poole but on a much smaller scale Yarmouth harbour is locked down. The ferries to England have now stopped, they went onto one shift then nothing. I spoke to Colin Campbell and Nicky Henderson. The Harbour cannot be totally shut off because it is a refuge and safe haven, but all traffic in and out is discouraged by the Harbour Master. People are not allowed down onto the pontoons to check their boats, the HM keeps an eye on their mooring lines etc. The Royal Solent is shut like all others. Teams from it have set up delivery service runs for people’s prescriptions etc from the local pharmacy which is overwhelmed. Nicky does the rota, her brother Miles is on the run. Super yachts, modern sailing ones, are seen coming up the Solent from the west. Fabulous things 130/150ft or so long with Kardashian style transoms, single masted sloops, coming over from the Caribbean, where the hurricane season is approaching. They usually come to Europe at this time, but not so often the Solent.
And Colin says he has seen sail training ships in the Solent, probably Danish or Swedish who are still doing such things. Sweden is a rare country not to implement a lock down, and is pursuing a different policy. Currently there is talk of the IoW being a tester for easing the lock down first and using a special mobile phone tracking app. When things are finally permitted, X18 Nefertiti a magic Berthon should be joining the fleet at Yarmouth with Richard Bendy. Lymington The situation is mirrored across the Solent at Lymington, a total shut down, no ferries, just some fishing boats. Normally these days such an all go and 21st Century place. The yachts that are left out look deserted, it is as if a fuse had blown or a switch turned off, emphasising if anything the sense of lock down. The Royal Lymington YC is also closed staff furloughed and the pontoons out of bounds. There is a pool of members who are doing runs for other members in need of some assistance. The Lifeboat will launch if called upon but rarely gets asked. The large marinas are all shut down as elsewhere. James Meaning has very nearly finished doing up X69 Helena for Ray Mitchell to sail here this season. She looks stunning, these boats come up so fantastically nowadays. They are trying to reproduce the special colour that Harold Hayles had her when winning Cowes Week in her, his yard at Yarmouth now being run by Colin Campbell and his family. Cowes Cowes is closed, they say. The yards and marinas all shut, it might just be possible for a known individual boat maintenance chap to get to a boat, but the owners are kept out. The Lifeboat station is closed as a building, they could respond to a call still if needed. The moorings are empty no Darings or others afloat. And the yacht clubs all closed, even the Squadron felt obliged to follow suit, the locals say. The chain ferry is still running but it is meant to be for essential workers only. Nothing in the Solent amazingly empty, the water is clearer, and the sea bluer people say. There do seem to be more birds around, goldfinches for one, swallows back as usual, and the fabulous swifts. Neil Clifford says he might just have seen a red kite on his cycling runs, exciting birds.
Hamble The great news at Hamble is that the best fish and chip shop in the south as the reviews say is still operating, The Jolly Friar at nearby Netley Abbey. Perfectly geared up for lock downers, as Keith Hughes found the other night, he is still talking about it. Succulent fish, thin batter, not too greasy, food for the gods he says. As far as the river goes it is as empty as elsewhere, they have no ferries, or commercial traffic, except the odd fishing boat. One can’t say the water is clearer, it is usually muddy especially when it rains. Everywhere is so quiet. Except at 8pm on Thursday evenings when we all come out and applaud the NHS, there in addition to the pots and pans Darren Maple plays his bagpipes but over and above all the big ships in Southampton docks sound their hooters and horns at absolutely full blast, magical moments. I spoke to Eric Williams of Williams Shipping in Southampton for an update on the commercial side of the port, it is his firm’s 125th anniversary year. He was extremely helpful and informative. They do so many things nowadays as well as their core business servicing and supplying the shipping with their tugs launches and barges. This includes the oil tankers that are beginning to be stacked up outside the eastern end of the IoW full of oil with no demand. They also attend to the aircraft carriers and other ships in Portsmouth, the Navy is still operating. One particular operation that is unaffected is the transportation of the huge wind turbine blades still being produced up the Medina on their Bladerunner vessels to Fawley for painting and then taking them to ships for export. They also have extensive warehousing and store items like ambulances for the NHS, and a fleet of large transporter lorries. He says the cruise liners have stopped taking passengers, but have to go out regularly with their crews and sail round and need servicing and supplying. The container ships still come in but there are less of them. The Red Jet has stopped, but the Red Funnel car ferries to the IoW are running, on a reduced schedule. The hovercraft is still taking essential workers and medicine back and forth to the Island. Back at Hamble the news is that Basher Baines bought X192 Felix at the end of last year and we are all awaiting reports of him sailing her when sailing finally starts. This means that he has owned boats built by all builders for us in Poole, Napier, Newman and now Latham.
Itchenor The Chichester Harbour Conservancy the statutory body in charge has the harbour totally locked down. Even the occasional paddle boarder and kayaker is escorted home by the Harbour Master at Itchenor. No X boats were launched but a few Sunbeams got out onto their moorings before the 23rd March, and also some Swallows but not enough to make a summer. Sailing usually starts early at Itchenor. It wasn’t too difficult to anticipate the lock down was coming and get prepared. In Jetty House right on the shore by the slipway that used to belong to Flavia Nunes, her son in law Roy Griggs and his family of nine including children and grandchildren have an even better view of the water than Ken Latham at Poole. When he isn’t trying to keep his grandchildren out of the water, he says all he noticed at one stage was a dredger chugging past from further up the harbour, now stopped. Otherwise nothing. The lovely walk from North Shore down the harbour side towards the sea is as uncrowded as ever. Attached is a 1933 Yachtsman article headed Paradise for Yachtsmen showing the area which appears not to have changed at all. And news is that X27 Estelle is joining the fleet this year, an early true Newman to sail against their Woodnutts and others, with Chris McLaughlin. And the fabulous X39 Gone Away is about to be relaunched by Roy Griggs and Steve Lawrence after a painstakingly careful rebuild, one of my favourite boats, but ‘They’re all my favourites’ as Bruce Forsyth used to say. May I thank our superbly helpful contributors, John Wilson, ‘Uncle’ Ken himself, Colin Campbell, Nicky Henderson, Andy Baker, Keith Hughes, Peter Baines, Eric Williams, Neil Clifford, Roy Griggs, Roger Yeoman and my ‘production assistant’ again Tina Scott. All this confirms absolutely no X boats afloat anywhere currently abiding by the government restrictions but no doubt bursting for Boris to allow them out the dynamic little creatures. On their moorings they always look as if they are crying out to be taken out and raced flat out into big waves, surfed madly back down them, then returned safely to their moorings and tucked away for the next time. Richard Field Historian. 30th April 2020.