1954 Solent Charter

Saint George’s Hospital Gazette – Autumn 1954

A Cruise, By J Moss

This year the members of the Sailing Club went for a fortnight’s cruise on the South coast in an elderly gaff cutter of impressive dimensions called Leila. Built in 1892, she was 48 feet overall with a draft of 8 feet and an 8 foot bowsprit. She also had what was speedily discovered to be a most unreliable auxiliary.

The boat was taken over at Portsmouth and the engine found to be hors-de-combat, despite herculean efforts by Bill Parry who worked late into the night changing a suspected gasket. The following day therefore Leila left Portsmouth under sail. Tacking with difficulty in the narrow harbour entrance the Isle of Wight ferry was encountered coming in; luckily it appeared more manoeuvrable than Leila and so they survived to anchor that night in Cowes Roads. Three days were spent in Cowes during Cowes week with perfect weather and then, the engine having been repaired, the water tanks were replenished and Leila slid down to Yarmouth with a fair tide, a blue sky and a light breeze whilst her crew sunbathed on deck. Yarmouth roads proved a delightful anchorage and an excellent tavern was quickly located.

At 5am the following morning a bleary eyed crew viewed the cold drizzly grey morning with distaste as Leila, plunging her bowsprit under, lurched into a headwind towards the Needles, bound for Weymouth on the ebb. Outside the Needles, sail was hoisted and the sheets hardened in to lay St Albans head, signs of sea-sickness shewing in some of the crew. Old Harry was sighted through the rain at 9.30am and then progress ceased for 6 hours as Leila beat against the flood. At 7pm off Lulworth the wind finally died and the auxiliary was started in order to reach Weymouth before dark. Fifteen minutes later that auxiliary also expired amidst sparks and fumes.

By midnight the wind had freshened and was blowing hard. Leila was racing forward her rail hard down, in a welter of phosphorescence like a cauldron of green fire. The weary navigators vainly trued to disentangle the maze of lights ahead and soon it was thought advisable to shorten sail to the staysail alone. Unidentified objects could now be seen ahead and on both bows and flares were light to try and obtain a pilot, these were unseen and the crew assembled on deck wearing lifejackets. Everyone was very tried. Then the northern breakwater of Portland harbour loomed ahead. Leila was headed up for the entrance but the tide was too strong, the engine was coaxed into unhealthy life in the nick of time, and with the lurid glare of the flares on the afterdeck illuminating the crew in their lifejackets and with fumes and sparks pouring up the companionway from the engine, Leila rolled wildly into Portland harbour, to anchor in the only spot she could fetch, the middle of the torpedo testing range at 5 o’clock in the morning, a spot from whemce she was towed at 10 am by an Admiralty launch.

The following day there was warning fo approaching gales so the decision to move round to Weymouth was made. The engine naturally stopped immediately outside Portland harbour and only a tow from a passing M.F.V. saved having to run down for Poole.

Several pleasant days were spent in Weymouth harbour sampling the excellent local cider and building the biggest sandcastle ever seen in those parts, complete with an anti-baby moat which turned out to be small boy proof as well. Then, the gale having passed, Leila left for Poole. With one reef down and huge seas rolling up under the quarter Leila soon disposed of the fears of sundry of her crew and was loggin about 7 knots towards Peveril Point, a perfect gybe off the point and then a fast reach up to Poole, where sail was lowered off Brownsea Island and Leila ran up to the town under power.

Two sunny days were spent wandering around Bournemouth and Poole and then with the engine finally abandoned Leilabeat out of Poole under sail, skating over a middle ground which was two feet shallower than she was in the process! The topsails were set, the sun shone and Leila raced back to the Solent on a broad reach. The wind was dying as she reached the Needles channel and she ghosted into Yarmouth Roads on the last of the flood tide with the most glorious sunset. Alast day basking in the sun at Yarmouth then goodbye to Leila, lying with her bowsprit run in and sails stowed, between the mooring piles in Yarmouth harbour.

Hopefully Dr Moss will send us some photos.