Brighton to Portsmouth – A tale of two halves

Attempt #1

On Saturday I headed out with Trina for Chichester, where I first set eyes on Excalibur some four years ago.

We sat in the cockpit having a cup of tea in Brighton, debating whether to head out or not. A dark bank of clouds were heading in our general direction. I didn’t like the fact we’d be closed hauled all the way, pushing a foul tide for a good 5 hours, but hell we could stick our noses out and take a gander.

After about an hour or two slamming waves and creeping along at 2 knots Trina asked at what point would it be prudent to turn back. Looking one way thunderous clouds and rain were battering the shore, looking the other way, beautiful sunshine. Then came a rumble of thunder that sealed the deal, and that was the sign I needed to call it a day and head back to Brighton for tea and biscuits.


The leisurely downwind sail back was a calm and peaceful way to end the day.

We tried, we failed, but at least we had tea and biscuits.

Attempt #2

The forecast for Tuesday looked more promising, light winds with a touch more southerly than westerly, but piping up in the evening. I thought it was my best bet to get across to the Solent given the predominately westerlies forecasted for the next week or so. I cleared it with work and headed back down to Brighton.

The the marina was silent the night before, and it crossed my mind that perhaps I should have left then.

The next day I set off on my own. I left 6 hours before HW Dover, hoping to arrive at the Looe Channel at HW just as the westerly tide sets in.


Sun, suntan lotion, sunnies you get the idea. Excalibur was slamming the waves, going at snails pace but Arthur the Autopilot was doing all the hard work, so I decided to have some fun.


I hear you cry “where’s your bloody lifejacket you nutter!”, and rightly so but it felt safe enough for a quick photo in my finest threads.

After a while blue skies turned to grey skies, so with much physical effort and faffing I pulled down the sails and spun her around and topped up the tanks. I still plan to move the fuel cap to inside the cockpit as soon as possible.

Then came the rain, god knows how people manage to top up their diesel when it rains!

The wind started to increase so I put another reef in. Every fifth slam would be greeted with a bucket of water in my face. I’ve never felt like the master of my own destiny (or demise) as when I stood on the coach roof reefing the main as we headed into a grey miserable abyss. Normally I would be sat in a nice warm cosy office, doing officey things, but today I was having my own little adventure. I then noticed the anchor was working it’s way free. Having put a stop to that I huddled down with a can of coke and reminisced about the time Oliver’s anchor came loose on a cold and miserable December sail with Mattis.


Despite the uncomfort of wind against tide I persevered through the Looe Channel, which wasn’t that bad.

Spirits lifted, I aimed Excalibur for West Pole and day dreamed of getting into the comfort of Chichester Harbour.

I started to have doubts on entering Chichester Harbour about 5 minutes later.

Once past Selsey Bill the waves seemed to roll in droves, all I could see were a sea of white caps everywhere.

The Ilse of Wight came into view, and a clear golden sunset promised a rebate in the weather (in my mind anyway, it didn’t come)

Having read that crossing Chichester bar in a southerly gale was strongly advised against I headed for Portsmouth.

At this point I was pinned to the helm. Arthur was relieved of his duties, he was struggling to keep a grip on on things. The wind vane screamed louder than I ever heard it scream before, convinced it was about to disintegrate as the wind peaked at 32 knots.

Luckily I was in a familiar stomping ground, so the fact I could barely helm and check my position on the chartplotter wasn’t too much of an issue. I headed for the forts and ducked as walls of water came over the bow time after time.

The scene was bizarre, a beautiful golden sunset above, droving white capped waves and howling wind below.

I slowly edged towards Portsmouth, in desperate need of a p*ss but unable to leave the helm.

As I neared the entrance I felt I needed some form of reward for getting this far. With a big smile on my face I p*ssed myself for a good minute. The warm sensation was a delight, and the warmth trickled down my legs and into my boots.

The wind piped up one more time before getting into the lee of the entrance. It was now night time.

I was awarded another long warm wee from nowhere.

Once in the lee of the entrance I dropped the main, with Arthur the autopilot keeping a slow and steady course.

I could hear chatter on the radio as I got back to the cockpit.

I’ve gone over this many times in my head but basically I believe this is what happened:

As I was taking the sails down, a ferry was crossing and thought I was going to cross in front of him. So he radio’d the harbourmaster to tell him an unknown yacht wasn’t slowing down, and was in the middle of the channel. I still don’t believe I was in the middle of the channel, and I was barely making headway. I spoke to the habourmaster, who presumed I was heading for Gunwharf Quays. I spent the next 20 minutes generally p*ssing the harbourmaster off. He misunderstood my intentions to begin with, and inferred I was going to Gunwharf Quays, which my brain latched onto in a state of tiredness, so I started to refer to Royal Clarence as Gunwharf Quays which of course caused a lot of confusion. By the time I got to Royal Clarence I had a bit of a dressing down over the radio as to how busy the port was. I could hardly argue, though sitting in a nice warm office is a slightly different affair to being out in the cold and wet as the wind screams through your rigging, pressing your handheld up to your ears to trying to make sense of the transmissions.

I should have done my due diligence before I left Brighton, but I didn’t expect not to be able to get into Chichester. Lesson learnt.

I edged into Royal Clarence and spotted a big berth at the entrance. The office was closed, so I chose a berth for a 50 footer. The wind was screaming, and as soon as I went side onto the wind the whole boat healed over (sail-less).

I came in at speed, knowing I’d be blown off the second I touched the pontoon. I managed to get the stern on, and saw the bow drifting away at an alarming rate. I seem to remember picking up a warp in the dark and hoping it was the bow line (even though I came off the boat with both lines in my hand). Luckily for me I had the bow line and as the boat squeaked and groaned, pivoted on the edge of the pontoon carving go faster stripes into the hull, I pulled her in and straighten her up.

I’ve never felt so relieved to be in a marina!

The next day the wind was still blowing a hooey.

tweedledum-tweedledeeSpeaking with one of the staff I asked if the tide was ebbing or flooding, to which he said he wasn’t a sailor. A red trouser wearing berth holder piped up and began to school me by grabbing a Portsmouth harbour leaflet. Though he didn’t appear to know what day of the week it was and starting reading off tide times from the previous week. His stella performance wasn’t over until he asked what berth I was moving to, “oh I don’t go down to the council estate end of the marina” chuff chuff chuff he laughed! Fed up with the Tweedledum and Tweedledee performance I took great delight in taking my sweet ass time in approaching the berth in the wind and rain whilst they waited to take my lines.

Finally I’m back in the Solent! Couldn’t be happier!


Author: Tim Butler

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