Boat, bed & breakfast: Why a 6m RIB is the perfect way to explore the Solent

You don’t need a big boat to go cruising for a week round the Solent, just a 6m RIB, a list of B&Bs within walking distance of a berth, a credit card and a desk fan!

Throwing a couple of bags in the back of the car and heading off touring for a few days is something we really enjoy doing. It gives us a chance to explore new places and get away for a few nights.

So it was one of those eureka moments when we looked at each other over an evening drink and decided to do the same thing in our boat instead.

We are lucky that our 6m Brig, Hurricane, is kept two minutes away from where we live in Christchurch, Dorset, on her trailer at Avon Marina, so the plan was to leave from there and aim for the Solent to revisit some of the places we’ve been to for day trips but never stayed overnight.

This needed an element of planning… well, a lot of planning. I had this vision of pitching up at places only to find there were no spare berths in the marina or rooms in a nearby hotel.

It was trickier than I thought finding hotels or B&Bs within walking distance of a mooring but gradually the plan came together. Now we just needed the weather to be on our side.

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Getting things booked up meant committing to dates but I did make sure I had cancellation deals with the hotels and the marinas if the weather turned foul. Thankfully, we were in luck, the hot weather over the UK wasn’t going to shift for a week or so.

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Threading the Needles

We packed our smallish bags and headed down to the boat to pack her up. She is a cinch to launch down the private slipway there and once the trailer and car were tucked up for the week, we slipped our lines and cruised down river to Mudeford.

I love this gentle start as it gives me time to make sure the boat and engine are in good shape before we reach the open sea whilst enjoying the peace of the river.

Our first stop was Cowes but we headed for the Needles first. The weather was lovely, a bit of a chop with a F 3-4 breeze but Hurricane hit her stride at 20 knots and we were over there in no time.

With the trailer tucked up for the week we slipped the lines and cruised down river to Mudeford

We always enjoy the sight of this great natural wonder and consider ourselves lucky to be so close. After a while just drifting and taking it all in, we decided to drop into Yarmouth. It was hot and we needed an ice cream but all this was dependent on us getting somewhere to moor up.

We were lucky, there weren’t many RIBs in town so we nabbed a spot alongside a much bigger Brig, made fast, paid our fee and hot footed it to the café by the pier. The ice creams hit the spot and I dropped into Harwoods to buy a pair of flip flops. The clock was ticking and we headed back to Hurricane.

The big RIB had gone and another one had rafted outside us, requiring Jules to do her ‘maypole’ dance with the lines so I could get our boat out much to the amusement of the audience up on the harbour wall. Soon we were clear and heading east in the beautiful afternoon sunshine.

Phil and Jules enjoyed planning their maritime mini-break

The sea state was pretty benign but we weren’t in a hurry and ambled up to Cowes, dropping down to 6 knots before going into the harbour. It’s a grand entrance, passing the Royal Squadron Yacht Club and countless pretty buildings with private jetties.

We didn’t have to go far for our first stop at the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club. We’re not members but discovered that visitors are welcome and they have a couple of moorings in the small marina, one of which I had booked.

Their bosun, Ralph, put us in a handy spot close to the clubhouse, perfect for a well earned drink before walking down to our hotel, The Fountain.

First stop: The Fountain Inn in Cowes, Isle of Wight

This is when I discovered that what I thought were a couple of light bags for our clothes weren’t so light after all. Note to self, keep a big bag on the boat and decant overnight stuff into something smaller!

The Fountain was small and bijou and did the trick. But without any air conditioning to counter the stifling heat, our room was pretty hot so I went back to the boat to collect what turned out to be our most treasured possession of the holiday – our trusty metal desktop fan.

Yes it was cumbersome and noisy but Jules managed to shoehorn it into the anchor locker and I was happy to cart it anywhere we needed. Which turned out to be everywhere!

Food was courtesy of The Coast up Shooters Hill, which judging from our delicious meal merits inclusion in MBY’s Boat Cuisine column.

We were up early the following morning and after breakfast wandered around Cowes as it started to come alive. Cowes Week was only a couple of weeks away and you could already feel the buzz permeating through the town as preparations were getting under way.

We couldn’t hang around long though as we were due to link up with some other RIBs at Hill Head Buoy at 11.30 for a thrash over to Itchenor and lunch at The Ship.

We were bang on time at the buoy and soon saw the other 12 RIBs roaring in our direction

RIB Rally

Hurricane rocked gently as we took her night covers off and slipped quietly out of Cowes, joining a small flotilla of Dunkirk Little Ships that had also been staying overnight on a rally. Their custodians really do look after them and they made a terrific sight motoring regally out of the harbour.

We were bang on time at the buoy and soon saw the other 12 RIBs roaring in our direction from Warsash. A quick hello all round and we were on our way east once again. Conditions were perfect and we cruised at 20-25 knots towards the Solent Forts.

The day had been organised by Henry at Marine Matters, which administers the RIB Owners’ Club in the Solent, and he stopped us all outside Portsmouth to warn us all about the submarine barrier running from Southsea Beach to Horse Sand Fort that can make a mess of your sterngear.

I wasn’t aware of it as we don’t normally go this way but it was handy local knowledge to learn, especially the two passing places through it.

Navigating into Chichester Harbour was a first for us and we all moored on the visitor buoys at Itchenor before being ferried ashore by Henry for a short walk to the pub.

It was a great place made even better by great company and a lovely day out. The wind was a little more lively on the way back for our second night in Cowes but the sea behaved and our late afternoon cruise was simply sublime.

Joining 12 other RIBS for an exhilarating cruise to the Solent Forts

The following morning we were heading for Hamble and stopping at the RAF Yacht Club, a stone’s throw from Port Hamble marina and a real find. It’s only got three rooms but they can be booked by non-members.

Our crossing was very lumpy but we had lunch at the Ketchrigger in Hamble Point meeting our son Tim with his wife Mel and their two kids, Fe and El.

It was too hot to eat much so we didn’t hang around and hopped onto Hurricane for a trip up river beyond Bursledon to the upper reaches of the Hamble. Everyone had a go on the helm and the kids loved it.

Navigating the entrance to Portsmouth harbour with its Spinnaker Tower landmark

Our night at the RAFYC was very comfortable, it even had a fan. Not that it stopped us from using ours as well, it was that hot!

The following day we were booked into the marina at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth harbour with a room at the Holiday Inn. We had a great run there and decided to extend it by going deep into the harbour and up as far as Fareham on a rising tide.

We’d never been up that far before and it was a good excuse to moor at Wicor Marine for lunch at Salt Café. You can see the pattern of our week emerging; boating, eating and sleeping our way around the Solent!

Another lunch stop at Wicor Marine, Portsmouth

As the afternoon and tide started to ebb, we made our way back towards Gunwharf, got permission to cross the channel from QHM and entered the marina.

Once tucked up, I gave Hurricane a freshwater wash and we checked into the Holiday Inn. It was super convenient but the much anticipated air-con was rather breathless, so it was back to the boat for the fan once again!

Swallows and Amazons

The following day I had to meet a work colleague for a quick meeting by the marina, then after a wander around Gunwharf Quay, we loaded Hurricane and set off for Chichester, following in the wake of HMS Duncan being tugged out of Portsmouth.

Peaceful Langstone harbour

Once through the harbour entrance, we traced our journey back to Chichester Harbour and decided to head up Thorney Channel for a very enjoyable exploration before turning around and making our way back up to Northney Marina at the top end of Hayling Island.

The journey felt wonderfully Swallows and Amazons with beautiful scenery, very few boats on the move and a high tide. Just when it felt like there was nothing in sight, a sharp turn left took us into the marina through a very narrow channel.

After mooring our boat, we enjoyed a quick stroll to the Langstone Quays Hotel followed by a long and cooling swim in their pool. What a bonus!

The couple enjoyed a cooling dip at The Langstone Quays Resort’s pool

Leaving the following morning at low tide showed just how narrow the channel is going in and out of the marina even though it remained perfectly navigable. We were heading for Bembridge. The wind was forecast to pick up to F4+ so we donned our wet weather gear.

There’s nothing worse than getting soaked unnecessarily, but although it was getting on the rough side of moderate, the crossing was fine and we tiptoed into Bembridge on the falling tide.

We booked into Duver Marina and the water taxi dropped us on the beach opposite so we could walk across the sand to our bed for the night at the Pilot Boat Inn. It was a moment of paradise made even sweeter by discovering that the hotel has its own brewery and served a mighty pizza. Life doesn’t get any better.

Taking a gorgeous sunset stroll around Bembridge

Buckler’s Hard

We missed the first water taxi in the morning but a quick call brought him back and we quickly got under way to avoid marooning ourselves on one of the sand bars as the tide sluiced out. A quick trip out to Nab Tower to see just how wonky it is… very!

Then it was on to Seaview and a visitor mooring where the youngsters from Seaview YC come out on their zippy RIBs and deliver you to shore. The sun shone and we had lunch there overlooking the bay and wondered why we had never been before. It is now firmly our Solent favourite.

But we had to press on to our final night at Buckler’s Hard and the Master Builder. The sea was still, and our journey quick. We’ve been here many times over the years but never stayed overnight. It’s a gem of a place and having no timescale to stick to made the experience even more peaceful.

Because Hurricane is only 6m long we can explore shallow rivers you wouldn’t dare to in anything bigger

The following morning we tootled up river as far as we could and then turned around and started our journey home to Christchurch. It was another glorious day and the sea conditions were so good that we dropped into Lymington at the town quay for a coffee just because we could.

The trip really cemented our decision to stick with day boating rather than investing in a bigger boat. We have the speed to get places quickly yet can also throttle back and enjoy the quieter moments when time isn’t pressing.

There is enough space on board but because we are only 6m long, we can often slip into places that don’t have room for larger boats and explore shallow rivers you wouldn’t dare to in anything bigger.

Their last night was spent at the Master Builder’s House hotel in historic Buckler’s Hard

Costs are subjective and our hotel rooms, food and drinks came in at close to £1,500 for the week. We covered 248 miles and spent £384 on fuel suggesting consumption of around 0.65ltrs/mile, more than it would have cost by car but that was missing the point.

We proved we could tour in our boat, stopping and staying at different places, missing the traffic jams and finding new places to explore. We had the best time and our next adventure is already on the drawing board. Can’t wait!

First published in the November 2022 issue of MBY.

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