Aft Port, the Lovely Watch

Poole to Southampton: 45 minutes by train, 6 days by Tenacious. But what days! Saturday was a warm and glorious Pirate Day in Poole, the Town Quay crammed with Johnny Depp lookalikes of all ages, most of whom wanted to come aboard during our Open Ship. More ringlets than Gone With The Wind, more cutlasses than the Charge of the Light Brigade. There was just enough time to recover before our new crew joined us on Sunday, again a day of sun and sea breezes and a thousand yachts coming and going in Poole’s vast harbour. We were a bit anxious that the bustle on the Town Quay might spill over into the night, but the law-abiding townspeople left us to a peaceful night on a silent quayside, after hectic training and drills.

Final drills and training on Monday morning, then the pilot and casting off to motor down the winding channel, past Sandbanks where the grillionaires live, across the route of the Studland chain ferry (avoiding the chains) and out into glittering Studland Bay past the Old Harry Rocks. It’s obvious when you look back across at the Needles on the end of the Isle of Wight that what they told you in geography lessons is true: they are part of the same chalk formation and both are eroding, losing their teeth as they age. Then down-channel, learning the ropes and heaving the yards around before putting up all our square sails in a light but constant breeze from the perfect direction right on our stern.

We broke no records for speed in the next 24 hours, but such splendid sailing in flat seas, blue skies and suns. The night watches were especially fine. Old Master sunset, the great bowl of stars in the midsummer sky that never gets quite dark; Portland and St Catherine’s lighthouses visible at the same time, satellites and the ISS streaking across the void, then the huge crescendo of the early dawn. When it was fully light we were just able to see our destination: Cherbourg. Holding onto our sails for as long as possible, the pilot joined us a few miles off and we eased our way in between the ancient and modern fortifications that guard the entrance to this iron-bound harbour.

Now we’re exploring the city and finding out what it has to offer as a precursor to a full day’s shore leave tomorrow. We’re moored next to the submarine museum, so that’s a must, but no doubt the scouts will also have found the finest (and worst) bars and restaurants that want to cater for a full ship’s company for dinner tomorrow evening, before we set sail again on Thursday.

Sleep well, Dear Readers

All the best from Aft Port, the Lovely Watch.