This charter destination buzzes with boats
If British sailing action is what you seek, look no further than a charter to Hamble-le-Rice in southern England. Located in a picturesque spot on the Solent, the Hamble River buzzes with sailboats, powerboats, dinghies, and paddleboards.
The village of Hamble-le-Rice offers much to sailors. It boasts four marinas: three offer standard amenities such as showers, laundry, and restaurants for weekend sailors and cruisers. The fourth, Hamble Yacht Services, is also a working yard and home to several high-profile, professional racing yachts. Any given weekend will find Helly Hansen-clad sailors out in force climbing rigging and prepping sails in anticipation of the weekend races. The enthusiasm for racing is palpable.
Not only racers populate the docks, but admirers as well. They look for boats like Ran VII, the Fast 40 that Yachting World compares to a stealth bomber. The designer and the owner of Ran VII made the molds available so that the class could be a millionaire’s club rather than a billionaire’s club. Among the many boats vying for racing honors, a fleet of sleek, modern Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300s go out most weekends. They are crewed by up-and-coming amateurs to seasoned Vendée Globe veterans.
A picturesque village
Hamble-le-Rice paints a pretty picture during a stroll through the heart of the small village. Weekends find crowds of sailors and visitors chatting in the streets, enjoying libations at one of several outdoor pubs, or trying their luck crabbing along the town wharf. We considered trying our hand at this, too, with remembered visions of Chesapeake blue crabs, but decided to leave it for the eight-and-under crowd when we saw the biggest crabs measured about an inch and a half across their back. Instead, we made our way to the village’s “honesty plant stall,” where for a few pounds deposited in a piggy bank, plants ranging from herbs and flowers to living Christmas trees are available.
Further walks along Southampton Water reveal a lovely beach complete with 20th-century gun batteries and ruins of coastal defenses built by King Henry VIII that emerge at low tide. The view brings to mind Sparrow Point with a lot of industry and port action across the water. A walk in the other direction leads to the airfields, which are now meandering paths through blackberry brambles, but formerly saw thousands of spitfires passing through during World War II. The entire south coast of England was mobilized for D-Day, and commandos that landed on Sword and Juno beaches launched from the opposite side of the Hamble River.
Sailing on the Solent
Sailing on the Solent requires active use of all the skills learned in an advanced coastal navigation course. Currents rip through the river as the 10-foot tide ebbs and flows each day. It definitely matters when you leave the dock and when you return. Sailors who fail to pay attention to Mother Nature often find their boat swept against the docked boats on the other side of the fairway.
The wind is a fickle friend on the Solent as well. Idyllic champagne sailing in the 10- to 15-knot range lurks just on the fringe of the normal weather patterns, which are feast or famine. The wind typically either doesn’t blow or blows quite strongly. Sailing in northern latitudes off the coast of an island on the edge of an ocean necessitates good foul weather gear. Quite simply, it rains a lot, and it’s cold. Almost one thing is certain about sailing on the Solent—some part of you will likely get wet before the sail is over. Chart reading skills are key when sailing on the Solent as well. Many shoals and shifting sands keep navigable areas to the channels during low tide.
While heeding that advice, the challenges of sailing on the Solent provide their rewards. Within an hour of leaving Hamble-le-Rice, sailors find themselves off the Isle of Wight, looking ashore at the famed sailing center at Cowes or perhaps at Osborne House, one of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s residences. Farther west, Yarmouth beckons with an inviting harbor, lovely town, and beautiful walks along the Yar River. Farther west still, the Needles and Henry VIII’s Hurst Castle shoot boats through into the English Channel where a whole new world of sailing and exploration await.
The Chesapeake may be muddy and forgiving, but it doesn’t greet you with looming chalk cliffs or fortresses built by Henry VIII. While the currents may be strong and the winds may be chilly, the long reach of history present in the Solent makes for some unforgettable sailing.
by Tracy Leonard
Charter Opportunities: The most hospitable months to charter are June through August, the sunniest and warmest months of the year. Dream Yacht Charter has a base in Hamble-le-Rice; find more information here.