On 28th May the conditions were ideal for going round the south of the Isle of Wight and completing the journey, starting at Bembridge and finishing at Lymington, just beyond Yarmouth on the mainland. This would be a 40 mile trip in all, the longest by far for PicoMicroYacht.
Firstly I had to row round the eastern end of the Isle of Wight, not to be trifled with. The residual swell was breaking over the easternmost ledge, aptly named Sharpus rocks, exacerbated by the south going tide.
As I did this I looked back at the launching pier for the lifeboat, the lifeboat house on the pier very distinctive.
I then tracked southwards towards Shanklin and was about one and a half miles off Sandown when a large fishing boat paid a visit, a fisherman on the bow talking to me. "You need to get in, there's a force 5-6 coming in." There was a dark look of stern fear in his face. "You need to get in, not be out here."
This worried me, since the voyage hadn't really got going and I was stuck on the Island with a sudden high wind forecast. So I got out the computer, and plugged in my Oyster to check the forecasts again.
Apparently there was a deep low over the low countries which was causing high winds in the South East of the UK, but the inland and coastal forecasts were much more benign for my journey, force 2-3 knots, increasing 3-4 knots North East.
This was good enough to carry on since I was close to the shore and if the forecast was wrong and the low pressure started to have an influence further west, with the sea state slight I could quickly beach the boat. But that knowledge of a lurking deep pressure system stayed with me for the rest of the voyage.
I carried on steadily south until I reached Dunnose Point. This was one of my gateways, since it is known there can be a race there as bad as St Catherine's. But I was there almost at slack tide and saw no signs. The main hazards were lobster pots with long lines and trying to avoid these whilst keeping a look out for rocks on this coast.
Soon I was approaching Ventnor, where a small artificial port has been made for fishing boats.
I waited in Ventnor until the tide was getting slack again in order to pass by St Catherine's point, the most southern tip of the Isle of Wight. This is known to be suspect even in comparatively calm weather. As Peter Bruce writes in his book 'Wight Hazards' - "the race looks dramatic but is also dangerous.... the worst of the race can be avoided by working along the shore, but one should be prepared for nasty overfalls... from which there may be no escape.'
Just before St Catherine's is Wreeth Bay, when on a good day you can launch your dinghy. The sailors there were looking at me figuring out what kind of craft I was. Their laser in the foreground had just been out for a spin.
My strategy was to pass St Catherine's when the tide was changing and then it would push me westwards, ensuring a smoother passage, but the sea was still turbulent.
PicoMicroYacht was now on a long leg towards the Needles and I could look up at the cliffs and bluffs and see the comparative wildness of this part of the Island. Occasionally people could be seen walking the coast.
Every so often the sea would become less smooth as I passed a hidden ledge, but the generally calm sea state meant this was not a problem.
The next stage was the voyage to the Needles, at the Western tip of the island, a series of chalk rocks that jut out into the sea with a lighthouse at the end.
The idea was to reach the Needles when the eastern going channel tide was at an end so that on rounding the Needles it would then reverse and be helping PicoMicroYacht up the Needles Channel back into the Solent.
However, it is at this time the seas can be most problematic mainly because the water passing through the Needles Channel may have different vector from that going up and down the English Channel. But the wind was dropping all the time to nothing and the sea was very calm.
PicoMicoYacht moved sluggishly to the Needles, using up further time for the tide to change. It was getting darker and I took a short break in Scratchells Bay, just under the 1950s rocket testing base (I met recently someone who had been in this bay as a boy in the 1960s when suddenly and unexpectedly they had been enveloped in a dense mist with a shrieking sound as they tested a rocket above).
Going round the outside it is important to miss the Goose Rock and a wreck as shown in the photograph below from the 'Wight Hazards.' The rock is just by the lighthouse and the wreck a little further out, the remains of the SS Varvassi's boilers, engine and stern, the ship a Greek cargo steamer that sunk there in 1947, apparently with all the crew and their cargo, tangerines, rescued.
The Varvassi regularly catches people out. This summer in the Round the Isle of Wight race the Alchemist went aground, drifted round into Scratchells Bay and sank. This fine old racing boat from the 1970s could not be saved in time by the lifeboat's pumps.
The Alchemist starting to sink ....
I passed easily between the Goose Rock and the boiler, the rock appearing for me at the bottom of each swell, flattish and the size of a garden trampoline, impressively gurgling.
PicoMicroYacht had done it! Now the stream was taking PicoMicroyacht up into the Solent. It was properly dark but a 'clear night' with all the navigation lights easily seen and I was confident people would also see me. I rowed gently along the coast until I reached the Hurst Narrows, turned PicoMicroYacht by 90 degrees to head towards the mainland and let the stream vector take me into Lymington port. On the way I felt the sea roughen has I passed over the Fiddlers Race. It smoothed out as I looked for the series of navigation lights leading in to Lymington Harbour. It was just before midnight when PicoMicroyacht arrived at the Lymington Yacht Haven.
As I looked around for a berth a night watchman appeared asking me my 'intentions' (not to break into one of the swanky motor yachts for the night, of course - note: that was my joke, unspoken!). I explained the purpose of my journey and that our charity that had raised £18,000 and he told me that he would try to get my berthing fee waived, which he did. With no place to sleep, I had my emergency tent and was able to get four hours sleep aboard PicoMicroYacht.
I was also pleased that I had an AIS system. When the coastguard asked me for my MMSI number (call sign) I was able to point out that he could see it on his computer screen if he looked for PicoMicroYacht, which he duly did. Knowing the coastguard and my family could track my movements was reassuring. My son tracked my AIS position on his Android phone.