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A SOLO CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF THE ISLE OF WIGHT, EASTER 2000

Given the alternative of visiting the in-laws, I suddenly decided to paddle around the Isle of Wight on Thursday night. I loaded my Icefloe up with four ready-made curries, three kilos of wine gums and 16 bottles of Lucozade before setting off from Keyhaven.

The short crossing to the island was easy; no tide and noone else around. I plodded along the coast to the Needles, which are well worth a trip to see. Shortly after rounding the lighthouse, a coastguard helicopter roared over the cliffs above and the lifeboat appeared screaming around the corner...oh blast. But although they buzzed around and had a good look at me (I remembered not to wave) they were clearly there for some other reason, and went whizzing offshore to do something or other.

I paddled into Freshwater Bay on the south side of the island and put my tent up on the cliffs....and the rain began...


In the morning, I listened to Solent radio saying, "we've had a few phone calls saying that our report of light rain is a bit of an understatement..."

I laughed (but not much) as there was a river running through my tent at that point. I stuffed all the sodden kit into my boat and headed off along the south coast of the Island. It was fairly monotonous at first, but became much more interesting scenery-wise as I rounded St. Catherine's Point, the southern tip. The sea and weather picked up a fair bit as well, and I got bloody cold (why do I own state of the art whitewater gear, but still use sandals, a nylon cag and an ottersport spraydeck on the sea??). Stopping at Ventnor, a few holidaymakers were good enough to inform me that it was dangerous out there at sea. The weather still grim, I decided to make it to the end of the Island's south coast that day, and took a guesstimate bearing on where that location might be...because I certainly couldn't see anything more than a couple of miles away.

After heading into the mist and rain I eventually reached the massive chalk Culver Cliffs and rounding the corner, finished the day by camping in a puddle on on what looked like a quiet village green...


...except that it turned out to be an enormous holiday camp, and I was just outside the disco. See where using a 22 year old OS map gets you. In the morning, still wet and now with the added bonus of being muddy, I kayaked past Bembridge (which stinks, there must be a sewage outflow there?) and reached the north side of the island. The hundreds of ships (from dinghys to tankers) told me I was in the Solent. The weather was now hot and sunny, allowing me to dry off and get some serious sunburn.

The next bit of coast was a real pain in the a@$e. The town of Ryde has a pier stretching a mile out to sea, surrounded for miles by vast shallow sandbanks. I spent ridiculous amounts of time trying to get around/ over these features, all the time dodging incoming hovercraft and hydrofoils...they don't hang around. Finally getting ashore at a quiet spot for a much needed number two, I was promptly evicted by a caravan park boss who wouldn't let me use his facilities.

When I reached Cowes (northern tip of IOW) it was mayhem...I've never seen so many boats crammed into one little harbour. Crossing the shipping lane was like a real life unamusing version of the old computer game, 'Frogger'.

The coast after Cowes was lovely and surprisingly 'wild' but it was a grim slog against the tide. I pushed on until I reached Yarmouth, effectively completing the circuit of the island....and quite a lot of mileage in one day for me.

I'm glad I made it there...it's a nice little harbour, with a perfect campsite on a near-island in the harbour, used by Yachtie types for barbeques. Watching a perfect sunset finished the day off, as I lay in my sleeping bag going, "ooh, ouch, ooyah!" at my lobster sunburn.

Just the home leg left...


...and I did it this morning, crossing direct fromYarmouth to Southbourne (home!) in two hours. The tide must have been shifting somewhat as the distance is about 13-14 miles.

It was pleasant and quiet out in Christchurch Bay during the crossing, until wave after wave of luxury cruiser started screaming past from Poole. Each driver wanted to see how close he could buzz me without dropping below 40 knots or spilling his gin. Are these things just a local curse or do others suffer them? Give me a nice quiet jetski any day, at least they don't produce three foot wakes.

Anyway, to conclude...(anyone still reading?)...the paddle around the island is highly recommended, the coast is far more interesting and varied that I'd gauged from the map beforehand. Navigation is hardly rocket science...just keep the island sort of to your left. Finding a campsite isn't too difficult, there are long empty stretches of coast where larger groups could probably camp without annoying anyone.

Mark Rainsley.