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Sailing Arthur Ransome’s Nancy Blackett From Suffolk to the Solent

Arthur Ransome’s favourite yacht, Nancy Blackett, embarked on a sailing adventure last week from Woolverstone on the River Orwell in Suffolk to Port Hamble on the Solent. Skipper Robin Sadler tells the story of what happened on the way…

We were planning to leave Woolverstone for the Solent mid-afternoon of Saturday 4th May. It was now Thursday evening and, having just looked at the weather, I sent an e-mail to the crew: “Wish I hadn’t just looked at the Forecast for next week! Not great at the moment.” I even looked at my work calendar to see if I could postpone my leave for a week.

Nancy Blackett at Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne, 7th May 2019. Photo: Robin Sadler.

We met as planned, but strong winds meant a postponement. We were able to leave at 03:00am on the Sunday and headed down the Orwell towards Harwich. We followed the main channel out towards Cork Sands and then turned towards the Thames estuary.

It wasn’t long before we had daylight. The wind was favourable and with the tide now giving us a strong push, Nancy Blackett was frequently doing well over 9 knots over the ground!

Nancy Blackett’s crew in Eastbourne – Robin, Jerry, Bob, Tim, 7th May 2019. Photo: Becky Master.

We went through the Fisherman’s Gat channel and turned towards Ramsgate. We were now fighting the tide as early progress was so good that the tide was still flooding up the estuary. We reached Ramsgate on Sunday afternoon after a 14-hour passage of 61 nautical miles.

Our next target was Eastbourne, a similar distance again, and we left on Monday morning, negotiating our way between numerous ferries as we passed the very grey looking white cliffs of Dover.

Sunrise on the Friday passage Brighton to Gosport, 10th May 2019. Photo: Robin Sadler.

We motor-sailed a lot, as we were completely headed. The short sea meant we were dunking the bowsprit occasionally as we passed Dungeness. The lights ahead were very confusing as we approached Eastbourne, but, as we got closer and radioed the harbour, we were informed a dredger was working just outside the entrance! A radio conversation with the dredger followed and he moved out of the way to allow us to pass. We locked into Eastbourne marina just after 01:00am on Tuesday after covering another 61 nautical miles.

Tidying Nancy Blackett in Gosport, 10th May 2019. Photo: Robin Sadler.

Although very sheltered in the marina, we didn’t need the strong wind warnings in the inshore waters forecast to tell us that it was blowing like crazy out there! So, we had Wednesday in Eastbourne. A planned lift-out of the lifeboat was cancelled as it was more likely to be needed. That gave the coxswain time to show us around it, and of course remind us that we didn’t want to be on it for real!

Nancy Blackett, Haslar Marina, Gosport, 10th May 2019. Photo: Robin Sadler.

A lull in the windy weather allowed us to leave Eastbourne just after midnight on Thursday and we rounded Beachy Head at 02:25am – exactly as planned 15 minutes after high water at Dover. The lack of wind meant we had to then motor-sail the rest of the way to Brighton Marina which we reached at 05:30am. By 10:00am it was blowing hard again with spray coming over the marina wall.

Nancy Blackett in Gosport, 10th May 2019. Photo: Robin Sadler.

The weather forecast was starting to look better although, for the next two tides, a night time departure was looking more favourable. There was very little wind when we left Brighton at 01:45am on Friday. We were motor-sailing again, but rewarded with a glorious sunrise. We locked into Gosport just after noon on Friday 10th May, having travelled 188 nautical miles.

Within five minutes of our arrival, we had a visit from another berth holder who had recognised Nancy Blackett and later in the day we showed her to some of the crew from the Ocean Youth Trust South sail training vessel Prolific.

My thanks to mate Bob and crew Tim and Jerry for a great, though tiring, week that included plenty of night sailing but got Nancy Blackett safely to the Solent.

I stayed on board for a couple of more days. With new member Sofia on board we moved Nancy Blackett round to the Hamble on Saturday afternoon, having a good sail in the process. On Sunday we left the Port Hamble marina at 07:30am with very little wind and only a Force 2 breeze forecast. After practising man-overboard recovery, the wind picked up nicely and we had a great day’s sailing in gloriously sunny weather – the perfect end to my week on board.

Nancy Blackett off Osborne Bay, Solent, 12th May 2019. Photo: Debbie Heppleston.

Within minutes of tying Nancy Blackett up, we had another visitor – asking us if this was Goblin. He was delighted that he could finally meet the hero of his childhood stories.

– Robin Sadler