Day 88 Thurs 16 June: Rushing a breakfast as good as the one prepared by the Mayflower’s chef may be unforgivable but missing the next Isle of Wight ferry from Lymington Pier might render today’s target of cycling the full coastal circuit of The Island unattainable. Maybe there’s just enough time to wolf the last few slices of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and stuff the pain chocolat and banana into my jersey back pocket. The 65 mile circuit alone could probably (without the usual full panniers) be completed comfortably within five hours. That won’t happen. I have three very important visits planned en route plus a suggested minor detour to a fourth important venue. Unlike breakfast, none of them can be enjoyed if rushed. A quick but sincere thank you to the jolly Mayflower crew and a final favour sought: “Could you please look after these two heavy bags for the day?”
Ferry caught on time, flat calm crossing, warm enough to sit on deck without a jacket. One fellow passenger was clearly wondering why I was so amused, possibly chuckling or even sniggering to myself. Sorry, it was just the obvious old schoolboy joke that suddenly popped into my head: Q.” What’s brown and smelly and comes out of cows?” Ans: “The Isle of Wight Ferry!” I know, it should have a capital C and an e. It doesn’t work when written properly. Yes, I know the Cowes ferry hasn’t been brown for years and it isn’t really smelly, I think it was just a comment on the rusty streaks and the black smoke from the funnels … oh, never mind.
The first Lifeboat of the day, a big Severn Class was very conveniently placed in the harbour just a few yards from the ferry terminal. Not their own, but a relief boat, whilst the Yarmouth boat, having recently been upgraded and fitted with new CMT engines had suffered teething troubles with the new gearbox. Literally. A gearbox being the most likely place to find teeth. Thanks Richard (mechanic) for the interesting chat about the merits of the major refit all Severn Class boats will eventually have. The one based here covers the western end of the Solent, including the familiar and infamous Needles, the dramatic, jagged shards of white chalk cliffs that might seem too big and white to miss, but have claimed more than a few ships over the last few centuries. Seventeen awards for gallantry have been presented to crew members of the Yarmouth Lifeboat over the last 150 years.
On with the clockwise circuit of the island. I’m not sure what I was expecting of the Isle of Wight. Probably something a bit different. It’s almost disappointing to report that I’m hearing the same Chaffinch song, seeing the same oak, ash and sycamore trees, beech & hawthorn hedges, brick and stone houses, feeling the same potholes, manhole covers and cats eyes .. it’s just a big bit of Hampshire that’s broken loose and drifted a few miles out to sea. No offence to you Wight Islanders. This is a beautiful place, with a fascinating history and some great attractions. But today my focus is a bit narrow. Where is Cowes Inshore Lifeboat Station? At the end of a narrow lane off the High Street. A busy station this morning. Another cheery welcome from another great bunch. First thanks go to young Will (shore crew) for the tour and for sharing your obvious pride in this tastefully modernised old coastguard station, with a prime view of the harbour approaches and the incredibly busy centre section of The Solent. Every Lifeboat Station seems to have a claim. Biggest or smallest or oldest or newest or slowest or fastest or busiest or quietest … but Will was delighted to show me theirs – the only one in the country that has full-sized, curved rails for the launching of the Atlantic B Class Lifeboat down a dog-legged slipway. That’s quite an impressive claim. Thanks also to Mark (LOM), Sandy (DLA), Dave (shore crew) and another Mark (Mechanic & Helm). A great atmosphere in this relatively new (2008) Station which was not officially opened by HM The Queen until 2012. HM was obviously very busy.
Before leaving Cowes, there are two more local items on today’s agenda. First, the crossing of the Cowes Floating Bridge. Now there’s a concept for my 4yr old grandson to get his head around. This old chain link ferry has been rumbling across the River Medina for donkeys years, linking Cowes with East Cowes. Exactly what I need right now, for the short hop across the harbour to the RNLI Inshore Lifeboat Centre. This is where all the new Atlantic B Class and D Class boats are manufactured and returned for their 10 year refit, repairs and upgrades. A very impressive set up, well worth a visit.
Back on the road, heading towards the most easterly point of the island. Apart from taking one wrong turn and adding a couple of extra cycle miles, followed by the inevitable bursting of the black clouds that had been following me for some time, things were still going quite well. Drenched but not deflated, the arrival at Bembridge coincided with the parting of the clouds, the instant warmth of the mid June sun quickly drying the roads and damp cyclists. Many thanks to Steve, the full-time Bembridge Cox’n, for the additional warmth of the hot tea & ginger nuts, the kind welcome and the full tour of the magnificent new boathouse at the end of the rebuilt pier. This well-known local landmark, now even easier to spot, has been the strategically placed base for Bembridge lifeboat, covering the very busy eastern approaches to the Solent for many years. With Portsmouth’s naval base, Southampton’s ocean going liners and the huge sailing & leisure boating fraternity centred around Cowes, it has a long history of service to the seafaring community. And probably a long future.
So, did I make it around the island in a day? Yes, I did. There were just enough cooling showers to stop me overheating on the hillier parts of the south Wight coast, without being heavy enough to obscure my views of the beautiful coastline before returning to the mainland, via the still calm Solent water from Yarmouth to Lymington.
Interesting fact of the day: Most of us are probably aware of the invasive nature of Japanese Knotweed, which has been gradually creeping across Britain for over 50 years. Today, I was shown a new invader that has taken a liking to our shoreline. Just beneath the pier at Bembridge can be seen Japanese Seaweed. Don’t tell the Leave campaigners. It’ll only add fuel to their fire.