Childhood memories of Poole harbour had tempted me try my first cruise away from Suffolk. An old friend, Mike, kindly offered to act as both crew and host, and the trip to collect the Wanderer from Suffolk and return south to the New Forest passed without incident. Towing at a steady 60 was surprisingly relaxing, although the lack of squabbling children in the rear seat doubtless helped.
Veteran of several Sunsail holidays, Mike was a fit and capable crew. Despite unfamiliar waters, we both agreed that the perfect conditions merited an ambitious day trip up the River Frome to Wareham and back. Steering well clear of the moored car ferry, we made good progress on a close haul towards Patchins Point on the eastern tip of the Arne Peninsula. However, the beat through the narrows past the Royal Marines' training base proved far more challenging, as an unexpectedly strong foul tide halted our progress. Poole Harbour had taught us the first of several lessons; when sailing on such a large and complex expanse of enclosed tidal water, the local tide tables can only ever tell part of the story. Tacking very close inshore on the south side of the narrows proved the answer, and the fine reach along the Wareham Channel gave us chance to admire the deserted beaches and fine, untouched scenery of the Arne Peninsula.
Unhelpfully, the chart of Poole Harbour (L12) ends a good four miles west of Wareham, and so our knowledge of the final stretch along the River Frome was limited. This was to prove our undoing, as the river proper was far narrower than we expected, with yachts moored along most of its winding path inland to Wareham. Beating upriver was out of the question, and lacking both oars or outboard, we ruefully admitted defeat. The keenly-anticipated pub lunch would have to wait.
We turned tail and set course for Brownsea Island, with the intention of visiting the National Trust cafe for a very late lunch. With wind and tide now in our favour, we hurtled back past Poole Quay and the ominous rumblings of the soon-to-depart Condor Ferries catamaran. Just as we arrived at Brownsea Quay the monstrous cat ferry loomed into view, closely followed by its fearfully frothy wake. Beset by mild panic, we headed for the nearest patch of sandy shoreline where we jumped out and held the dinghy bow-on to the chest-high wake. Unseamanlike, but effective! However, our presence on Brownsea had not gone unnoticed and we were soon apprehended by a very polite man who directed us to the Trust's preferred dinghy anchorage off the beach on the island's south shore.
After wolfing down the Trust's last servings of Steak and Ale pie, we were glad to find W917 still afloat despite a rapidly-ebbing tide. The 'quick beat' back to Baiter Park slip nearly ended in an epic as the wind turned weak and fickle while the tide roared past Stone island and out to sea through the harbour entrance. Fortunately the breeze returned with enough weight to enable us to beat slowly uptide out of the lee of the island. We crawled on past the fabulously-named Aunt Betty buoy and into the less tidal North channel. Despite a few games of 'touch and go' with Poole's many sandbanks, we made it safely back to Baiter slipway shortly before low tide, vowing that tomorrow Wareham would be ours come hell or high water. Preferably come high water.
A far more egalitarian spirit prevailed once we reached the reed beds of the River Frome and the rowing restarted in earnest. Rowing upriver proved hard work as we battled current, weeds and a gusty breeze. The few yachts and motorboats we met helpfully gave us a wide berth despite the narrowness of the channel. A less deranged crew would have moored up in the reeds and taken the footpath into Wareham, but we were nothing if not dogged, and, following the previous day's dismal defeat, only a berth outside The Quay Inn would suffice. After the best part of two hours hard rowing we reached our goal, and moored up in front of a benchful of bemused pensioners.
The pub lunch was more devoured than savoured as the river level was dropping with the tide and being stranded so far up river did not fill me with relish. We soon unfurled the genoa and marveled at how much more fun it is to sail than to row - the genny even propelled us up a couple of short upwind stretches as the river wound its way towards the harbour.
By now the wind was up to force 4, and a reef in the main would probably have been prudent as we ran back towards Poole. As we broad-reached past Rockley channel, W917 was bold enough to lift up her skirt and demonstrate that she wasn't beyond a plane or two. Off Patchins point we toyed with the idea of a trip through the shallows round the south side of Brownsea, but then spotted a dinghy moored off a beach on island's western tip. Twenty minutes of memorably wild reaching later, we anchored in a tiny sheltered bay below the bombed-out remains of Maryland village and joined the crew of a Yachting World Dayboat for a sunbathe on the warm sand.
An enjoyable squelch across the island to grab a cream tea rounded off our second visit to Brownsea. On our return the combined distractions of red squirrels and the Baden-Powell memorial stone nearly left us high and dry and we were forced to drag the half-beached Wanderer into deeper water.
W917 raced back to Baiter Park slip under genoa alone, and we packed up as the sun set on a couple of days whose memories will serve us both well.
PS I somehow contrived to leave my genoa in Baiter Park car park, so if anyone finds a Dolphin Sails foresail blessed with plenty of rust stains...