Calshot Spit. A curse for mariners...
But a blessing for New Forest beachcombers.
There must be something strangely sacred in salt. It is in our tears and in the sea. Khalil Gibran
This week's story and cartoon from Mark and Hugh takes us out to sea - well sort of!
"When my wife and I lived in central France one thing we missed hugely was the sea. Now, having returned to the English coast, the fresh smell of the sea and the sheer natural beauty of the beaches makes us glad to be back. I used to sail the Solent a great deal but now I shy away from the obligations of running a boat. People used to tell me that sailing was a wonderful relaxation, a way to escape the stresses and strains of weekly life. What utter nonsense! As soon as you cast off to sail the Solent you are simply exchanging one kind of stress for another. There are many maritime hazards and those on the water need to be aware of them. Possibly one of our closest is Calshot Spit and at low tide you can take a walk along these sands; at a very low tide (referred to as a spring tide) you can walk out so far towards the Isle of Wight that it feels positively odd. Make sure you’ve consulted your tide tables though, better to get back with dry feet. The main shipping channel is so narrow at Calshot that vessels must pass very close to the spit; sometimes it feels as if you could reach out and touch them!"
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A sobering tale for you
"We were granted an interview by the previous Member of Parliament for Salisbury Robert Key who has this cautionary tale to tell from his childhood.
On Friday the 13th of May 1955 there was a gathering of seven schoolboys on Swanage beach. Robert and his friend began to build their own sandcastle while the other five built theirs. One of the group of five boys found an odd looking rusty metal object and began to tinker with it using a metal shoe horn which he happened to have brought with him. Robert and his friend wandered over to take a look and then, after a moment, returned to their own sandcastle to continue construction. Shortly afterwards the object exploded killing all five boys.
The object was a British mine which had been laid in anticipation of a German invasion. After the war a company was paid to remove the mines but, despite having detailed maps showing the location of each mine, failed to find all of them and reported this fact to the British officer in charge. The officer, quite rightly, refused to release the beach to the general public. However, he was overruled by his superior and, tragically as it turned out, the beach was opened. Robert Key went to great lengths to rid our beaches of these weapons and in fact put a great deal of energy into banning these spiteful and indiscriminate killers. However, munitions continue to turn up; the rusty object you come across might be inert, it might still be functional, we simply don’t know. Please spread the word to your children, grandchildren and friends, if you come across anything suspicious, leave well alone and report it.
We’d like to thank Robert Key for his time and trouble and wish him all the best in his retirement.
Buoy, that was close!
These days we take care of mariners by marking rocks, sand banks, wrecks, underwater cables, outfalls and channels with buoys, the modern versions of which are largely self-sufficient with their low wattage lamps and solar panels. A short while ago something as dangerous as the Spit was marked with a manned light vessel which had generators to run, glass to clean and lamp filaments to change; ours, LV78, was built in 1914 at the Thorneycroft works in Woolston. If you want to get up close and personal to LV78 you no longer need a boat and a lifejacket, you just need shoes and an ordinary jacket as she is situated at the Solent Sky museum in Southampton where she rests, glorious in her red livery.
Despite the joys of satellite navigation and the now commonplace marking of hazards, we mariners continue to become ‘disorientated’. On her last voyage in 2008 the Cunard liner the QE2 was returning to Southampton when she struck the Bramble Bank which is a shallow area smack in the middle of the Solent. Five tugs were needed to drag her into deeper water on a (mercifully) rising tide. Every year there is an exceptionally low spring tide when the Bramble will dry and the Isle of Wight sailing club will jump into their Rigid Inflatable Boats and whizz over to play a slightly crackers, and very English, cricket match upon it. If you look at a chart, (maps are for land, charts for the wet stuff) you will see that the Bramble is marked in green, just like the shoreline. This is a big fat warning to any sailor to stay well away, but still, year after year, the Bramble continues to ensnare the unwary.
But it’s only sand, after all, children play with it!
Ships and boats have been lost on sands all around Britain. How, you might say? Let me tell you about a time my friend took me on his boat for a jaunt to the Island. At the time I was a complete novice and I had no idea that he had accidentally strayed onto the Bramble; there was a gentle swell and a gentle breeze. If you try to imagine a giant, wielding a large wooden mallet, thumping the bottom of your boat as hard as he can, that’s what it’s like to hit sand. The waves that on a normal passage lull you to sleep suddenly become a destructive force as they repeatedly lift and drop the boat. Dry sand on a warm beach is as light as flour but as we all know, the wet sand at the water’s edge is hard and unyielding. My friend simply started the engine and reversed the heck out of there. We were lucky, we had a working engine and the wind was light. Sands like these wreck vessels all around Britain all of the time, which is why the rather jaunty LV78 was commissioned.
Sun, salt water and sand. The perfect combination to end the lockdown.
Here’s hoping we all end this horrible lockdown in our own enjoyable way. Have fun and stay safe."
More entertainment from Mark and Hugh
If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, just click the links embedded in the titles:
Pond Life in our Forests
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising