Island Shore Leave – 6 months to the arrival of The Tall Ships

Yet again I am writing this overlooking the outgoing tide, a freshening wind is creating breakers over the infamous Bembridge Ledge on the eastern coast of the Isle of Wight.  A gleaming white freighter is heading out into the English Channel, while a bevy of other craft lie at anchor including the Trinity House tender Galatea awaiting, no doubt, to service buoys.

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The extreme weather has caused extensive damage, tumbling the mature Lebanon pine trees and creating landslips which caused necessary closure of exposed coast roads.  However, our planned visit to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse on the southern tip was not thwarted.  A historic location and, over the years, it has had to be moved and duplicated as its headland position is a critical navigational location for the Tall Ships Race.

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The object of our visit to the Isle of Wight was to prepare for the Tall Ships arrival in August, which I plan to illustrate with topographical drawings as they voyage from Falmouth to Greenwich – indeed, a rare opportunity.  The first floor room at Warners Coastal Hotel at Bembridge where we stayed has splendid marine views over the Ledge Reef, across the greensward which runs down to a sandy beach which has been littered with driftwood.

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Another excursion into Cowes was well rewarded as it was fine enough to sketch the French style castle, now the HQ of the Royal Yacht Squadron, set in its own protected landing place and jetty for the great and the good and key point for the Round the Island Race in which yachts of every style and nationality participate. Memories of being anchored off Osborne with the whole extended fleet of some 2,000 yachts roaring past in full sail. 

An essential visit to Beken’s famed photographic studio was most rewarding.  His marvellous shots of racing craft are unique and of great beauty.  His know how of these waters is of historic significance. As retirement nears, Mr. Beken is anxious to find a responsible home for his unique collection.

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I wonder how many people recall the superb prints in the Yacht pub, foolishly disposed of by a brewers refurbishment scheme, including a handsome silver yacht sculpture which adorned the pub’s flank wall overlooking my studio.  I was anxious to reposition it on our party wall.  My offers were rejected and I was aghast to see it in an interior decorator’s shop window in Pimlico.  At one time, the Friends of the National Maritime Museum would have been in a position to fund such a purchase.  My retirement from the Friends Council some 10 years ago was because I realised that these substantial funds were being redirected away from acquisition fund into general expenditure.  Times do change!

Another major loss over the weekend was my crumpled Breton cap which – guess what – I left in the splendid Spice Island Inn which is sited in Old Portsmouth with a spectacular panoramic view over the famous waterfront, busy with Brittany Ferries as well as the handsome ferries and naval vessels which are to be seen on the move.  A quay location to see the Tall Ships gather, and hopefully open for all to admire.  How I revelled in great naval events of yesteryear, held in the Royal Dockyard and also in Spithead views.  The Queen’s Coronation Review in particular, as a guest on board HMS Myngs, I witnessed a spectacle never to be forgotten!!

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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