Living aboard in Portsmouth Harbour – October


I can hardly believe that we have already been here for 4 weeks!  In some ways it is strange to be here – the choppy sea instead of the calm river; the gulls and fish instead of the coots and herons; the warships, ferries and yachts instead of the narrow boats, barges and sculls.

But in other ways it is familiar – our home waters, especially mine, having been brought up here, watching the ships in the harbour from an early age.

So what to report? I think four topics; wildlife, ships and boats, skies and family.




Amazingly we still see a kingfisher, skimming the waters of the marina and occasionally perching on a pontoon or rail. And there are heron and cormorants in Haslar Creek, further up where it dries out at low tide.

There are gulls a-plenty, sparrows, crows and starlings in the shore, egrets stalking the pools amongst the rocks, and the war of the show, Whistler, a harris hawk.


IMG_6697.JPGOf course she is not flying wild here. She has been visiting with her handler to scare the starlings away from roosting on the rigging!

Shoals of tiny fish (no idea what they are!) constantly swim through the marina waters and much bigger grey mullet have been seen.

Then there are the jelly fish!  I did not expect this at all. Of the six types of jellyfish known to inhabit the UK waters we have had two in the marina in the past fortnight!



The compass jellyfish, seen swimming between our boat and the pontoon, quite toxic apparently, and about 10 cms across …..





….. and a barrel jelly fish, IMG_6827.JPGabout 50cm across, but so diaphanous and wobbly that the camera just could not pick it up distinctly.




Ships and boats


Countless categories of ships and boats, moving and changing by the minute, have become our entertainment and education.



Naval warships glide into harbour, with their radar domes appearing first above the roofs of HMS Dolphin…





… to reveal their full glory as air defence destroyers (HMS Daring, Diamond, or Dauntless) ….




IMG_6777.JPG.… or a patrol ship to protect our fishing interests (HMS Tyne) …





…. an Antarctic research and survey vessel (Sir Ernest Shackleton) …






… or even one of our remaining frigates (HMS St Albans).






Huge freight ships and cross channel ferries move as gigantic chess pieces around the harbour board, sending their washes to rock us night and day.


Tall ships and small ships, arriving and departing, rushing and dallying, 24/7.



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Ocean going racers, training ships and living legends, our everyday vista.





Skies and family


quite often a spitfire buzzes about

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The sun comes up and goes down amongst the masts of hundreds of yachts.




The family flow in and out like the tide, sometimes all together!



We do our duty, sometimes go to sea, and delight in the lights of nearby Portsmouth.

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Calliope goes to sea

Our voyage from the Thames to Portsmouth Harbour


[There are far too many good blogs about barges and their voyages for me to compete, so this is just a snippety illustrated version of our (very exciting for us) journey.]


September 22   :   last night on the non-tidal Thames


Our last night, for now, moored up at Hampton Court enjoying river life. Excitement was building about the next few days, with every day holding something new for us to experience ……


September 23   :   Hampton Court to Isleworth






Leaving Hampton Court, we glided down to Teddington Lock saying goodbye to Kingston as we passed.





Our objective was to reach the Isleworth draw dock close enough to high tide to tie up. We needed to become stranded on the pebbles in order for a different propeller to be fitted – one more suited to the off shore trip we were about to make.


We made it, and found a way to turn, and moor. Within half an hour we were bumping on the bottom and after about an hour we were high and dry.


Graham and Grant from Piper arrived and before long all the work was done, all the tea drunk and biscuits eaten … only kidding!


The London Apprentice helped us towards a good nights sleep while Calliope rose and fell with the overnight tides.


September 24   :   Isleworth to Gravesend


Today’s target – Gravesend – further down the tidal Thames than we had ever ventured before. Impatiently we watched the tide creep inch by inch over the mud and stones towards us, eventually lifting us and the swans to a ‘float free’ position.


We were off, against the last half hour of rising tide. Just below Kew the tide turned to be with us, speeding up progress downstream to a sturdy 7 knots.

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London’s bridges were markers of our progress, and the famous landmarks began to appear.



One wonderful addition to the littoral zone at Nine Elms on the South Bank was ‘The Rising Tide’ horse and riders sculptures was designed by the renowned underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. So lucky to see these temporary beauties as they were only on show for another week.


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Houses of Parliament, London Eye (yes, I was drying the washing as we travelled through London!) ……..

………. O2, Greenwich and the Cutty Sark – all ticked off as we passed, and the Thames is changing into a wide commercial dockland vista.






Calliope passed on through the Thames Barrier …









…… and under Queen Elizabeth II bridge.




All the way, mainly running with the tide, the waters were relatively smooth and the only ‘choppiness’ was in the Port of London.

Before long, and sooner than expected, Gravesend was upon us.


A bit of a shock to find a tug tied up to the Town Pier mooring that we had booked, but we hitched ourselves alongside, negotiated with the crew, and soon it departed.

Right on time we were joined by friends Hilary and, (our pilot), Ray, both experienced coastal sailors. There was time to study tidal streams, charts and weather forecasts before a good fish and chip supper, some wine, and a stunning sunset to round off the day.



September 25   :   Gravesend to Ramsgate – c60 miles


Embarking on the outgoing tide we motored down the final stretch of the Thames ……



…. passing the paddle steamer Waverley on the way.





Our aim – to reach Ramsgate; our concern – North Foreland, where the North Sea meets the English Channel. The forecast was good with light winds and plenty of sunshine, and everything went swimmingly!



Passing the infamous North Foreland with relative ease …









we were able to enjoy the sight of Broadstairs ….





…. and soon we were in Ramsgate Harbour.


Sunset at Ramsgate Harbour marina

All was amazingly easier than we had anticipated. Well done Calliope! She seemed to almost relish the challenge of the sea.

A turn around the town for the crew, passing by the Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys, followed by home made shepherds pie and the inevitable glass or two of wine, ensured another good night’s slumber.


September 26   :   Ramsgate to Brighton – c80 miles


We left Ramsgate with a good weather forecast and tidal streams that were in our favour most of the way (I’m getting the hang of this nautical parlance!) We watched the sun rising behind some spectacular clouds and headed West.


Our apprehension levels were set high as we neared Dover and began to see giant ferries moving steadily in and out of the port, but pilot Ray was calm and confident, explaining the shipping lanes, exclusion zones etc.  We let the Dover Harbour Master know of our intent, and everything was amazingly simple!

And we could see France.  It’s much closer than Portsmouth!


Dover behind her, Calliope headed for Dungeness, leaving Folkestone to starboard and crossing the bay miles out to sea – or so seemed to Stewart and I! It took hours for Dungeness Power Station to grow from a block on the horizon to a full size power plant building.



We rounded Dungeness Point with an intention of heading for Eastbourne Harbour, but a realisation that our weather window was closing made us decide to push on to Brighton – an 11 hour, 80 mile cruising day.








This meant rounding Beachy Head and its lighthouse, dwarfed by enormous cliffs.






Leaving Beachy Head in our wake


With Beachy Head behind us we could enjoy the beautiful Seven Sisters cliffs lit by the sinking sun.

Brighton Marina had out a Message to Mariners, explaining that we could not enter the marina an hour either side of high tide, so we gently wallowed off shore until 6.24 when we were welcomed in to a pleasant mooring.

After a visit to a local pub we enjoyed lamb stew on board before bed.


September 27   :   Brighton to Portsmouth – c40 miles


With the winds forecast to pick up, especially around Selsey Bill, skipper and crew planned an earlier departure from Brighton, even though it meant punching against the tide for a few hours.

The sea was moving more than previously, and Calliope bravely rolled, plunged, pitched and heaved. According to our sailor friends the seas were relatively calm, but compared to the upper reaches of the Thames we found it somewhat exhilarating, though never frightening.



My supply of ginger goods (biscuits, tea, beer) kept mal de mer at bay, even round the choppiest waters off Selsey Bill, while skip took a break on the back deck.



And then, wonderfully, the relative calm of the waters of The Solent. Calm enough for me to go below and cook a fried breakfast for all …. which went somewhat off course when I overloaded the power circuits and lost all electricity! Never mind – the bacon and tomatoes were cooked, bread replaced toast, the mushrooms had fried and the scrambled egg carried on thickening in the warm pan. Yum yum.



Finally we could see Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower way in the distance – a waypoint to aim for in the last stages. Ray advised Stewart as he steered through the old submarine defences and into the small vessels channel …..


…. we entered Portsmouth Harbour, caught on camera by a friend, with Lesley deploying the fenders!

We were soon comfortably moored up at Haslar Marina and celebrated our arrival in style……..

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……… where the sunsets are as magnificent as before.