Steve Anderson

The Nab Tower on Alice

March 2009

A couple of weeks ago I sailed with some friends on a Thames sailing barge called Alice. Bosham sailing club have an annual race essentially for the yachties, which starts at the entrance to Chichester harbour, around the Nab tower which sits at the east end of the Solent, and then back to the start line at the entrance to Chichester harbour, and this year we decide to do the race on Alice. Alice is not the perfect vessel for this type of event unless one of the race instructions includes lugging 100 Tons of coal round the course quicker than any one else. So we were not going to be competitive in any sense, which I think made the event more enjoyable by removing any pressure to do well.

Our arrival at the start line was pretty timely and we tacked delicately back and forth a couple of times like a nervous Grand National mount, before barging over the line to make our start. Off we went at a massive 6 knots being rapidly overtaken by boats which had more speed and less coal capacity. They all headed off upwind of us managing to sail a course which would take them up tide of the Nab tower, we just about managed to point at the tower and hoped the wind might become more forgiving as the race progressed.

The Nab tower is a round steel fortress on a base of concrete which was placed at the end of the Solent in 1918 to provide a gun emplacement and anti submarine defence system to protect the Solent entrance, and by definition the main channel to Portsmouth and the home of the British Navy. This tower is a pretty solid arrangement from a distance but as you get closer it has a siren quality which invites a closer look, just when you think you are nearly on it, it picks up its steel strapped skirt and hastens off in an easterly direction, leaving you drifting aimlessly to the west. If you change tack to gain on the rapidly vanishing tower it seems to suddenly skip off to the south in a coquettish fashion. Quite undignified behavior for a large steel and concrete land mark (or should that be water mark). This effect is caused by the strong westerly tides which run an hour or so before high water, and it was this factor which gave us some sport for half an hour or so before we managed to round the tower and head back for the harbour entrance. Suffice it to say we were not awarded any silverware for our efforts but we had a good day out and my sunburn was suitably re invigorated.

Alice is an interesting vessel to sail on as Sailing barges, I was informed by Alan the owner and skipper of Alice were designed to be sailed by a man, a boy and a dog. When I pressed him as to the dog’s role in the day to day running of a barge I was told it was to bark at the boy! I know, your guess is as good as mine. The upshot of all of this barking stuff is that barges can be competently sailed with a very small crew. As vessels go barges are pretty agricultural, which is part of their charm. Every component has an unusual name which will befuddle the common yachty, I wondered if this was a cockney rhyming sort of secret bargey language designed to cloak its exact meaning from any one not in the know, probably accompanied by nod and a wink to emphasise the confusion. Barges also do not need much water to float in, and it would therefore be less than wise to follow one too closely in a conventional craft, it is this feature which makes them so beautifully adapted to the Thames estuary where most of them used to operate.

Our next sojourn on Alice is going to be the Old gaffers jamboree at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, a bit of a favourite venue for me over the years. There will be a surfeit of beer and dancing., and a chance to catch up with some fellow lovers of old wooden boats. I will have to dig out my smock….

Brevity is the soul of lingerie (Dorothy parker)