The phrase ‘missing what’s right in front of you’ springs to mind when thinking of the Solent and the recreational scope it has to offer.
This beautiful stretch of water, around 20 miles long, separates mainland England, including Portsmouth, from the Isle of Wight.
We found that the general public were looking for a wider scope to their boating leisureIan DuCane of the Tudor Sailing Club
As a waterfront city, the sea air should practically run through locals’ blood. But chances are that all most have done is take a quick dip off Southsea beach.
Therefore, it’s almost sacrilege that many residents haven’t taken full advantage of the Solent and the watersports which can be enjoyed right on their doorstep.
Sailing clubs are popular in the area and offer opportunities for all ages and all abilities to get out and try activities on the water.
However, some are finding themselves having to adapt to modern society.
Take the Tudor Sailing Club, based at Langstone Harbour, for example.
Founded in 1949, the club was set up to offer traditional dinghy sailing for members.
Now the club is finding itself in the midst of big changes in the leisure boating scene.
Membership numbers are stagnant, costs of equipment is rising and classic sailing is no longer appealing.
They have recently introduced gig rowing in attempt to attract a newer, younger and more athletic type of membership and encourage more people to take advantage of the local waters.
Member Ian DuCane has sailed and rowed in Langstone Harbour for more than 50 years and has witnessed many changes to the way the club operates both on and off the water.
So why aren’t more people in the area getting their sea legs?
Ian believes it’s one of two reasons – the economic climate and cultural shifts towards traditional leisure pursuits, with adrenaline-packed and energetic activities becoming increasingly popular.
The 72-year-old says: ‘Although the club is efficiently run and is financially sound, new member applications in the past few years have only just kept ahead of those leaving.
‘Two years ago a group of club members was formed to analyse why this was happening. We found that in the recent age of austerity, the cost of buying a modern dinghy and equipment was becoming a barrier to participation.
‘Furthermore, we found that the general public were looking for a wider scope to their boating leisure. They wanted more physical activities while also enjoying the pleasure of being out on the water.
‘So as a club we decided to meet these challenges in order to make it more accessible and attractive for people to enjoy activities out on the Solent.
‘We now have a fleet of club-owned boats which new members can use to go sailing without the need to buy their own boat.
‘And then we thought ‘‘what about expanding our facilities to offer new types of watersports?’’
‘Over the past five years there has appeared to be two fast-growing boating trends, kayaking and gig rowing.
Ian explains: ‘Sit-on kayaks are cheap and you can take them almost anywhere. However, not everybody has the storage space for them so the club now provides storage space for them too. So if you are a kayaker then you will be very welcome at the Tudor.’
Another new addition to the club is gig rowing, which is typically a light wooden boat rowed with four, six, or eight long oars.
‘It is a great, physical team sport and means you don’t have to go out on the water on your own,’ says Ian DuCane.
‘What’s more, it’s a full winter and summer activity so can be enjoyed all year round.
‘It’s perfect for families who want to get out on the water. You can row out to the sandbanks for picnics and ball games, all among some of the most beautiful surroundings our coast can offer.’
Sailing and watersports have had a tidal wave of a year both in Portsmouth and nationally, with events such as Olympics, the America’s Cup, and The Watersports Festival on Hayling Island putting these maritime activities on the map.
Ian hopes these sporting events provide inspiration, especially for the younger generation. Children from the age of eight can learn to sail at the club and in the summer it runs Cadet sessions for the younger members of the club and children of family members.
Ian says: ‘We will never know children’s potential unless we give them the chance to participate, which the club does and hopes to do for more kids in the area.
‘It’s great way to get kids out and about and active too.’
Ian adds: ‘It’s a shame because when I’m out sailing in the water, the water seems so vast and vacant.
‘So many more people could be out there and you don’t have to be experienced or have the equipment.
‘Get out on the Solent and enjoy the beautiful waters that we are so lucky to have right on our doorstep.’
He adds: ‘If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the sea on your doorstep, then talk to the Tudor Sailing Club. We can convert your boating enthusiasm into reality.’
WATCH OUT FOR SEALS
You may find yourself with company when out on the water.
Langstone Harbour is widely known to be home to a range of wildlife, including a population of harbour seals. They generally keep a distance away from boats and humans in the water, but are known to occasionally approach people.
Ian fondly remembers an occasion this summer when he was kayaking in the harbour with his wife and a pair of seals approached them.
The seals came within touching distance and at first appeared playful, before one of them began to bite at the kayak and repeatedly swim alongside while showing its teeth.
Ian says: ‘At first it was a very pleasant experience, however one of the seals continued to bite at the pick-up toggle straps and then at the paddle blades, while repeatedly coming up alongside us with its mouth open revealing an array of very large teeth.
‘This particular seal became bolder until its actions became intimidating and we paddled into shallow water to keep it away.’
The Solent seal population has grown over the years and there are approximately 25 known to be in the area.
However, Ian hopes this doesn’t deter people from getting out on the water.
‘I would suggest that all boaters in the harbour should do their best to keep a good distance from these seals to discourage them from more interaction.’
It was the annual Tudor Sailing Club Regatta last weekend, which saw members old and young take to the water for a two-day racing spectacle.
Dinghy, cruiser, junior and gig races were all on offer at Langstone Harbour and visitors enjoyed a BBQ and drinks.
The Tudor Sailing Club is always looking for new members - all ages and abilities are welcome.
It offers facilities for dinghy and yacht sailors, as well as kayaks and small fishing boats. Plus three new sailing dinghies suitable for cadets, adults or families are available for members to use for free. This means there’s no need to own a boat. For more, visit tudorsailing.org.uk