The Solent is a boating hotspot located between the South Coast of England and the Isle of Wight.
There are many great places to visit, from small towns and parishes, locations of historic significance and water sport venues.
There is an active sailing scene with many events held annually.
The Solent is a strait of water which separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England. It is roughly 20 miles (32 km) long with varying widths between 2 ½ and 5 miles (4 to 8km).
The Hurst Spit which extends 1.5 miles into The Solent narrows the distance to just over 1 mile (1.6km).
The Solent is a major shipping lane for both passenger and freight as well as military vessels.
As well as being a busy shipping lane The Solent is also a water sports hotspot. Acting as a recreational area for water sports in the South of England.
Of all water sports yachting is especially important with The Solent being the host of the prestigious annual Cowes Week.
The Solent is quite unique in that it has a complex tidal pattern. This is because The Solent is sheltered by Isle of Wight. This complex tidal pattern has made Southampton a successful port due to its double high tide.
As well as Southampton, another successful town; Portsmouth lies on the shore of The Solent.
The Solent has been designated great ecological and landscape importance. This is due to the coast and estuarine habitats which sit along its edge.
In fact, most of The Solent’s coastline is designated a special area of conservation.
The Solent is a comparatively shallow stretch of tidal water considering its renowned volume of vessel usage.
This large volume of vessel usage has resulted in The Solent having one of the highest densities of declared lifeboat stations in the entire world.
Perhaps one of the most notable events to happen in The Solent was King Henry VIII’s Navy Warship The Mary Rose sinking. This was then raised many centuries later in 1982 and is now a top tourist attraction.
Ultimately The Solent offers unrivalled opportunities for water based recreation, learning and fun.
As we dive deeper into The Solent we will learn about the main constituent parts; Isle of Wight, Eastern Solent, Central Solent and Western Solent.
Isle of Wight
It is usually inevitable that during any significant yacht charter of The Solent you will end up at the Isle of Wight in some form or another.
The Isle of Wight is a stunning island with unspoilt scenery and a wealth of fascinating attractions.
The island itself measures 23 miles (37 km) by 13 miles (20 km) and has over 60 places for you to visit.
The Isle of Wight is a historic goldmine so to speak. Wherever you travel on the island you are bound to find evidence of the dinosaurs, Roman villas, Medieval castles as well as more recent historic houses.
The Isle of Wight is the largest island in England by landmass with 118.97 square miles (380.15 square km). And is the second largest based on population with 132,731 residents (2001 census). The first being Portsea Island with 147,088 residents.
IOW is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery and verdant landscapes.
It is the host of many rich maritime traditions such as boat building, sail making and hovercraft manufacture.
Over the years it has played an important role in the defence of both Southampton and Portsmouth.
There are a number of bustling towns on the island, including:
As you would expect with any rich maritime strait of water there are many harbours to visit. Each with their own unique character and reasons for visiting.
Chichester is a natural harbour set against the backdrop of the Sussex Downs. It is a biological and geological site of Special Scientific Interest.
It comprises of roughly twenty-seven square miles of navigable water and features some of the most rewarding scenery in the South of England.
There are plenty of places to visit too. Such as the beautiful waterside village of Bosham.
One thing to be aware of is the Chichester Bar. This is a shallow spit south west of the harbour entrance. This can be a significant navigation hazard at all tide states so is definitely something to be aware of if chartering a yacht in the Solent.
It’s also worth noting that Chichester Harbour has three main channels; The Emsworth Channel, the Thorney Channel and Chichester Channel.
Chichester Harbour is used for a wide variety of sailing including dinghy racing. It is also the venue for the Itchenor Gallon race and is host to several yacht marinas.
The area is also a hotspot for both fishing and bird watching. If you enjoy exploring there is a network of footpaths and cycle routes for people to follow.
One of the most important harbours in the Solent is Cowes, which is accessible at all tide states and has relatively easy to obtain and reasonably priced berths available.
The highlight of Cowes every year as previously mentioned is the prestigious Cowes Week. Checkout chapter six to learn all about Cowes Week.
As well as Cowes Week it is home to the Round the Island Race. The Round the Island Race is as the name suggests a well-attended sailing race around the Isle of Wight taking place in June. Read chapter six for more information.
There are two main marinas; West Cowes and East Cowes.
West Cowes is home to Cowes Yacht Haven and Shepherds Wharf.
East Cowes marina is home to excellent facilities and offers a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Staying on the Isle of Wight we have Yarmouth, a lovely picturesque fishing, ferry and yachting port. It is widely regarded as one of the jewels of the South Coast.
Yarmouth has a rich history and there has been a settlement in the area since 991. It received its first charter as a town way back in 1135 and is named for its location at the mouth of the small Western Yar River.
Yarmouth pier opened in 1876 and received grade 2 status in 1975. It is currently 186m in length and is the longest timber pier in England open to the public.
Yarmouth regularly attracts both yacht and motor cruisers alike.
There are a few berths available which can be booked online. The harbour is also served by a water taxi.
Yarmouth marina is the landing point for the Royal Navy’s Solent Amphibious Challenge, held in June each year.
It is also the location of a well renowned fish restaurant called Salty's which is adjacent to the Harbour and is definitely worth a visit.
Lymington is a bustling Georgian market town. Though its origin dates back much further. Lymington began way back as an Anglo-Saxon village after the Jutes from the Isle of Wight arrived and founded a settlement called Limentun - roughly translated as elm tree farm (or hamlet).
Nowadays Lymington plays host to many nice restaurants which are great places to grab a bite to eat.
There are two main marinas in Lymington:
First we have Lymington Yacht haven: Lymington Yacht Haven is a Five Gold Anchor Marina and won Marina of the Year in 2016. It offers luxurious facilities and is easy access to a number of great locations.
The second, Lymington Marina: Lymington Marina was one of the first to be built in the UK. It offers 300 deepwater well protected river berths for yachts up to 45m. It is situated on the West Solent close to Hurst Castle and the Needles.
Beaulieu is a small village located in the heart of the New Forest and is home to the British National Motor Museum and Palace House.
Nearby is the 18th Century shipbuilding village of Buckler’s Hard where there are some convenient berths available in Buckler's Hard Yacht Harbour.
Rather suitably Beaulieu derives its name from the Latin bellus local which means ‘beautiful place’.
Beaulieu has remained largely unspoilt by modern progress and as such is a tourist stop for people visiting the New Forest.
It is also a top location for keen ornithologists thanks to some local specialities like the Dartford Warbler or European Honey Buzzard.
Newtown Creek is a delightful natural harbour located on the Isle of Wight’s North Western coast. It is owned and managed by the National Trust.
It consists of a number of estuaries of small rivers.
The entrance is fairly narrow and is situated ¾ of a mile east off Hamstead Point. There is a bar across the entrance which calls for careful navigation when entering.
There are strong cross tides and a fair flow of water in and out of the entrance channel at mid-tide.
Like many locations around the Solent it is admired for its beauty and tranquillity. As such the river and adjoining land are considered a great example of an undisturbed natural harbour on the South Coast of England.
Similar to Cowes we have the Hamble River which is another yachting and maritime hotspot. It is a major centre for all types of recreational boating, from dinghy’s to motor cruisers.
Hamble River is home to thousands of sailing yachts and motorboats and could be considered the heart of the South Coast sailing scene and home of British Yachting.
There are extensive facilities for visiting yachtsmen and women.
All marinas on the Hamble River offer a selection of restaurants.
Her Majesty's Naval Base, Portsmouth
Portsmouth is a city surrounded by the sea and has very strong historic and contemporary links with the Royal Navy. It currently plays host to two thirds of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet and is home to the world famous Mary Rose.
There are many marinas including Port Solent Marina, Gosport Marina and Gunwharf Quays.
There are many restaurants, pubs and bars available offering delicious food and friendly atmosphere, ideal for small get togethers/gatherings and bigger special celebrations.
It is a large natural harbour and provides access to the Solent. Similar to Southampton it is a busy commercial ferry port and leisure sailing hotspot.
You will also find the renowned Spinnaker Tower and a whole host of shops at Gunwharf Quays.
In addition to the notable harbours mentioned in the previous chapter there are an array of other great places of interest to visit in the Solent.
Osborne Bay is located on the north east coast of the Isle of Wight in the eastern arm of the Solent, east of East Cowes.
The shoreline is a gently curving 2km and stretches from old castle point to the best Barton Point.
The seabed is a mixture of mud and sand with a predominantly shingle beach.
Osborne Bay gets its name from the neighbouring estate on the shore called Osborne House, which itself is a lovely place to visit and is managed by English Heritage.
In the summer Osborne Bay becomes a hotspot for Yachts looking for anchorages as it is sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds.
This does tend to mean it can become very crowded during busy periods.
You can access Osborne Bay via the water or land if you follow the natural National Trust walkways.
Bembridge is located at the most eastern point of the Isle of Wight and has a population of 3,688 based on the 2011 census.
Interestingly Bembridge is actually home to some of the Island’s wealthiest residents. There are a number of shops, pubs and restaurants available and also plays host to the Bembridge Lifeboat Station.
Close to the Lifeboat Station is the Coastguard lookout which offers fantastic views of the English Channel thanks to its high elevation.
Bembridge is also the home of the Bembridge Windmill which is the only one on the entire island. It is a National Trust property and dates back to 1700. It is open to visitors between April to October.
Though we’ve discussed Cowes in the previous harbour chapter it would be remiss not to mention it again as it is such a significant place on the Isle of Wight.
Cowes is an English seaport town and Civil Parish on the IOW.
It’s located on the west bank of the estuary of the River Medina and faces the smaller town of East Cowes on the east bank.
Cowes and East Cowes are conveniently connected via a floating bridge.
Cowes itself has a population of 10,405 based on the 2011 census results.
It is the home of international yacht racing and was the location for the founding of the Royal Yacht Squadron back in 1815.
It also plays host to the world’s oldest regatta - Cowes Week.
As you’ve likely picked up by now if you’ve made it this far the Solent is an important boating destination and that’s no different when it comes to events.
We briefly mentioned the famous Cowes Week earlier in this guide, but let’s take a little closer look.
Cowes Week is one of the oldest and largest sailing regattas in the world hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
Cowes Week attracts yachtsmen and women from all around the globe every year in August.
This year it is being held between the 10th and 17th August.
There are 40 sailing races a day with up to 1,000 boats and 8,000 competitors.
You can watch the exhilarating racing from the shore (alternatively charter a boat to get up and close to the action).
There is also radio commentary which helps you keep up with the racing.
As well as spectator boats you can take advantage of rib rides during the regatta or alternatively walk the streets of the town.
Round the Island Race
If the racing at Cowes Week isn’t enough then you might want to check out the Round the Island Race.
The Round the Island Race is an annual yacht race held in June on the Saturday with the most favourable tides. This year’s race is on 29th June.
First held in 1931 after Major Cyril Windeler commissioned a gold Roman-style bowl as a price for the winner.
If you want to watch over 1,750 boats race around the Isle of Wight you could charter a boat to stay up with the action.
Southampton Boat Show
The Southampton Boat Show is one of the largest on-water boat shows in Europe and the biggest in the UK.
It’s held annually in September from Mayflower Park in Southampton by British Marine who are the trade association for the leisure, super yacht and small commercial marine industry.
The Southampton Boat Show acts as an important sales platform both nationally and internationally and attracts over 110,000 visitors each year.
Exhibitors at the Boat Show cover every aspect of the leisure marine industry including boat builders, sail makers, chandlers and engine manufacturers as well as clothing, navigation aids and finance.
It’s a chance to get up close and personal with super yachts and classic boats alike. Get out on the water by chartering your own yacht.