Many people when they think of the busiest waterways in the world would naturally put the English Channel, the Panama Canal and the Suez in their list, many would not necessarily include a small stretch of water between the British mainland and the Isle of Wight though. The Solent is however one of the busiest waterways in the world and renowned as the busiest in Europe with approximately 1 million commercial and naval shipping movements and over 10 million leisure craft movements every year. Thousands of people flock to the Solent every year to enjoy a day on the water and experience the many activities that are on offer – and you don’t have to own a boat to enjoy it.
The Solent is a unique location, with the millions of leisure crafts it is somewhat of a sailor’s playground. It is stunningly beautiful, easy to access and there are endless locations to see and visit. We will give you a rundown of some of the most amazing things to do on a day’s sailing on the Solent.
Owning a power boat or yacht can be an expensive hobby, one that for many is unobtainable given their circumstances. This does not mean that you cannot have the same experiences, you can charter a wide range of vessels from many locations on the Solent. There are luxury power boats right through to basic sailing yachts available to charter for the day and you can also hire a RYA qualified captain to guide you on your voyage.
Having someone with the experience and knowledge of the waters is a good idea, the Solent is a beautiful stretch of water but not only is it busy, there are sand banks at varying depths throughout the expanse of water. In fact, some of these sand banks are well publicised with an annual cricket match taking place on Bramble Bank in the Eastern Solent – giving you an example of just how shallow parts of the waterway are.
A boat, either powered by an engine or wind, is the best way to experience all the Solent has to offer – even if it is just to be amongst hundreds of other enthusiasts on the water.
Southampton & Portsmouth
Starting on the mainland, these two cities dominant the local area and are home to some interesting activities for all types of person. Portsmouth is home to two-thirds of the entire British Naval fleet, as well as the Historic Naval Dockyard. It is home to HMS Victory, the naval ship that was the pride of the country and Admiral Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar that saw him tragically lose his life. In addition to it’s naval history, Portsmouth is also a shoppers heaven with the Gunwharf Quays outlet centre.
Southampton is the busiest cruise terminal and commercial shipping port in the United Kingdom and whilst it may not officially be within the boundaries of the Solent it is still worth visiting. Sailing up Southampton Water you will see all sorts of commercial liner and if you are fortunate enough you will see one of the many cruise liners that dock in Southampton throughout the year. The flagship liner that calls Southampton home is the Queen Mary 2, a colossal ocean liner that makes transatlantic crossings frequently through the year.
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is the largest island in England and home to over 100,000 people. For most on the water, Cowes would be the first destination to visit. Home to the world’s largest sailing regatta in the world, Cowes Week takes place in the first week of August every year and sees 40 daily races, up to 1000 boats and over 8,000 competitors from world championship standard through to complete amateurs. Cowes for many is regarded as the centre of the sailing world. Outside of the marina, Cowes is home to many pubs and restaurants that serve up a range of meals and drinks for the hungry sailor.
The Island is also home to areas of outstanding natural beauty with the Needles at the far western side being one of the most photographed locations in the South East of England. There are also numerous sheltered bays and towns along the coastline that are amongst the most beautiful in the country.
Wildlife and History
Along your journey through the Solent you are sure to encounter different species of wildlife alongside centuries of history – both natural and manmade. The Solent is home to approximately 20-25 harbour seals, a species that is steep decline throughout the world, alongside the rarer grey seals. The Isle of Wight is also one of the only places remaining in the United Kingdom with a healthy population of red squirrels, the much rarer species than its grey counterpart on the mainland.
In terms of history, there are many fortresses and castles to be seen throughout the Solent, particularly from the 2 World Wars in the 1900s as this was one of the frontline defences for mainland Britain. Calshot Castle is a fort built in 1530 to guard the entrance to Southampton Waters and is now owned by English Heritage and open to the public.
Another incredible fort in the Solent is Hurst Castle, located at the end of a long shingle spit at the western edge of the Solent and built by Henry VIII as one of the most advanced defence systems built at that time. It was later used as a prison and amongst its prisoners was Charles I whilst he awaited his execution. Hurst Castle was further fortified for WWII but is now open to the public through ownership by English Heritage.
The Solent is one of the most fascinating and beautiful places in the South of England, hence the popularity with leisure boating trips and tourists throughout the year. If you are looking to charter a boat at least once, you can go to a lot worse places than the Solent and its surrounding towns.
Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer in the travel industry – working alongside UK companies like Island Charters, a yacht charter service based on the Solent; who were consulted with regard to the content in this piece.