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Home / News / 'A Solent Cruise: Part 1' by Dave Allport -10th March 2023
Home / News / 'A Solent Cruise: Part 1' by Dave Allport -10th March 2023
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'A Solent Cruise: Part 1' by Dave Allport -10th March 2023

Published 11:54 on 22 Mar 2023

In this, the second of four talks to be given to Haslar yacht club members by Dave Allport, we were taken on a whistle stop historical tour of the Solent from Nab Tower to the Round Tower. With humour, interspersed with historical facts and personal anecdotes, Dave held his audience from start to finish.

By way of introduction, Dave gave us a short history of his RN service and his time in the KHM followed by a brief explanation of the history of the shipping forecast and Beaufort scale. The shipping forecast, invented by Robert FitzRoy, a RN officer and pioneer in hydrography and  meteorology and founder of our met office. The Beaufort scale created by RN officer  Frances Beaufort. The scale was first used during the voyage of HMS Beagle, which carried Darwin on his 5 year expedition, under the command of Robert FitzRoy.

Starting our tour at the NAB Tower; This was one of 8 towers designed for the Admiralty during WW1 to be positioned across Dover Straits, linked by steel and armed with two 4" guns to protect merchant shipping from German U boats. However by the end of the war only 1 tower had been completed, at a cost of £1 million, and it was still sitting in Shoreham harbour awaiting deployment. In 1920 it was decided to tow the tower to Nab rock to replace the previous marker, a lightship. Teams had been briefed on the towing and positioning of the tower but on the day those teams were not available so things didn't go according to plan. When the structure sank it settled with a tilt of 3 degrees which is still noticeable today.

Leaving NAB tower and travelling back in time we pass the first of 4 forts ( St Helen's fort off Bembridge) built in the 1850s and 60s to protect the anchorages and port of Portsmouth  and the Solent from the pesky French. Moving on we  arrive at No Man's land fort. This is now privately owned and boasts 21 bedrooms and a swimming pool.  No Man's land fort has been used as a film set notably for Dr Who, Dave being a big fan.

Weaving our way through several historical naval tales we come to Horse Sand fort. This was manned in WW2 and has the benefit of a natural spring below the seabed which can provide fresh water. The fort was abandoned for many years and, although now derelict, recently sold for £750k

Dave gave us some interesting information about the piers along our coast, Victoria Pier, Clarence pier and Southsea  pier all built to take passengers on ferries across to the Isle of Wight. Dave was voluble with numerous dates and tales  relating to various fires and calamities which befell them.

Finally we reach Spitbank fort. Until recently this fort was also open to the public as an hotel and restaurant. It is currently closed.

Dave spoke about the launching and sinking of the Mary Rose and gave us some insight into the various Spithead fleet reviews which have occurred at various important historical moments, e.g. jubilee and coronations. These have been utilised to display the power of the Royal Navy in terms of vessels which are paraded en masse to be reviewed by the monarch.

Bringing us up to modern day, Dave spoke about his experiences as part of KHM dealing with the variety of vessels and events which visit Portsmouth Harbour. The dredging for the QE class boats has affected the currents in and around the harbour and new nav lights have been installed solely for their use. When the QEC boats are transiting the entrance is closed to other traffic and the traditional lights are switched off. During the 2015 Admiral's cup boats were lined up on the start line but the normal harbour business continued with cross channel ferries being escorted in and fast cat and hovercraft still going about their business. It caused some heated arguments between competitors who were reluctant to move and the police who had to clear the way.

Dave gave us so much interesting detail it has been difficult deciding what to include and what to leave out of this report. I recommend anyone who is interested in learning more about the history of the harbour to attend the Solent Cruise talk part 2 on May 12th.

Cathy Hems


Last updated 13:22 on 25 October 2023

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