cruise2In early June Quester 1 set off in the MV “Alison McGregor” for an extremely interesting exploration of the estuaries of those famous chalk rivers - the Itchen and the Test. Our choice from the dates available was fortuitous, it coincided with a high tide.

Four volunteers operate the “Ali Mac”. Pilot Nigel (normally he is bringing in big stuff like cruise ships and container vessels) was our captain and an excellent guide, and he gave us a choice of where we wanted to go. Unanimously, the nine of us, chose the Docks for our voyage. Other members of the crew were, Tony, assistant skipper, John deck hand, who had a fantastic knowledge of the current movements of the port and Alison the other deckhand and purser.

We sailed from Hythe Marina through its lock gate from where we could see the layout of the docks nestling within the confluence of the Test and Itchen.

Travelling towards Dock Head we noticed the tugs moored alongside the quay. Above them was the Port Control which was dwarfed by the giant silos. (We still export grain). As we travelled up the Itchen we went under the huge Itchen Toll Bridge which replaced a chain floating bridge. On the original slipway is a water activities school run by Southampton City. Businesses thrive on both sides of the river - from Hovercraft construction to aggregate delivery. And from oil spill recovery to facilities for the yachting fraternity, including dry stacking for their boats. We journeyed upstream and turned just before the bridge leading to Bitterne Triangle. It was interesting to see the houses with gardens dropping down towards the River. We spotted the site of the old Southern TV/Meridian studios at Northam. That large site is being developed by private enterprise and Southampton City Council.

As the tide was high we were able to travel along the Test towards Eling, following the giant container ship “Madrid Express”. She was being manoeuvred into place with tugs, nudging, controlling and slowing the movement. Deckhand John pointed out both the shore and marine operations going on at each end of the ship in order for it to be secured safely. We turned near Eling to return to the marina: one moment we were in 8 fathoms of water and the next we had very little clearance.

The weather was overcast but not cold and we had the run of the boat, being welcome to stand next to the skipper in the wheelhouse. Alison, served us a selection of hot drinks and biscuits and later came around collecting voluntary donations. After our cruise we went to the "The Boat House" in the Marina for an excellent lunch.

Trips are booked in two hour slots and there are three trips a day. Ours was the first of the day at 1030. There are different crews for each day and you are more likely to get a booking on a Sunday.

The boat trip was absolutely wonderful and if members plan to book a trip then visit the website in November when you can book for the following year.

Anne Bristow