John Simpson has been thinking about Nelson, as many do around the anniversary of Trafalgar – as I write, I can see the position of the schooner Pickle on the AIS as she makes her way to Dover and then the Solent for Pickle Night celebrations.
Here’s what John has to say:
‘This Spring I visited Old Portsmouth and the small Camber Dock. It was wonderful to see how this area has been rejuvenated.
‘In 1805 Nelson ate his last breakfast ashore before the battle of Trafalgar near to Camber Dock at The George Hotel, which doesn’t exist now.
‘He left via the hotel’s back entrance to avoid the crowds waiting to see him going down to the beach – by this point in his career, he was in danger of being mobbed like one of today’s rock stars.
‘He passed the 500-year old Square Tower (used then by the navy to store meat – I bet that smelt) and crossed a drawbridge through a sally port to a redoubt on the shore, then joined a boat that rowed him out to his flagship HMS Victory and his fate; she was anchored in St Helen’s Road (to the East of the Isle of Wight).
‘Thirty years ago we used to come into the Camber with our school boats. It was useful to teach students how to tie up onto a harbour wall using long warps and a fender board with the rise and fall of tide, and it was a free mooring!
‘The place and pub were very dilapidated though many local fishing boats still used this handy place. Once I awoke to find our boat Gallivanter pinned down by the bows on a rising tide under a bit of ruined harbour wall ladder. All the crew’s weight was needed to free her.
‘New houses and pontoons were being built and sometimes we would tie up to them.
‘Nowadays Ben Ainslie is using part of this dock as a base for his Land Rover-sponsored America’s Cup campaign. He may have failed in Bermuda, but let’s hope he gets angry again for the next one!
‘There’s also storage racks for powerboats and RIBs, with with quick forklift access to the water and a good diving school. The Bridge Tavern looks much posher with a good mural painted outside…
‘Careful timing is still needed to enter the dock due the Isle of Wight ferries very close to the north. Their wash sweeps round to tiny basin; when a ferry leaves good attention is needed, particularly if you’re moored to the wall.
‘Portsmouth Harbour’s main entrance has always been narrow and busy with Isle of Wight ferries, ferries to France and of course the Royal Navy. It’s still controlled by a Queen’s Harbour Master, which means that that the Royal Navy can close it anytime.
‘The narrow channel has had to be dredged for the new aircraft carriers built in Scotland, and the current harbor master must have been bricking it when the new one came in.
‘Small boats have to keep very close to the west and must use their engines even if they have a sail hoisted.
‘Thinking about Nelson’s last walk through the old town still brings a shiver down my spine. The forts, beach and old walls still attract many visitors. It was wonderful to see it all again on a hot sunny day.’