A few months ago a Whatsapp chat made a ping and an idea was hatched for piracy on the high seas....
Previously we had visited St Helen's fort, walking out on a spring tide and rushing to see the inside levels of the fort before the tide turned and we had to make for the shore.
Horse Sands was a whole different ball game.
Where St Helen's had just 3 gun rooms Horse Sands is joint largest of all the UK sea forts with 59 gun emplacements across its two gun floors, a 2 level basement and more gun emplacements and WW2 additions on it's roof.
We'd visited the national archives a few weeks previously and had photographed the plans.
There was little information avaliable online about how the fort currently stood - just a couple of videos from when the fort was put up for sale. So our first voyage was a reconnaissance mission to find out how access could be acquired.
I'd expected it to be a rope access job, slinging a throw line over the crane and SRT to the top before dropping a ladder down for my compadres to ascend - but as we got closer in a small motor boat we noticed an open window.... It didn't take long for me to be stripping down to boxer shorts and swimming through some very cold seas to clamber up the rusty landing platform and take a closer look.
It quickly became apparent that the fort was wide open... but where the access was easy the logistics of getting 6 people, complete with hammocks, rum, champagne, bbqs and a golf set, onto a fort 4km offshore in (relative) safely was a fucking ball ache.
Last year I'd sailed to the Channel Islands with a close knit band of pirates so we called on them for help.
They loved the plan, a date was set and the boat was readied.
Much faffing was done working out the course of action in various situations but eventually we just fucking did it. You can plan for everything but something else will always go wrong, right?
We met at the pub for dinner, tendered ourselves to a 1960's yacht named Illiya and headed off, quite literally, into the sunset.
There was little wind but we caught a few gusts in our sails and made a slow passage across the Solent. Much rum was drunk and a bit of brave drone piloting got some great shots along the way.
Fawley power station in the background
Eventually we reached the fort as dusk turned to night and in the calm waters we found a shallow place to anchor not far from the fort.
The first couple of runs in the tender went smoothly; I calmly ran the tender back and forth between Illiya and the fort. It was about to be the last run so I quickly jumped aboard and went below deck to chuck my camera into a dry bag and do some last minute checks.......
But when I returned to deck there was something amiss..
In our excitement we'd neglected to check the tender was secured and she was floating, engine idling, about 150 meters away in the dark seas.
At this point there are 4 people on board the fort and 3 of us on the yacht.. And nobody on the tender..
As we phone the others they have just noticed the ghost ship drifting past them.
We quickly pull the anchor and set course for the boat.
Torches pinpointing it, keeping eyes on.
Jon does a sterling job of bringing us up to the dinghy.
The day is saved!
But as we grab the tender the engine of the yacht stalls....
Now why would the engine stall?
We've just followed a dinghy, trailing it's painter (the rope tied to the front) through the current and the painter has managed to tangle itself around the prop.
Well we can't fucking loose the tender now can we!
The anchor is quickly dropped and I'm down to my swim shorts, very drunk, at midnight, 4km from land, free diving 3 meters under a boat to untangle this shiting rope.
It takes Nick and I about 10 tries to free it. I'm covered in cuts from the barnacles stuck to the rudder, but we're elated that we've done it.
We head back to our original anchorage and call the others.
"What took you so long?"
We try to explain what had happened but I don't think it sunk in.....
"Well hurry up, and make sure you're careful with the yellow bag!"
We're sat there bleeding out, freezing cold. And all they care about is a bloody yellow bag!
Eventually the rum warms us enough to do the last tender run and we tie the tender Very Securely to the platform.
Straight up to the top of the dilapidated fort, climbing the rusty ladders with our kit.
We barbecue burgers and have a feast surrounded by sea. People pay a lot of money to do this!
A few golf balls are knocked in the general direction of home and we head below to explore the fort.. It's HUGE and we just about manage to see the place before the sun begins to rise.
The street was a circular walkway which separated the gun floors from the officers quarters
Illiya our yacht, anchored in the shallows.
These top buildings were an early 20C addition to the original Palmerston fort. There would at one time have been a lighthouse.
We stop for champagne on a gun floor and rest in our hammocks before heading up to the top to raise a pirate flag.
Here you can see the remains of the dazzle camoflage, a chess board design
The dark square blocks in the sea are part of the submarine barrier that at one time crossed the entire Solent.
At the bottom of the fort you can see the divers entrance, usually covered by the tides this could be used to enter and exit the fort undetected.
It takes a while and we nap some more until the tide is right and we can leave the fort to head back to the boat and eventually home.
Piracy. Highly recommended.
Just remember to tie your tender on well.
Thanks to @nickturbo4000 for the drone shots and a couple of the other pics! He'll have a video up at some point
Thanks to Trufflepig for the help with the research, Nicky for the swimming photo, Trig and Adie for the whole idea, Jon for skippering and Sam for the use of Illiya. Man you do meet some good people doing this shit.