BRAMBLES BANK CRICKET MATCH 2023
Buried between pages 5 and 7 of a google search appeared ‘The Brambles Bank Cricket Match’. Every year in the late summer, the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Isle of Wight Sailing club partake in an annual tradition which can only be described as unconventional, whimsical, and stereotypically British. Two teams of weekend yachtsman and yachtswomen arrive promptly at 4:30am to their respective sailing clubs. From there they will make the hurried journey into the middle of the Solent. Their role - To play a cricket match on a disappearing sandbank that has bruised the ego of many a ship’s Captain since the 1700s.
My alarm woke me at 3:00am on the morning of the match. Reasonably, I questioned the validity of this project and if my contact at the Royal Southern Yacht Club would actually hold up. It was a 50/50 given the vague infrequent replies and a handful of emails convincing them that a random stranger would keep them good company on their RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat). Holding faith in random acts of kindness, I got dressed and jumped in the car travelling from Bournemouth. My brother and his fiancé kindly offered their home as a halfway house to break my journey in two. I unfortunately know that if I had to travel from London that morning, I would have snoozed my alarm until my phone burst into flames.
After a somewhat treacherous journey down the pitch-black and foggy A35, I arrived at the Royal Southern Yacht Club. I parked my car not a minute past 4:30am and headed to the clubhouse. A silhouette of an elderly lady clutching a clipboard stood outside. “Hello”, I said, announcing myself as to not frighten her. She replied “Hello! Are you Ben? We’ve been waiting to leave”. I apologised and she assigned me to the ‘Media Boat’ and asked if I had brought my own lifejacket. I had already held up the event and now I had to hope and pray someone could lend me a spare lifejacket. What had actually pained me, was that there was a designated media boat. I truly believed I had stumbled upon a hidden gem and now I had to fight for scraps amongst veteran photographers, armed with drones and £5000 lenses. I introduced myself on the media boat; the atmosphere felt warm however there was an underlying sense that I was the outsider amongst a group of long-acquainted colleagues. The type that would soon see each other again at next week’s quirky event. I offered the odd interjection in conversation hoping to form a sense of comradery, they responded politely and then carried on the discussion amongst themselves. The ignition of the RIB purred, and we glided into moonlit waters.
We moved slowly past the sleeping town of Hamble-le-Rice as if we were part of a covert military operation. Anchored cruise ships in the distance mimicked the skyscrapers of a metropolis. We gradually started to build up speed as we entered the open water, I suggested to my crewmates that we were now moving at quite a good pace. One gentleman replied, “Oh this is nothing, we’re barely at 20 knots” and just like that, the engine roared and we were off. I clutched on to anything I could find, the closest thing to me was a slack rope loosely tied to the RIB. I held on as tight as I could whilst my backside repeatedly bounced off the side of the inflated vessel. This lasted a good 15 minutes and just as my core began to cramp and my hands burned the captain slowed the boat down. We were approaching the bank.
Panic in the boat began to circulate as the bank remained submerged. My crewmates, in a frenzy, started prodding the bottom of the seafloor with various apparatus to gauge the depth. “We should be able to see it by now, right?” blurted a worried passenger. By this point the sun was rising and time was running out. The Isle of Wight sailing team were approaching in the distance, waving and gesturing, seeming just as confused as we were. After what seemed like a lifetime of boats circling the immediate area, we got our first glimpse of the bank. A further 10 minutes passed and the Solent had completely drained as if someone had pulled the plug. Camera in hand, I removed my shoes and set foot on the bank.
I had no time to figure out the best position to capture this event. As fast as the bank had drained, the two teams were even faster in commencing this year’s game. Cricket stumps were speared into the ground and bats were thrown into eager hands. The drones began to fly and I took that as my cue to start photographing. Cricket balls flew over the heads of spectators who used photographers as human shields while players stumbled falling face first into puddles at their feet. It was now roughly 6:45am and The Royal Southern Yacht and Sailing Club’s first innings had ended. Rumours on the bank circulated at halftime that the Isle of Wight Sailing Team boasted an ex-professional cricket player. Despite this, it seemed that the Royal Southern Yacht and Sailing Club were heading into the final stretch with a commanding lead. The Isle’s turn at batting was almost over and the batsmen were bent at the waist, hands on knees, gasping for air. I turned to the spectator immediately to my right and asked, “so who do you fancy winning this year?”. He replied earnestly, “Well If I'm remembering correctly, Royal Southern won last year so it’s the Isle’s turn this year”. As the game came to a close, players mingled rejoicing over the Isle’s somewhat dubious triumph. The sun had fully risen casting shimmers on the water that was now swallowing the bank. The crowd rushed back to their boats, soaked through to the bone, whilst the town of Hamble-le-Rice was only just waking up.