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Portland Harbour

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General details:

Portland Harbour is a huge man made harbour enclosed on the western edge by Chesil Beach - a natural spit that reaches out to Portland Bill. There are massive currents (strong enough to scare power boats) around the outside of Portland Bill, consequently the only windsurfing done is within the harbour.

There are no currents to speak off within Portland Harbour, other than a strong tidal flow in and out under the Ferry Bridge leading into The Fleet - a very large lagoon contained behind Chesil Beach. This can be good at throwing up small confused waves for hopping practise, but also can draw the unexpecting windsurfer under the bridge which is inconvienent rather than dangerous.

The harbour itself generally provides flat water sailing conditions with wind blown chop providing closely spaced wavelets on the windy days under the prevailing westerly and south westerly winds. When the wind is blowing easterly, two to three foot waves can build close to the beach, too small for any riding, but big enough to support large jumps on either port or starboard tack.

Portland Harbour is enormous, easily capable of supporting several different classes of racing boat and recreational sailors at the same time. In almost all wind directions it is possible to blast on legs around a mile long - plenty long enough for the most hardened of drag racers.

There are 3 main access are + 1 further one which *may* still be usable:

  • Ferry Bridge boatyard
  • Adjecent to the council car park on Chesil Beach
  • The Sailing Centre on Portland

    +

  • The old sailing centre on the N of the harbour

Since Portland Harbour was privatised, the Portland Port Authority have decided to levy a launching fee for each windsurfer wishing to use the harbour. At the time of writing, several years after the charges were introduced, I am still unclear as to what benefit the windsurfer sees for his/her hard earned pieces of silver. The only visible change since the harbour was sold off is that there are now even more moored boats to avoid in the main windsurfing part of the harbour. The boatyard charges £6 for parking (Aug 2004), + £2 port fee, making it a fairly expensive day out. If you want to avoid paying the launch fee, park in the council car park.

The two most popular launching spots are the council car park on Chesil beach and the Ferry Bridge boatyard car park. The council car park is by far the larger of the two and if you arrive late on a summer weekend day, this is probably your best bet. The boat yard has the advantage that you don't need to carry your equipment across the busy main road but has the disadvantage that the Portland Port Authority fees are collected by the boat yard when you buy your parking ticket.

Update - Nov 2011:
Parking - Boatyard:
The Boatyard tends to be the carpark favoured by Nomads. It has recently been taken over by new management.  Parking charges are now paid via "Pay and Display" (SO TAKE CHANGE WITH YOU!), at the following daily rates:

Cars £5.50
Vans, campervans, motorhomes £10
Cars plus a trailer £11
Vans, campervans, motorhomes plus a trailer £15

Lower charges apply for parking periods of less than 4 hours

Portland Port Authority Fees

Technically, I believe this is payable, but I don't know the rate. I have never been asked to pay this whilst launching from the Boatyard.

The other main launching spot is from the sailing academy which has relocated onto Portland itself, I haven't been to it since the move but I would imagine it is signposted from the end of Chesil Beach. (The entrance will be somewhere on your left when you get to the end of Chesil Beach if you can't immediately pick up signs.)

Before the Sailing Centre moved to Portland ("Island"), it used to be located on the N side of the harbour and the land is presently (Nov 2002) unused. I'm not sure if you can still drive down there, but if you can, it's probably free parking & no launch fee. Please update us if you have more on this. There's always a downside, and for this launch, the location isn't brilliant: It's ok from SW through S to E, but if there's too much W or any N, it's pretty useless. There's also a long (unused) drain out into the harbour from near here which can take your skeg off if you don't know it's there.

The harbour is sailable in all states of the tide, although like most places, spring low tides are a long walk. Poole Harbour (35 miles east) has significantly different tide times to Portland (almost anti-phase, i.e. high @ Portland ~= low @ Poole) due to the nature of the tidal flow around this part of the UK S coast. Due to its size, Portland can be sailed safely in a spring low tide; you just have a very long walk through ankle-deep water. On spring lows, if the tide's still ebbing, I'd recommend launching into the deep water channel by the Ferry Bridge: The current will then take you out to deeper water (without sweeping you out of the harbour!).

Click the thumbnails for larger pics...

Lookg S from the boatyard nomads in the mist
view looking SSE from boatyard(36Kb)
a group of nomads on a misty day(38Kb)

There's a webcam located at the sailing centre. Click here to access.

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Directions to the right place:

More direct route:
Road improvements to the A354 (a new bypass around Upwey & Broadwey), means it is now much easier and quicker than it used to be to take the route through Weymouth. It takes about the same amount of time to take the route through Weymouth as the cross country scenic trail from Grimstone. It depends if you want an easier main road drive, or a prettier, more interesting  trail.

Scenic route:
If you're coming from the N or NW side (Bristol, Weston, Taunton, etc), you can avoid Weymouth altogether & enjoy some fabulous Dorset scenery, though it is more convoluted:

Coming down the A37 into Grimstone, turn R just S of the village towards Winterbourne Abbas. You are now in the country on small but good roads. After about 3 miles, bear R onto the A35, then after only 300m, turn L towards Winterbourne Abbas. After 100m, turn R at the T jn, then immediately L towards Portesham. Keep going for ~ 3 miles until you drop down the hill into Portesham. At the T jn with the B3157, turn L towards Weymouth & keep going for ~ 4 1/2 miles. At the mini-roundabout in Chickerell, turn L. After 1 mile, turn R at the traffic lights towards Wyke Regis & Portland. Go up a steep hill, just beyond which the road bears sharp L. About 50m after this bend, turn R towards Wyke Regis & Portland. After 300m, you come to a roundabout.

From here, if you want to try the former location of the sailing centre, turn L. After 3/4 mile, turn sharp R into Old Castle Road and just follow it to the end, otherwise...

Go straight ahead at the roundabout & head down through Wyke Regis towards Portland.

Shortly after you start driving along Chesil beach there is a pub on the R (The Ferry Bridge) & the boatyard is just after, on the left hand side. To park in the boatyard turn left here then head for the car park on the right hand side adjacent to the beach.

To park in the council car park, overshoot the boatyard and take the next right turn 200 yards later.

To launch from the sailing centre, continue along Chesil beach and head left at the end. Look for signs to the sailing centre/academy.

Location of the boat yard

Location of the council car park

Location of the present sailing centre

Former location of sailing centre

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How the winds work:

Portland Harbour is large enough to be sailed in all wind directions, although northerlies are very gusty. If you must sail in a northerly I would recommend launching from the sailing centre rather than the other two car parks. In the harbour itself westerly, south westerly and easterly are probably the best directions.

N - Launch from the sailing centre, gusty because it is off shore from the main land.

NW - Cross off shore from the beach, still prone to be gusty.

W - Off shore, flat water, ideal for speed sailing particularly on a high spring tide.

SW - Cross off shore, wind will be strongest at the Portland end due to the funnelling effect of Portland.

S - Cross shore but gusty due to wind shadow from Portland. Depending on how southerly it will be better either close to the beach or way out into the harbour.

SE - Cross on shore but still gusty due to Portland Bll.

E - Onshore with small waves forming close to the beach. Waves are cleanest at the Portland end of the beach.

NE - Gusty cross on shore conditions.

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Tidal conditions:

HW springs tend to occur between 08:00 - 09:00. HW neaps between 13:00 - 17:00. The tidal range is not huge here, max ~2.5m.

Portland is subjected to a significant double tide effect around spring tides. It manifests itself here as a double low tide...

tidal curve

The tide goes out, comes back in a little and goes out again before finally rushing back in at a serious rate. This double tide doesn't happen on neaps.

Portland can be sailed in all states of the tide, however at low tide you do have a long walk. When the tide drops below 0.7m or so against chart datum (depending on the length of your skeg, of course) it's too shallow to sail by the boatyard. Check what duration this represents on the above chart! One way to minimise the walk is to sail up the channel under the bridge, however check your speed up the channel against the land rather than just through the water as the current flows quickly under the bridge.

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Hazards:

At low tide there are four concrete strips way out to the left of the launching spot, out towards the old sailing centre. These strips have claimed one of my fins in the past and I know of numerous other people who have found them while travelling faster than was healthy for their fins. [IL]

Rapid water disappearance! Blasting along quite happily where I'd been just 5 mins earlier, my board abandoned all further consideration of fowards motion when the skeg majorly grounded. I adopted the technique known as "nasal depth probing", my boom adopted the technique of permanent disassembly. [MF]

Currents under the Ferry Bridge.

Deep water channel - very steep sided - going out into the harbour from the Ferry Bridge.

Update from Graham Utteridge - Aug 2004:
WARNING!!: Watch out for concrete Sleepers in the boatyard car-park! I have a bent wing to my car and scratches all over the alloy wheel due to these damn things! They are used to mark off the parking places. The one that caught me was at the far end of the row parallel to the cars, as I turn round the end of the lane it is hidden by the last car/van, and was on my blind left side. In my case the van on the end must have been a few feet away, but close enough to hide the sleeper from view as I went down the line of cars. The damn things are also shaped so they are low at the end, so it did not seem significant; thought I'd hit a kerb or similar. Went forward, which must have meant the wheel traveled up to the sleeper to the highest point before sliding off and catching the underside of the front wing. One of the guys who saw it happen told me that it is a common occurrence.

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Facilities:

Boatyard:

Blue Water Cafe - provides decent snacks, hot food and drinks, but does not appear to have set opening hours/ days. It's usually open at weekends, and also some weekdays during the summer months.  Hours of opening are sporadic, probably in line with demand on busier days.

Loos - newish portacabin loos (no showers), with lights and loo paper, which are generally well kept and clean. I can speak for the ladies loos, to say these are sufficiently large enough (and clean enough) for easy getting changed out of your wetsuit without having to do the "undressing-behind-a-towel-in-a-carpark and gale", thing!. The loos tend to be locked fairly promptly at the end of the afternoon - so the next nearest are at the council car park (across the road and a just a little further along towards Portland) if you need a visit before the drive home.

Council car park:

Toilets

Cafe

Sailing Centre:

?

Old sailing centre:

Free parking?

Windtek windsurfing shop on the left heading down to Portland

Second Wind windsurfing shop in the car park at Overcombe.

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B&B's / campsites

I haven't found a good campsite immediately close to Portland. We have used, and can recommend, Portesham Dairy Farm, in Portesham, approximately eight miles west of Portland along the south coast road. This has the advantage of being 100 yards walk from the pub in Portesham which serves good beer and excellent value food to help end a good day's sail, and potentially wreck the start of the next day's sailing.

Recommendation from Paul Browning (may 2003):

For camping try http://www.seabarnfarm.co.uk. We (me, spouse & three of our four boys) were too knackered to try their companion site http://www.westfleetholidays.co.uk, but it all seemed (in the May 2003 sunshine) very pleasant. About 3 miles from Portland and really fabulous views of Chesil Bank. [thanks paul - MF]

Portland campsite:

East Fleet Farm - it is not within walking distance of a pub but has a bar which serves food, and a shop which sells basic food items and alcohol - enough to make a meal from. It has good facilities including a wetuit washing area.

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Pubs and eateries

The Ferry Bridge is a fairly basic pub doing some fairly basic meals (this is old info. All updates most welcome).

The King's arms - on the main road in Portesham, approximately eight miles west of Portland on the south coast road. Tel: 01305 871342. Not been there for some years now, but certainly used to be a good watering hole with reasonable meals, too.

So far I have found two good shops, the first opposite Windtek, the second on the left hand side just as you are leaving Weymouth before heading back to Dorchester.

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Content supplied by , & update from paul browning.
Update from Graham Utteridge - Aug 2004, and Sue Day / Bob Iles - Nov 2011.

Note: All comments and opinions mentioned in this section of the site are the personal opinions of the various contributors. Inevitably, one person's favourite may be another person's least favourite.

The information provided here is provided in good faith. We can take no responsibility for the consequences of any inaccuracies. Should you find any inaccuracies, then please take the trouble to tell us, using any of the update links.

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