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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. However, be aware that there is a so-called seasonal exclusion zone that covers this area, making it difficult to launch ("legally") in E & NE winds.

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 chop hops 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 / parking areas, from N to S...

  • Ferry Bridge boatyard
  • Across from the council car park and visitor centre on Chesil Beach
  • The Sailing Centre / OTC at the Portland end of the harbour

Ferry Bridge Boatyard:
With parking for about 35 vehicles, this is the most popular spot for windsurfers. It fills up really quickly on windy weekends. Parking is by Pay & Display machine. Charges shown here. Ignore what the website says about payment methods - the machine is coin only so grab a bag of £1 coins before you visit! The map on that link also incorrectly points to the council car park. Otherwise, good job (not).

Beware the sailing exclusion zone, which operates here. This IS policed. It is a complete nuisance in E & NE winds as it makes it almost impossible to get off the beach.

There is a sometimes open cafe here - Billy Winters - that has hived off some of the car park that used to be used by windsurfers.

We are not alone: the car park is used by lots of kitesurfers too. Probably more than windsurfers.

Council Car Park:
What is says on the tin. Enormous car park , ostensibly for the Chesil Beach Visitor Centre. Payment by Pay & Display or Just Park app on your phone/tablet. Parking fees here.

Great car park with cafe & toilets at the visitor centre. The main problem is it's on the wrong side of the road from the harbour. The road is national speed limit (60mph), and is very busy. It can be difficult & dangerous crossing with all your gear. Used by lots of kitesurfers as there's a good rigging area on the harbour side.


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. Info about, and how to pay these dues.

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 at the boatyard.

Click the thumbnails for larger pics...

Lookg S from the boatyard nomads in the mist
view looking SSE from boatyard
a group of nomads on a misty day

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

...and you can check what the real-time wind is doing here.

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Directions to the right place:

Location of the boat yard

Location of the council car park

Location of the sailing centre / OTC

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How the winds work:

Portland Harbour is large enough to be sailed in all wind directions, although northerlies are 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.

 

Launch spot Wind Direction Comments
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard N Cross-on from L. Gusty because it is off shore from the mainland. May be better by the sailing centre.
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard NE Fairly clean wind, cross-on. Can be choppy. Can be difficult to launch AND avoid the exclusion zone
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard E Onshore with chop forming close to the beach. Water is flattest at the Portland end of Chesil Beach. Can be difficult to launch AND avoid the exclusion zone
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard SE Cross-on. May still be a little fluky due to Portland
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard S Cross-shore but gusty due to the wind shadow of Portland. Depending on how southerly it will be better either close to the beach or way out into the harbour
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard SW Cross-off, wind will be strongest at the Portland end due to the funnelling effect of Portland
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard W Offshore, flat water, ideal for speed sailing - particularly on a high spring tide
Portland Harbour - Ferry Bridge boatyard NW Cross-off from the beach, still prone to be gusty
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end N Blowing directly onto launch, so tricky getting off the shore and a beat out into the harbour. Choppy in strong winds.
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end NE Tricky launch - only a short run to the roadside to the W and restricted on the E side by the moorings. Better go to the boatyard
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end E Wind shadow at launch due to the moorings. If you can get out beyond, then it's a safe direction. Choppy in strong winds
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end SE May be a struggle to get out due to restricted space between road and moorings. Will be gusty due a large object called Portland!
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end S Dead offshore; tricky to beat back to the beach/sailing centre. Once beyond, the harbour is your oyster(?).
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end SW Screaming reach off the beach. Flat water close to the road, getting increasingly choppy further out into the harbour. Clean wind.
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end W Screaming reach off the beach. Flat water close to the road, getting increasingly choppy further out into the harbour. Clean wind.
Portland Harbour - OTC/Sailing Academy/Portland end NW If launching from the sailing centre, it's a tight reach out beyond the moorings. From the mini-beach by the road, it's much easier to get out. Clean wind.
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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 at the boatyard and the council car park. 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! It's less of a problem at low tide down by the sailling centre.

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Hazards:

At low tide there are four concrete strips way out towards the old sailing centre on the N side of the harbour. 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.

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.

Currents under the Ferry Bridge.

Seasonal exclusion zone area

Deep water channel - very steep sided - going out into the harbour from the Ferry Bridge. Note - this is within the exclusion zone

Crossing the busy main road from the council car park.

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Facilities:

Boatyard:

Billy Winter's Cafe

Note - there are presently no toilet facilities (Jul 2020). Nearest toilets are at the Chesil Beach visitor centre - about 300m away

Council car park:

Toilets

Cafe

Visitor centre

Access to the Chesil Beach embankment

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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. I believe this is closed - possibly permanently (Jul 2020).

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.

If you know of any other decent, accessible, pubs, chippies or other food emporiums, please let us know.

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Content supplied by. Updated July 2020.

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This page last updated: 30th Aug, 2020.

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