Exploring New Anchorages – Hurst Point to Portland

My guest on this four day trip was Rene Wackrow, a newly qualified Day Skipper and a former colleague of mine at Loughborough University. It was Rene’s first time on board and our plan was to explore a few of the anchorages west of the Solent as far as Portland Harbour.

We left Shamrock Quay on Monday 5 September at 1330 BST, arriving at Hurst Point around 1720 BST and anchored to wait for the tide to turn and take us through the Needles Channel. That meant an early departure at 0520 BST just before dawn the next morning. Winds were light so we resorted to motor sailing with the intended aim of anchoring at Swanage again to wait for a favourable tide to take us further west.

About halfway between the Needles and Swanage, I decided to try our luck at fishing over a wreck site as shown on the charts. We made several attempts to position the boat over the wreck but it failed to register on the echo sounder and so we gave up after 15 minutes of trying and continued on our journey arriving by a combination of motoring and sailing into an anchorage at Swanage at about 1010 BST. We anchored close to an anchored 10m yacht named Gracious Lady who had been in regular contact with the Solent Coast Guard over the past few hours. It seemed the Coast Guard were monitoring her progress perhaps towards her home port because of engine failure. While anchored, we had lunch, caught up on sleep then departed at about 1430 BST to catch the west-going tide.

We were hugging the coast headed past St Aldhelm’s Head. Just as we past the rather impressive tidal race near the headland, at around 1610 BST, we were intercepted and hailed via a loudhailer from a vessel not too dissimilar to a small tugboat asking us to switch to VHF Channel 08. This was the Range Safety Craft who indicated that firing practice was underway over the Lulworth Range and so, to avoid the seaward danger zone, we were asked to head on a compass course of 245° until we reached latitude 50° 33′ N at which point we could then head west. We were to continue to monitor VHF Ch 08 for any updates.

During our monitoring, we were both amused and disturbed by what was communicated with a yacht a few cables ahead of us. Here’s how the conversation proceeded as I recollect beginning at about 1610 BST (Tuesday 6 September), though the name of the yacht is withheld:

Range Lookout: Yacht X, you are in the danger area, sir.
Yacht X: I was just following the yacht in front.
Range Lookout: There are no other yachts in the danger area, sir. We not only have direct visuals but also multiple cameras overlooking the area, sir. Why were you not able to proceed as directed?
Yacht X: I had autopilot failure. My autopilot got stuck.
Range Lookout:
Could you not switch to manual?
Yacht X: No answer.
Conversation ceased.

At about 1617 BST, the Range Lookout communicated to the Range Safety Craft via Ch 08 to say that firing practice had ceased permanently though prematurely (by 43 minutes). The Range Safety Craft then communicated to us that we were now free to proceed as we chose though not to venture near-shore east of Lulworth Cove for a period after 2000 hours as firing practice would recommence. Throughout, the Range Lookout and the Range Safety Craft had conducted themselves in a most professional manner. Needless to say, we were not impressed by the impertinence of the yachtsman!

Under light winds and sunny skies we motored NE towards Worbarrow Bay to take a closer look. However, we were more impressed with Mupe Bay at its western extremity. Rather than anchor here for the night, we decided to head a little further west to Lulworth Cove as a possible alternative. Lulworth Cove turned out to be rather small and crowded (more suited to a lunch stop than an overnight one), so we decided, as the wind was picking up, to sail to Portland Harbour where we would be assured of a peaceful night at a quiet anchorage.

It was a pleasant sail and we arrived 1930 BST in Portland Harbour, anchored, dined, watched the setting sun and retired to our bunks, sleeping fitfully. Fifty metres away, Gracious Lady was also at anchor.

Over much of the following day, under sunny skies a Force 3 wind prevailed, initially SW then backing E during the day. We headed out to sea and tacked at about 1120 headed directly towards the headland and Studland Bay arriving 1500 BST and where we anchored for the night. The easterly wind had kicked up a little swell into the bay so the night at anchor wasn’t as comfortable. However, a cold front was expected overnight with wind becoming a strong westerly. Morning confirmed what was expected – a westerly Force 7 (gusting F8) wind and great for our downwind homeward leg of the journey. By the time we’d reached Shamrock Quay, the wind, still westerly, had moderated to Force 3-4. It had been a lovely trip.

Distance logged, 135 nm; engine hours, 12.