Portland Bill is a spit of land that protrudes out in to the English Channel. It is legendary for fast tides and a huge tidal race that apparently eats boats. The Channel Pilot writes “the most extended area of broken water in the English Channel, overshadowing even Barfleur, the madness of Ouessant and the race of Alderney. Quite substantial vessels drawn in to it have been known to vanish without trace.”
Another document claims that “half of all lifeboat rescues in the area are of vessels drawn in to the race.”
We had originally planned on passing the Bill a few days ago as we were out at sea heading East but the lack of wind and its direction stopped us reaching the tidal gate at slack tide so we diverted to Lyme Regis. The next morning we spoke with the harbourmaster and asked if Portland Bill was really a boat eating monster. He described it as the south coast sailors Cape Horn and said that with the actual wind and tide conditions it is no problem at slack tide.
After restocking at the Co-op, we sailed south along Chesil Beach and anchored just off about ten miles before Portland Bill. This was the most exposed anchorage we had been at since the Treshnish Islands. Completely open to the sea on one side, low lying land on the other and about fifty meters offshore. But with absolutely no wind and little swell, we were not worried.
The next morning the sea breeze set in at about eleven and as always it was directly against us. We tacked against wind and tide for about an hour before switching on the motor to motorsail the last five miles and ensure reaching the tidal gate on time. As we got closer other boats appeared all converging on the same point at the same time.
We rounded the point under sail within minutes of the “perfect time” and after all the “bad press” it was calm and easy which shows how important good planning is in sailing. A video of how bad things can get is at https://youtu.be/XiiK0fyIyDA
We sailed back north to Portland Harbour carried by wind and tide and being overtaken by all those who had had enough of sailing and preferred five knots with the engine to three with sail.
Portland Harbour is huge, the third biggest in the world. It used to be a naval base but is now just big and empty. It has a an expensive marina that boasts satellite TV connections but we are anchored in a far off corner waiting the elusive wind.
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Used to go windsurfing off Portland Bill