Cruising Dorset's coast by boat: sailing suggestions
PUBLISHED: 17:07 05 June 2013 | UPDATED: 17:07 05 June 2013
One of the best ways to appreciate Dorset's beautiful coastline is from the water and the Isle of Portland makes a great base to start your maritime adventure - whether you explore east or west
The stunning Dorset coastline is a truly English spectacle of chalk cliffs and rolling green hills, its Jurassic strata dramatically exposed millennia ago by a quirk of shifting landmasses. The finest way to see this magnificent shore is by boat, any kind of boat, and on quiet summer days many visitors do just that – in graceful sailing yachts, glitzy motor yachts, fast speedboats and, in really calm weather, kayaks or canoes. The Isle of Portland is centre stage in this seascape, jutting four miles out like a giant lizard to stir the Channel tides into a notorious race of rough water.
Locals know the Dorset coast is splendid, but the Olympics put it firmly on the world map. Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is a recognised centre of excellence and Portland Marina a perfect base both for day cruising and exploring further afield. Not far east of Portland you can enjoy fabulous anchorages at Lulworth Cove, Worbarrow Bay and Chapman’s Pool. Larger boats can easily cruise round to Poole Harbour, a delightful boating area in its own right. More experienced boaters can edge round Portland Bill at slack tide and follow the coast westwards to Bridport’s timeless West Bay harbour and charming Lyme Regis. And Weymouth harbour itself is a colourful port-of-call, with snug moorings in the heart of town.
East to Lulworth Cove
Leaving Portland Marina, you come out through the north entrance into the glorious expanse of Weymouth Bay, with white cliffs folding east towards the curious natural arch known as Durdle Door. Seven miles east of Weymouth, Lulworth Cove is a geological showpiece, a classic horseshoe inlet nibbled into the soft limestone strata of Bindon Hill. Its narrow entrance can be tricky to spot, but inside the shy gap you can anchor in magical surroundings. On a warm summer day Lulworth is just right for lazing and swimming, a sun trap where the shallow water warms up easily. Landing on the beach, make for the Lulworth Cove Inn for a pub lunch.
A mile east of Lulworth, Worbarrow is backed by a majestic sweep of cliffs. In north-westerly winds anchor at its west end in Mupe Bay, inside a sheltering ledge of rocks. With a north-easterly the east side of Worbarrow is best, behind the distinctive promontory called Worbarrow Tout – nowhere like Dorset for quixotic place names. Worbarrow is one of the historic English Channel anchorages. In the late afternoons, low light starts etching theatrical shadows into those layers of bold Dorset chalk and this coast looks the finest in the world.
This amazing Dorset anchorage is 15 nautical miles from Portland Marina, a short run for fast motor boats and, with a fair tide, an easy morning sail for yachts. Before you reach St Alban’s Head and its turbulent tide race, curve into Chapman’s Pool, an amphitheatre bay beneath Emmetts Hill and Houns-tout Cliff. In calm sunny weather this is a blissful retreat, where the only sounds are skylarks rising on thermals and the lazy swish of sea on the pebble beach.
From Portland it’s a short hop round to Weymouth harbour, near the Esplanade and its long holiday beach. Inside the pierheads beyond the ferry terminal, the south bank curves into the picturesque ‘Cove’ and its mooring pontoon. Over on Custom House Quay is the red brick harbour office and a row of waterman’s pubs right up to the town bridge, which lifts every two hours for access to Weymouth Marina.
Moored at The Cove you can watch yachts, motor cruisers and fishing boats coming and going all day. There are good bistros on both sides of the harbour and the friendly Red Lion pub is behind the Cove on Hope Square.
Round to West Bay
More experienced boaters can take the inner passage round Portland Bill, following the east shore of Portland to arrive close off the lighthouse at dead slack water. The mood changes on the west side and the waters feel much more secluded. Then it’s fascinating to hug the coast past the shingle miles of Chesil Beach and the hills beyond Abbotsbury. After two conical peaks near Swyre village, you soon reach the fantastic gold Jurassic cliffs near West Bay harbour. Inside the piers, make for the pontoon on the west side. Then wander up for fish and chips at one of the many kiosks around the inner basin.
On to Lyme Regis
From West Bay it’s fun to cruise another six miles west to Lyme Regis, whose restful seafront has an attractive backdrop of jumbled Edwardian and Victorian houses winding up the hillside. Although the harbour dries at low tide, you can stay afloat at a seasonal pontoon off Victoria Pier. Stroll ashore past The Cobb, Lyme’s original fish quay with its old sheds intact, one of them now an aquarium. The French Lieutenant’s Woman was famously filmed here, with Meryl Streep gazing forlornly out to sea. Local boats run mackerel fishing trips from the harbour and Lyme has all the nostalgic vibes of a traditional English seaside town.
Where to Eat
There are many good boating restaurants along this coastline, here is a selection:
Portland: The excellent Bluefish Café and Restaurant is just into Portland (Tel: 01305 822991). Quiddles seafood café at Chesil Cove offers super moules marinière and local crab (Tel: 01305 788867). Crab House Café is on the Weymouth end of Portland spit and offers Abbotsbury oysters (Tel: 01305 820651).
West Bay: The Riverside Restaurant serves excellent local seafood and is behind the inner harbour (Tel: 01308 422011).
Lyme Regis: Don’t miss the Mill Café and Supper Club in Mill Lane. Great café by day and wonderful Italian cooking in the evenings (Tel: 01297 445757).
Weymouth: Mallam’s is near the Cove and offers first-class meat as well as fish (Tel: 01305 776757). Perry’s is next door, with harbour views upstairs (Tel: 01305 785799). Floods is on Custom House Quay, and is a real treat for fish lovers (Tel: 01305 772270).
Lulworth: Lulworth Cove Inn has superb local scallops and fresh mackerel (Tel: 01929 400333).
Local Sailing Clubs & Harbour Contacts
Most sailing clubs will give helpful advice to anyone wishing to explore their local waters. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Castle Cove Sailing Club, Weymouth – Tel: 01305 783708 (ccsc.org.uk);
Lyme Regis Sailing Club – Tel: 01297 442373 (lymeregissailingclub.co.uk);
Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Weymouth – Tel: 01305 786258 (royal-dorset.com);
Weymouth Sailing Club – Tel: 01305 785481 (wsc.org.uk)
Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy which was the hub for the sailing Olympics last year and has excellent facilities for both able and disabled sailors–Tel: 01305 866000 (wpnsa.org.uk).
Portland Marina − Tel: 08454 302012
Weymouth Harbour Office – Tel: 01305 838423
Weymouth Marina – Tel: 01305 767576
West Bay harbour-master – Tel: 01308 423222
Lyme Regis harbour-master – Tel: 01297 442137
Navigation Tips, Charts & Safety
Rounding Portland Bill in quiet weather, take the inner passage near the coast and arrive off the lighthouse at slack water, either three hours before or after HW Portland. Avoid crab-pot floats on both sides of the Bill.
Between Portland and West Bay you can keep inshore for the views. Further west, the bay between Golden Cap and Lyme Regis is quite shallow, so larger boats should stay at least half a mile out.
Between Weymouth and Lulworth Cove (unless canoeing) keep at least half a mile offshore until reaching Lulworth entrance, to avoid rocky ledges.
Charts and Guides: Imray charts are handy for all boats, even kayaks and canoes. Use No C4 for cruising east of Portland and C5 west of the Bill (imray.com).Inshore along the Dorset Coast by Peter Bruce is a great read for boaters and walkers alike, with many aerial and sea-level photographs with detailed coverage between Christchurch and Portland (peter-bruce.com).
Saftey First: Check local weather and sea state forecasts. Force 3-4 winds are a maximum for most small boats, ideally blowing offshore. Avoid significant onshore (southerly) winds, though summer sea breezes are usually no problem ( bbc.co.uk/weather/coast_and_sea/coastal ).
- Have lifejackets for all crew members and put them on. They are useless unless worn!
- Don’t venture round Portland Bill except in quiet conditions at slack water.
- Lulworth coastal firing ranges never operate during holidays and only rarely on summer weekends, but check ‘Lulworth ranges’ on dorsetforyou.com