Lyme bay.

Portland Bill.

Blog time : it’s mid September and we are at sea aboard WABI”‘ on a night passage from Exmouth to the Bill of Portland and around the Bill to Weymouth and beyond. As i write, the sun has just risen as a red ball above the clouds to our east and i can just pick out the lighthouse on the end of the Bill itself, we’ve got a few hours to run yet and the wind is a light westerly so i’m aiming for the outside passage as i don’t think we can be in position for the inside passage at the right time.

Timing is everything at Portland Bill….or ‘the BOP’ as i call it : relatively easy to get the timing right when coming out of Weymouth or Portland harbour but a lot more difficult when crossing Lyme bay from the west as we are doing, while it’s only 7 miles or so from Weymouth down to the tip of the Bill it’s around 40 all the way across the bay from Exmouth or Torquay. I estimated a good 10 hours for the passage but the wind has been lighter than forecast so at this stage i think it’s going to be at least 13 hours and that will coincide with the end of the acceptable tidal slot at the inshore passage.

To get the timing right for our passage around the Bill we left Exmouth last night just before midnight ,near to high water over the bar and with light westerly to south-westerly winds forecast in Lyme bay : the Hunter Liberty has always been a good boat in light downwind conditions and especially now with her larger mainsail ….i even got the old Tillerpilot to behave for most of the passage until it lost it’s marbles once more !. Last night was a new experience for my partner too with first, a night set-up and exit from a busy mooring field , the night navigation down a buoyed channel and then her first time standing watch for a couple of hours while i got my head down for a while myself…..possibly also the first time i have ever slept while on passage in WABI”’ as most often i’m solo and can’t afford to sleep.

In my own boats iv’e always previously taken the inshore passage because iv’e been sailing ‘down channel’ ie to the west and it only takes a couple of hours from Weymouth to the Bill and only then it’s the start of a long and usually upwind slog across Lyme bay. This time i couldn’t be at the Bill in time for the inshore passage tidal slot so i used the late Peter Cumberlidge’s waypoints to the south of the race but ultimately slipped into Weymouth bay in between the Shambles bank and the race itself : even at neaps there was a strong tidal flow there and we had to sail an extreme vector to make our ground towards Portland.

In all of the various guides that describe the inshore passage there are warnings about lobster pots that are laid right in the inshore passage and are often just submerged there : the first time i came around the Bill with a small boat i managed to run straight over a submerged float and it got jammed up between stern post and rudder…..i was stuck there for a while with tide sluicing around the boat and unable to move until i lashed bread knife to boathook and hacked through the pot line…..bloody fishermen !.

Some guides and articles that describe the Bill of Portland talk of it as the ‘Cape Horn’ of the UK….it really isn’t in any way although i wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the place in bad weather and a strong tide but even then it is easily avoided by sailing just a few miles offshore in the deep water to the south of the underwater ridge that runs out from the Bill. Lobster pots and fishermen aside iv’e never had a great problem with the passage around Portland Bill although iv’e now had several long and tedious passages across Lyme bay while sailing west. It always seems like a long day and so far it’s always been an upwind sail that has left me up in the north-west corner of the bay and with the choice of either going into the Exe, into Torquay or starting a dead upwind beat around to Dartmouth….in a way that’s how i first ‘discovered’ the Exe , which is now one of my favourite places to visit.

Waiting for the tide outside the Exe.

Anchored in the lee of the Pole sand, Exmouth

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