Set within the estuaries’ channels it offers good protection in most conditions. However, it is exposed to a large body of water to the north and with strong winds from northwest round to northeast it becomes uncomfortable. Chichester Harbour's channels are well marked making access straightforward in most conditions, day or night and at most stages of the tide.
Keyfacts for East Head
SummaryA good location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 47.444' N, 000° 54.745' W
This is in the anchoring area close south of a line between East Head Spit and the Snowhill starboard buoys.
What are the key points of the approach?
Not what you need?
- Pilsey Island - 0.7 nautical miles NNE
- Sparkes Marina - 1.2 nautical miles WSW
- Chalkdock Point - 1.8 nautical miles NE
- Itchenor - 2 nautical miles ENE
- Hayling Yacht Company - 2.3 nautical miles WNW
- Thornham Marina - 2.8 nautical miles N
- Bosham - 3 nautical miles NE
- Birdham Pool Marina - 3.2 nautical miles ENE
- Emsworth Yacht Harbour - 3.2 nautical miles NNW
- Northney Marina - 3.3 nautical miles NW
How to get in?
East Head sits on the south side of Chichester Harbour. Located a mile up the Chichester Channel, that stretches north-westward up through the harbour, it is conveniently close to the entrance and easily accessed. It is, however, East Head's natural beauty that makes it the most popular of Chichester Harbour’s three recognised anchorages.
The other anchorages of Pilsey Island , accessible by branching off in the Thorney Channel, and Chalkdock Point , on the approaches to Itchenor, are also accessed from Chichester Channel that is detailed, along with approaches to the harbour, in the Itchenor entry.
Chichester Harbour's sheltered and drying channels are almost entirely occupied by private moorings. Vessels should not anchor in or near established mooring grounds for fear of fouling existing ground tackle. Vessels anchored in Chichester Harbour should not be left unattended for long periods and must display a black ball along with an anchor light at night. Swimming off the boat is dangerous here because of the strong tides within the channel.
Drop off the Chichester Channel between East Head Spit buoy and the Snowhill buoy and anchor anywhere close south of a line between the buoys. Depths of 6.4 to 3.2 metres will be found in this area with excellent sand holding.
The anchorage, although quiet during the weekdays, can be very busy during summer weekends. During busy times it is important not to anchor in such a fashion as to encroach upon the main channel.
Likewise, it is important not come too far south and anchor at high water. A shallow plateau extends east by northeast from the head following the line of the channel.
The channel facing edge of the flat is very steep. It steps down from chart datum to depths of 2 to 3 metres in a distance of as little as a couple of metres.
The flat has tended to catch out many an unwary visitor each year. In all cases the vessels crews only have to endure the long ‘wait of shame’ but it is more than embarrassing as fuel can spill through breather pipes when aground and there is always the risk of an adverse turn of events. To avoid this the harbour master has marked the Chart Datum contour of this flat with two small unlighted starboard buoys. These are located to the south of the main channel’s East Head Spit and Snowhill marks on the northern side of the shallow area. Only vessels that can take to the hard and are intending to dry out should anchor to the south of these Chart Datum marks.
Land on the beach by tender.
There is a small deep water pool very close to the head that is much sought after by local boats. Within this deep pool, a moderate draft vessel may stay afloat at most stages of the tide. Yet it is so close to the shore that a few short strokes of the oars would be all that is required to alight.
Why visit here?East Head derives its name from its position on the eastern side of Chichester Harbour’s entrance. The sand and shingle spit is entirely uncluttered by coastal defences and is one of Sussex’s last surviving pieces of natural coastline.
The head was formed by a process known as longshore drift. In this process, sands are washed, or up-drift, along the coastline gradually accumulating in shoreline shallows. Then, at low tides, the top sands are dried and blown inland. These inland deposits progressively amass ashore to form dunes. Over time these are stabilised by plants that grow within the sands. This is how East Head was formed and although East Head has changed very little in the past half century it is both a dynamic and fragile environment.
Eighteenth-century charts present a very different spit than the one encountered today. Back then East Head was a finger of land pointing towards Hayling Island on the opposite side of the entrance. At that time Jill Dickin claims in her book ‘Chichester Harbour – the thirteen villages’, that a man on horseback could cross from Hayling Island to the Witterings at low tide. They would alight on the East Winner bank that was then known as Cockbush Common whose rabbits were a valuable food source for local people. Since that time East Head's position has gradually moved to point northward into the harbour and the East Winner bank has become a trap for the unwary yachtsmen.
Although it has now largely stabilised in its current form it is a very fragile environment and increasingly so. The head was breached immediately north of its narrowest section, that links the spit to the mainland, called the Hinge by a severe storm in 1963. It was overtopped in 1987 after which the drowning of its stabilising plant life caused rapid thinning. The sea broke through again in 2004 almost entirely washing away the area around the Hinge.
The increased erosion is believed to be caused by a lowering of the Winner sand and gravel banks located to the south of Langstone Harbour. This erosion has been occurring for almost a century now and it has washed away as much as three metres from the Winner banks. The reverberation eastward has been a reduction of East Head’s intertidal foreshore that increases its wave exposure.
To combat this East Head has had extensive use of artificial structures to stimulate dune growth. In 2005 a 'rock berm' was put on the inside of the Hinge area to secure the spit’s connection to the mainland and avoid the formation of a new channel. To support this, huge quantities of sand were also transported from the northern tip to this area, and again in 2009. The manually created dunes have been extensively planted with Marram Grass. Despite this assistance, the neck of the spit remains vulnerable. A combination of a spring tide with a severe storm could wash it all away.
Today East Head is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, SSSI, and a designated Ramsar wetland site of international importance. It is now managed by the National Trust who strive to find the right balance between managing its internationally recognised environmental designations and promoting the quiet enjoyment of this very delicate and important public property.
All they ask of sailors is to stay out of the roped-off areas that are protected wildlife sites. Barbeques should only be lit on the beach and shingle to avoid the risk of starting a fire in the dune’s protective marram grasses. Likewise, carry off everything brought ashore and do not throw litter overboard. It is a fragile environment to be respected and treasured by all.
Coming ashore is a must here as there is plenty to explore. The sand dune spit is about a kilometre long and, at the widest point is half a kilometre deep. It covers about 10 hectares in total area and yet has very distinct habitats. The beach on the western side is made up mostly of fine sand with shingle at its northern end. Behind this are its sand dunes covered in marram grass, interspersed with pretty tough-leaved sea holly and sea bindweed. Both these flowering plants are at their vibrant, colourful best in summer.
East of the dunes and north of the fragile Hinge is the 30-hectare salt-marsh that is one of rarest habitats in the south. Here the hummocky Spartina cordgrass becomes the particularly distinctive feature of the seascape. These distinct environments provide a haven for all kinds of wildlife. Many different types of gulls and terns will be seen here with the occasional Kestrel or Skylark hovering overhead. Offshore a grey seal will occasionally pop its head up and be mistaken for a marker buoy.
From a family perspective East Head is considered one of the best beaches in Sussex and utterly beautiful on a sunny day. It is a wonderful place to have a barbeque, go for a walk, play games or sunbathe. For those who like to swim East Head is perfect, as the currents in the channels make this too dangerous off the back of an anchored boat. Swimming off East Heads shallow waters, close to the foreshore, is safe and very enjoyable. The shallow water over the tidal regime leads waters in the harbour to be 1 or 2 degrees higher than the coastal waters outside.
Chichester Harbour Area, as a whole, is an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and East Head has to be the jewel in its natural crown. The light white sands of the shore and the shallow waters make this an enchanting anchorage. At times on a sunny day, it is not unlike being transported to the Caribbean, and on a still evening when there is any colour to reflect from the sky, it is like a painting by Monet.
What facilities are available?There are no facilities at East Head. Occasionally during summer weekends an ice cream boat lands on the beach, but they only take cash so come prepared.
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored off East Head.
With thanks to:Phil Walker Deputy Harbour Master Chichester Harbour. Photography by Michael Harpur.
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