The shallow bay forces a vessel well out in the Wester Solent making this an exposed anchorage subject to the full run of the Solent’s tidal streams. Access is straightforward at all states of the tide, night or day.
Keyfacts for Thorness Bay
SummaryAn exposed location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 44.570' N, 001° 21.780' W
This is about 200 metres of the yellow spherical racing buoy Fl.Y.4s in about two metres.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
The Solent and Isle of Wight Coastal Overview.
- Approaching vessels should keep outside the Salt Mead and Gurnard Ledge green starboard hand buoys depending upon the direction of approach.
- Locate the spherical racing buoy Fl. Y.4s and anchor 200 metres within according to draft.
Not what you need?
- Newtown River - 2 nautical miles SW
- Newtown River Entrance - 2.1 nautical miles WSW
- Gull Island - 2.4 nautical miles NNW
- East Cowes Marina - 2.8 nautical miles ENE
- Cowes Harbour - 2.8 nautical miles ENE
- Cowes Yacht Haven - 2.8 nautical miles ENE
- Shepards Wharf - 2.9 nautical miles ENE
- Folly Inn - 3.1 nautical miles E
- Gins Farm - 3.2 nautical miles NW
- Island Harbour Marine - 3.3 nautical miles ESE
How to get in?
Thorness Bay is a long open bay with a sand and pebble beach backed by low broken cliffs. It lies between the offshore ledges of Salt Mead Ledges and Gurnard Head. Inshore a low lying valley floor connects to its cliffs rising up into the rolling farmlands of Calbourne.
Thorness Bay is not suitable to for vessels carrying any draft. It has a ledge extending up to 800 metres from its shoreline with less than a metre and it then steps down abruptly to 18 metres. The best anchoring is to be found west of the bay itself under the eastern end of where Burnt Wood comes down to shore. Here, inside of the seasonal spherical buoy, there is a 150 metres contour that ranges between 2.6 metres and 1.5 metres chart datum about 600 metres out from the shoreline.
The Solent and Isle of Wight coastal description provides approach details.
Vessels approaching from the west should keep outside the Salt Mead green starboard hand buoy Fl(3)G 10s. This buoy marks the drying Salt Mead ledge that extends 500 metres offshore and is inclined towards Cowes. The outer end of the ledge terminates about midway between the buoy and the shore and its foot is located where the western end of Burnt Wood tree plantation comes down to the shore. It is only of concern for those cutting inshore to the anchorage or making the best of an adverse tide. Locate the seasonal spherical racing buoy that will be apparent from some distance.
Vessels approaching from the east should keep outside the green starboard hand Gurnard Ledge Light-buoy. This is moored 200 metres to the northwest side of the Gurnard Ledge that dries in parts at chart datum. Stay well off Gurnard Head as the drying Quarry Ledge, or Baxter's Ledge as it is called locally extends out 250 metres from its foot. Locate the seasonal spherical racing buoy that provides a conspicuous mark for the anchoring position.
From the initial fix, the position location of the yellow spherical racing buoy Fl. Y.4s, steer south-eastward for about 200 metres. A wooden post seen on the shore amidst a bank of rocks that make up a rocky ledge makes a good mark. This post is marked on the charts as a sewer outfall but it is now disused.
Anchor according to draft in clay that has very good holding once the anchor has been well dug in. Land on the beach by tender.
Why visit here?Thorness Bay derives its name from thorn and ness, the former meaning of a ‘thorny bush’ with ness meaning headland or promontory; ‘thorny headland’. Fronted by a beach this small low lying valley is largely undeveloped and little disturbed but steeped in geological and historic interest.
The bay is extraordinarily important in Tertiary period palaeobotany. From Thorness to Gurnard the cliffs rise to 45 metres and comprise clays and marls of the Bouldnor Formation, overlying Bembridge limestone at beach level. These limestones outcrop as foreshore reefs to form the protective shallows off Thorness Bay and the Gurnard Ledge. Erosion created rock exposures in the intertidal zone, in outcrops at the base of the slipped cliffs and in landslip scars above the beach. The richest of the bay's exposures are to be found in the Bembridge Limestone and Bembridge Marls, and near the base of the latter there is a thin limestone known as Insect Limestone. This layer provided fossils of insects and plants that has led to the discovery of more than 250 new species, including tree-ants and termites. It also contains unique flora of fossilised plants that belong to over 120 different species of which 20 are unique to this site. Unlike most other fossilised specimens the bay’s Insect Limestone preserves the fossilised plants so well that it enabled very good recognition of plant organs.
Thorness Bay has also been recognised as being of high archaeological importance with post alignments, hurdles and other wooden structures radiocarbon dated to the late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and post medieval periods. The inter-tidal zone of Thorness Bay has been a treasure throve for historians looking for evidence of early human inhabitation. Numerous flint and stone implements from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods have been discovered here along with further concentrations around Saltmead and Gurnard Cliffs. Roman material, including pottery and building material, has been recovered from the eroding cliffs, and what is believed to be a Roman pottery kiln was found at Burnt Wood along with a Bronze Age cremation. Two sites with midden deposits, ancient refuse dumps, of Roman and Medieval date have been recorded with one containing examples of medieval pottery shards.
One historic feature remains visible on the beach today at low tide. This is the remains of the World War II Solo pipe manifold that ran across the seabed from Lepe to Thorness Bay. It was used to supply the Isle of Wight with fuel, and later when the Allied forces landed in Normandy PLUTO, Pipeline Under The Ocean, went under the English Channel to carry fuel to the French coast and beyond.
The bay is now part of the designated Heritage Coast and the area lies within the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The site was notified as a site of Special Scientific Interest in 1966 for both its biological and geological features. Thorness Bay also forms an important component of The Solent estuarine system and an internationally important site for over-wintering wildfowl and waders. Its shores and marshes also provide important feeding and roosting grounds for significant numbers of waterfowl. So much so that it has also been proposed that it should be designated under the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands of International Importance, as a Special Protection Area for the Conservation of Wild Birds.
Today the bay experienced by visiting sailors will be that of a quiet pastoral valley. Despite having Thorness Bay Caravan Park, one of the Island’s major holiday camps above in the forest, it retains a peaceful remote character. This is largely because the only vehicle access is through the holiday park. Public access is via a single footpath leading to the beach or by people finding their own way from the Coastal Path that skirts the bay. The beach never gets overwhelmed by visitors and those that come are largely made up of walkers, anglers, and a scattering of beach goers who bring a little motion, colour and noise, but the general feeling is one of agriculture, and a peaceful woodland backwater.
From a sailing perspective this is not the best anchorage by any respect. The limestone ledges fronting the bay push anchoring vessels out ¾ of a mile from the beach. This leaves a vessel severely tide rode in the Solent tidal streams. Likewise Thorness Bay’s beach is not particularly the best. It has a line of sand, probably 10 metres wide, beneath which it slowly fades into shingle and then to rocks at low tide. Although the in shore area is of rolling farmland the industrial complex of the Fawley Oil Refinery is prominent in views across the Solent to the mainland.
However this is the first beach available for any vessels who are berthed in the Southampton Waters area. It is also very sheltered being side on to the prevailing winds. Ashore the disadvantageous ledge now provides a shallow safe bathing area that is several degrees warmer on a sunny day and forms a lagoon at high tide on the shore, which is ideal for a family boat. Likewise young, or indeed not so young, palaeobotanists can land on the tiny private beaches that can be found at the foot of Burnt Wood to discover Thorness Bay’ marls that are full of unique fossilised specimens from the Tertiary period.
What facilities are available?There are no facilities in Thorness Bay. All facilities may be found in Cowes 3 miles east.
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored of this remote location.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur Sailing Yacht Whistler. Photography ronsaunders47 and Michael Harpur.
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