Although the high ground provides a good measure of protection from southerly component winds, along with moderate westerlies, the bay only makes for a tolerable anchorage. The commercial shipping channel passes to the north, and large ships rounding the Brambles Bank tend to send in a wash. Likewise the bay’s shallow nature forces a vessel well out where the Solent's tidal streams, although relatively weak, are still present. Access is straightforward at all states of the tide, night or day.
Keyfacts for Osborne Bay
Summary* Restrictions applyA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 45.497' N, 001° 15.248' W
This is in about 2 metres in the middle of the bay.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
The Solent and Isle of Wight coastal description.
Not what you need?
- Shepards Wharf - 0.9 miles W
- East Cowes Marina - 0.9 miles WSW
- Cowes Yacht Haven - 1 miles W
- Cowes Harbour - 1.1 miles WNW
- Folly Inn - 1.1 miles SW
- Wootton Creek (Fishbourne) - 1.3 miles SE
- Island Harbour Marine - 1.4 miles SSW
- Ryde Roads - 1.8 miles ESE
- Newport - 2.2 miles SSW
- Hill Head - 2.2 miles N
How to get in?
Osborne Bay lies on the northeast coast of the Isle of Wight and in the eastern arm of the Solent. It is situated 1½ miles east of the entrance to the River Medina, which divides Cowes into the two parts of Cowes and East Cowes. The bays shoreline is about ¾ of a mile long, gently curving and beautifully forested. Its northwest extremity commences at a wooded headland located ¾ of a mile southwest of Old Castle Point and its southwest extremity is at Barton Point.
The beach that sits at the head of the bay has some sand but is predominantly shingle. It falls within the grounds of stately Osborne House that is managed by National Heritage and they permit no landings.
The Solent and Isle of Wight coastal description provides approach details. Vessels converging on Osborne Bay will find nothing in the way of local hazards by staying in reasonable soundings.
The ‘Rolly Tasker’ yellow spherical race buoy (Mar-Dec), by night Fl.Y.4s, serves as a good mark to locate the bay and the tower and flagstaff on Osborne House will be readily identifiable from here. Proceed south-westward towards the house over the centre of the bay and prepare to anchor about 500 metres in from the race buoy.
Osborne Bay is shallow out for a ¼ of a mile. Closer inshore of this the depths reduce abruptly.
Within this area there is a shallow plateau that contains three shoreline reefs and the ruins of old groynes, bathing piers and quays etc. close to the shoreline.
These obstacles are only a concern for those who want to nose in from the sea at high water and anchor off close to the shore, and have a lunch that makes the most of the beautiful surroundings. The Solent Spring tides particularly lend themselves to this as Spring high waters always occur around the middle of the day.
These obstacles are also a concern for those who want to spend the night close in, and it would require a vessel with a shallow draft during Neaps and or one that has the ability to take to the hard. Vessels planning to come in and dry out should carefully work around the reefs, particularly the West Patch, and the ruins extending from the shore should they strike them or dry out on un-level ground.
The first of Osborn Bay’s reefs is uncharted and is part of a sandbank flaking the bay’s western end. It has some patches of rocks awash that extend out about 150 metres offshore. In the middle of the bay is the well charted West Patch that dries to 0.6 metres chart datum and is situated about 400 metres out from the beach. Finally there is the East Patch that extends 300 metres eastward of Barton Point and dries to 0.1 with a rock 150 metres to the south west that dries to 0.6 metres chart datum.
In all cases the holding is a mixture of mud and sand and is good once the anchor has set. No landing should be made and those exploring by dinghy should stay outside the yellow ‘swim area’ buoys.
Why visit here?Osborn Bay derives its name from a softening of the areas old name of Austerborne or Oysterborne. There were extensive oyster-beds in the River Medina and the manor is said to have derived its name from them. However today the bay is now more famous for overlooking Osborne House that was once the former royal residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
During the reign of Victoria’s predecessor Queen Elizabeth I 1558-1603, and the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the anchorage went by the name of ‘Meade Hole’. Meade Hole was defined as being a fathom’s depth off the present Osborne Bay and it was a natural resting point for 16th century ships sailing up and down the channel. From the middle of the 1500s it became the place where pirates brought their plunder for resale. As they carried different goods, they naturally traded with one another. In time it became the place where they traded their booty into the Island economy via the back waters of Kings Quay Creek that back then was entered from Osborne Bay. King Phillip II of Spain's agent reported of Meade Hole in 1570 ‘a great fair of spices, wines, wool, saffron, oil, soap, woad, and a great number of other goods stolen from your Majesty’s subjects. If ships continue to come freely in this way, trade will simply be to enrich the heretics’.
But Norris Castle was not to be. The owner at the time, the newspaper tycoon Thomas Bell, wanted too much for the estate. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, intervened and found a solution in the Osborne estate located immediately to the east of Norris Castle. This turned out to be the ideal resolution and Victoria wrote to the Sir Robert Peel saying ‘We are more and more delighted with this lovely spot…… The air is so pure and fresh, and in spite of the hottest sun which oppresses one so dreadfully in London and even at Windsor. Really the combination of sea, trees, woods, flowers of all kinds, the purest air, make it - to us - a perfect little Paradise'. In 1845 Lady Isabella Blackford sold the estate to Queen Victoria for £28,000. The original estate comprised about 2,000 acres and the queen subsequently extended it to nearly 3,000 acres. Blackford’s existing Georgian house was too small for the royal families’ needs and was demolished. Though Thomas Cubitt was commissioned for the rebuild, Prince Albert had a strong influence in the new Palladian style house that replaced it. The first stone of what would become Osborne House was laid in 1845, and the royal family entered into possession in September 1846. ‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot" noted Queen Victoria of the palatial holiday home they built in Osborne House.
In 1986 English Heritage assumed the management of Osborne. It is open daily 1000-1800 for a fee and is free to English Heritage members. The estate church of St. Mildred, located a mile southward in Whippingham and a short stroll from the Folly Inn, has memorials to various members of the royal family.
Queen Victoria’s coming to Osborne House was to transform the Isle of Wight and Cowes. The Victorian trend for sea bathing and the growth of yachting were already well established by then but it was the coming of Victoria and her children to Osborne House that was to establish Cowes like no other place. They entirely reshaped Cowes' standing and future by making it a very fashionable place to live, stay and be seen in Victorian and Edwardian times. The remarkable stately house remains a treasure to the island. Most extraordinarily, one of its most notable admirers was Adolf Hitler. He ordered that the estate should not to be bombed during the Second World War as he planned to use it as his post-war retreat after the defeat of England.
From a sailing point of view Osborne Bay is one of the Solent’s most popular lunch anchorages. Centrally situated within the Solent, about a 20 minute cruise from the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour and the first eastbound bay almost immediately outside of Cowes, it is very much a sought after location that can easily get overwhelmed. With its high ground providing shelter to the prevailing winds, a nice midday sun trap is created that makes it ideal for a pleasant afternoon swim. Its location and ease of access makes it an ideal, lunch stop, tide wait or Solent stepping stone location. But with its deeper waters well offshore, its currents, occasional wash, and any landing being prohibited, it could never be described as a great anchorage.
What facilities are available?There are no facilities in Osborne Bay. Cowes, 1½ miles westward, offers almost any conceivable marine services or facility a vessel could require. Almost anything in the marine world can either be repaired or rebuilt from first principals in Cowes. Having a population in excess of 10,000 it is also an excellent location for provisioning.
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored off Osborne Bay.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur, S/Y Whistler. Photography with thanks to Michael Harpur Philip, Halling, Stuart Logan, Mark Fosh and Craig Jamieson.
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