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Alum Bay

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Overview





Alum Bay is located off the south coast of England, near the western extremity of the Isle of Wight and adjacent to The Solent’s western Needles Channel. Overlooked by a leisure park, it is a remote bay that provides an anchorage with a beach.

The bay provides a tolerable anchorage in settled weather but can be very good in conditions from northeast round to east. Attentive daylight navigation is required as the bay has some rocks and foul ground close to the shore that needs to be circumvented whilst selecting a location to anchor.



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Keyfacts for Alum Bay
Facilities
Shore based toilet facilitiesHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaBus service available in the areaShore based family recreation in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

Approaches
3 stars: Attentive navigation; daylight access with dangers that need attention.
Shelter
3 stars: Tolerable; in suitable conditions a vessel may be left unwatched and an overnight stay.



Last modified
August 24th 2018

Summary

A tolerable location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Shore based toilet facilitiesHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaBus service available in the areaShore based family recreation in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed



Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 40.074' N, 001° 34.245' W

This is 150 metres off the shore and south of the foot of the cable car platform on the beach.

What is the initial fix?

The following Alum Bay initial fix will set up a final approach:
50° 40.144' N, 001° 34.524' W
This is located 500 metres west of the foot of the chairlift platform on the beach.


What are the key points of the approach?

The entry and the run-up thorough The Solent and Southampton Water are covered in
The Solent and Isle of Wight Route location Coastal Overview.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Alum Bay for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Scratchell's Bay - 0.4 miles SW
  2. Totland Bay - 0.7 miles NE
  3. Freshwater Bay - 1.4 miles E
  4. Hurst Road - 1.6 miles NNE
  5. Keyhaven - 1.7 miles NNE
  6. Yarmouth - 2.2 miles NE
  7. Lymington Yacht Haven - 3.3 miles NNE
  8. Lymington - 3.3 miles NNE
  9. Berthon Lymington Marina - 3.4 miles NNE
  10. Christchurch Bay - 4.3 miles WNW
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Scratchell's Bay - 0.4 miles SW
  2. Totland Bay - 0.7 miles NE
  3. Freshwater Bay - 1.4 miles E
  4. Hurst Road - 1.6 miles NNE
  5. Keyhaven - 1.7 miles NNE
  6. Yarmouth - 2.2 miles NE
  7. Lymington Yacht Haven - 3.3 miles NNE
  8. Lymington - 3.3 miles NNE
  9. Berthon Lymington Marina - 3.4 miles NNE
  10. Christchurch Bay - 4.3 miles WNW
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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How to get in?


Alum Bay is a large west facing bay that lies between the Isle of Wight’s prominent Needles Point and Hatherwood Point, situated about a mile to the northeast. The high, right-angled shaped, bay’s eastern side is a multi-coloured sand cliff and its southern side a steep white chalk cliff. Beneath the eastern cliff is a chalk debris foreshore with some sand on its northern end. Alum Bay Leisure Park is situated at the centre of the eastern cliff top and may be reached via steep steps, leading up from the beach, or by the park’s chairlift that fronts the cliff.

The bay is a very popular anchorage but has some inshore dangers that warrant attention. The single most important danger is the ‘East Long Rock’ which lies close off the shore and just dries at low water springs. The rock is the shallowest part of ‘The Long Rock’ ledge which runs out parallel to the bay’s southern shoreline, about 250 to 300 metres north of the cliffs, for about a ⅓ of a mile. From ‘East Long Rock’, drying to 0.3 metres, the ledge as a whole has between 2.4 and 4.3 metres of cover. But it has two other shallow heads that remained covered. The inner head has 0.5 metres LAT of water over it and is about 200 metres westward of ‘East Long Rock’. The outer head has 0.9 metres LAT of water over it and is located about 250 metres further westward.

In the northeast section of the bay there is also the small rocky patch named ‘Five Fingers Rock’. It has somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 metres LAT of water over it and lies 180 metres offshore to the southwest of Hatherwood Point. Five Fingers Rock usually presents no difficulty to the vast majority of leisure craft who come in here. However the shallower ‘East Long Rock’ is regularly struck by unwary visitors as it is situated in a position that would appear to be one of the most ideal anchoring locations in the bay.




The best time to visit Alum Bay is in conditions from the northeast round to east when it is mirror calm perfect. Although it appears to be protected from south round to southwest, a long lazy swell from well-established conditions from these quarters tends to find its way into the bay.

There is however a significant difference to the bay during the ebb and the flood tides. By far the best in Alum Bay is the ebb that seems to drag any swell out and trap it behind the bridge. The perfect time to visit Alum Bay from The Solent is to use the start of the ebb to take a vessel down to the bay and enjoy the full run of it on anchor. Then, when it turns, take the benefit of it back into the Solent.




Convergance Point The Solent and Isle of Wight Route location coastal description provides approach details. Vessels cutting in from the north should stand off Hatherwood Point as it has small rocky patches that extend 150 metres offshore both north of the head and close south of it within the bay. Vessels approaching from the south are cautioned against hugging the Needle's Lighthouse too closely to avoid ‘Goose Rock’ that dries at low water springs and the wreck of the ‘Varvassi’. The wide open bay and junction of the two very different and brightly coloured cliff faces make Alum Bay readily apparent from seaward.




Initial fix location The initial fix is set about 500 metres west of the foot of the chairlift platform on the beach. From here it is possible to visually divide the space between the platform and the south eastern corner of the bay into two halves and proceed in appropriately.

The ‘East Long Rock’ is equally positioned about 250 metres south from the platform, west from the beach, and north from the southern cliffs. It can comfortably be contained in a line that divides this area into two halves. By keeping in the top half of the available space a vessel will stay well clear of the ledge. Another approach is to simply come in and anchor no further south than 150 metres from the platform to keep well clear of the ‘East Long Rock’ and the ledge extending out from it.
Please note

Local boatmen often place a random marker on ‘East Long Rock’ so it is worth looking for what may look like a lobster pot that may be informally marking its position.



Whichever approach is adopted, it is essential not to anchor within the area 150 metres westward of the head of the leisure pontoon on the shore. The leisure pontoon is located close south of the chairlift platform. It has a ground chain that runs out 150 metres from its head with its extremity marked by a pink buoy. Anchoring anywhere along this line off the head of the platform will only result in the anchor fouling on the mooring chain and serves only to disrupt the Needles Pleasure Cruises tours for that day.

It also inadvisable to anchor to the north of the chair lift platform. The ruins of an old pier with steels, boulders and the covered remains of its old legs projecting from the sea bed run out as far as 300 metres from the shoreline. This is located close north of the chair lift platform in front of Alum Bay Chine on the shore. The area should be entirely avoided as there is a high likelyhood of striking the detritus, and vessels that have anchored nearby and dragged over it have lost their ground tackle.




Haven location Anchor according to draft south of the leisure jetty chain and north of ‘East Long Rock’. The bay offers good holding in mud and clay mixed with sand with scarcely perceptible tidal streams. Land on the beach by tender.


Why visit here?
Alum Bay takes its name from the large quantities of alum mined here from as early as the 16th century. Alum is a hydrated double sulphate of aluminium and potassium, historically used as a mordant for fixing natural dyes, as an adhesive to bind paper fibres in papermaking, and as an agent to increase the suppleness of leather in the tanning process.


The forces that shaped the bay’s name and unique geology go back 70 million years. During this period the sea bed rose, eroded and sank down again beneath a shallow sea. Back between 65 million and 30 million years ago the sands and silts of the Palaeocene, Eocene and Oligocene periods slowly laid down over the seabed clays. Then a movement in the bedrock pushed the floor up again along with the Cretaceous chalk formation that forms the bay’s adjoining headland.

Thousands of years ago there was a land bridge connecting the Isle of Purbeck, which is not really an island but a peninsula, to the Isle of Wight. This formed the base for a much longer and broader peninsula that enfolded the ‘Solent River’ that had its estuary somewhere to the southeast of the Isle of Wight. The two land areas were joined by a chalk ridge that formed the spine of the connecting bridge.

The remains of the chalky ridge can be seen running, up to 100 metres in height, from Alum Bay to the Needles, and back around to Scratchell's Bay to the south and Freshwater Bay. From there it continues eastward as a ridge of steeply dipping chalk strata passing through the Isle of Wight to the toe of Culver Cliff in the east. The separation from the Isle of Purbeck was caused by a post-glacial rise in sea-level. A series of storms then broke through the chalky ridge that joined to the Isle of Purbeck eventually leaving only the corresponding white cliffs of the Needles and Handfast Point’s Old Harry Rocks that we see today. The recess of Alum Bay being formed when the west-facing soft sand and clay sediments slowly eroded back to the northeast along the chalk face. The chalk, although subject to slow erosion, is significantly more resistant and so it remained as the bay's southern flanking promontory.




It was however to be the bay’s eastern multi-coloured sands that would make the bay famous both in the past and today. Made up of three minerals; quartz, felspar and mica that are white in their pure state, their colouring is caused by the oxidisation of iron compounds that are formed under different conditions. The sands would become the bay's centre piece of what was originally called ‘Whytfylde Chine’ on a map that dates back to 1590. On the Isle of Wight ‘chines’ are steep-sided river valleys through which the river flows to the sea, typically soft eroding coastal cliffs made up of of sandstone or clays. It is believed that the bay was once fed by a Chine of this name which has long since eroded away. The bay was first recorded as ‘Alum Bay’ in 1720 after it had been mined for its alum resources for more than 150 years.

The first documentary evidence of mining goes back to the legendary Richard Worsley, Captain of the Island who saved the island from the French invasion of 1545, obtaining a warrant from Queen Elizabeth I to search there for ‘Oure of Alume’ in 1561. Worsley received the warrant but there is no record of him exercising it. It is however unlikely that Alum Bay would be so named without some sort of works there. What is known of alum works elsewhere on the south coast suggests they were quite short lived operations, so it's possible the Island works also had a brief life. The sands of Alum Bay also proved to contain an extremely pure white silica which was extracted during the eighteenth century. Sands were shipped round to the mouth of the River Yar where it was stored in the Sand House and then shipped to the mainland for use in glass making and pottery production.




The areas modest development commenced in the second half of the 19th century. The Needles Lighthouse on the tip of the rocks was built in 1859. This was constructed to replace the original lighthouse erected on the Downs in 1785 that had a height of 141 metres above sea level which caused the light to be obscured by fog. The Needles Lighthouse was built with a lower light, at 25 metres above sea level, to avoid this problem. The lighthouse was followed in 1860 by the Needles Hotel and the Old Needles Battery military installation. The battery was built on the cliff top above the Needles stacks between 1861-63 as part Palmerston’s defence measures to guard the west end of the Solent. In 1873 a road to the bay was completed, linking it and the neighbouring Totland and Colwell bays with Yarmouth. The Alum Bay Pier was built the same year to cater for visitors arriving by paddle steamer.


By then Alum Bay, as well as the neighbouring Totland and Colwell Bays, had developed into small Victorian holiday resorts. This process had commenced as early as 1780 when its coloured sands began to be recorded as a matter of scientific interest. Later the antiquarian and scientist Sir Henry Charles Englefield (1752 – 21 March 1822) described the bay more effusively… “The tints of the cliffs are so bright and so varied that they have not the aspect of anything natural. Deep purplish red, dusky blue, bright ochreous yellow, grey nearly approaching to white, and absolute black, succeed each other, as sharply defined as the stripes in silk and after rains, the sun, which, from about noon till his setting, in summer, illuminates them more and more, gives a brilliancy to some of these nearly as resplendent as the bright lights on real silk’’. By the latter part of the 19th century it had become an essential place to visit during an Island holiday. Shaped bottles were filled with the different coloured layers of sand and the Victorians snapped them up.


In 1897 an unexpected visitor arrived alongside the throng of tourists. This was Guglielmo Marconi who utilised a huge mast from the Royal Yacht Britannia to create a 40-metre radio antenna outside the Needles Hotel. By early 1898 he had successfully sent the first wireless transmission to, at first, a distance of one mile to Totland Bay, then eighteen miles out to sea to the steamer Mayflower. Finally the U.S. St. Paul picked up a message thirty-six miles off the Needles.


Holiday makers ceased during the two World Wars. Alum Bay was then heavily militarised and access to visitors was barred. Alum Bay Pier, that had fallen into disrepair, was destroyed in the Second World War to prevent enemy use.




Today Alum Bay, at the eastern extent of the Headon Warren and West High Down, is a Site of Special Scientific interest. The cliff top area surrounding Alum Bay remains mainly undeveloped and is owned by the National Trust up to the edge of Totland. The Needles Battery, at the western extremity out and above the Needles, and the access road to the Battery along with High Down, which was used for rocket engine tests from 1956-71, have been restored and contain museums. The Needles Pleasure Park was developed on the site of the Needles Hotel during the 1970s and its epic chairlift that remains operational today was first opened in 1971. Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the amusement park offers an array of family activities that includes fairground rides, souvenir shops, cafes, local glass making and sweet manufacturing. It also plays host to a monument to Marconi marking the precise location where he undertook his pioneering work.




Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Alum Bay makes a strong impression on the visitor. It has The Solent’s iconic view out to the Needles series of chalk stacks and lighthouse, the brightly coloured sands to the east, and the steep white cliff to the south. It remains today the landscape that has influenced and inspired generations of poets and artists, including Keats and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who lived close by. For boats with children aboard there is the fun of the beach, chairlift and the amusement park above. For the older ones the track up to the National Trust run museums pays dividends, or just taking it all in on a summer’s day from the cockpit. It has something for everybody.


What facilities are available?
The leisure park above the beach has hot food, cafe's and amusements. Southern Vectis run a bus services from Alum Bay.


Any security concerns?
Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored off Alum Bay.


With thanks to:
Peter Lemonius of Needles Pleasure Cruises. Photography with thanks to Michael Harpur.


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Please zoom out to see the 'initial fix' for this location.
The above plots are not precise and indicative only.


































Needles Pleasure Cruises promotional video of Alum Bay



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