This is an exposed anchorage that may only be made use of in suitable settled conditions. Access is straightforward as apart from ledges extending from its extremities the bay has no outlying dangers and gradually shoals to the shore.
Keyfacts for Christchurch Bay
SummaryAn exposed location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 43.800' N, 001° 43.490' W
This is in the northwest corner of Christchurch Bay, off Avon Beach and just outside the designated swimming area in about 2 metres.
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Christchurch Bay lies on the south coast of England between the headland of Hegistbury Head and a spit leading out to Hurst Point, situated 7½ miles east and immediately north of the entrance to The Solent. The bay is relatively shallow with the 5 metre contour lying about ¾ of a mile offshore and an average depth of 7 metres CD. The land bordering the bay is low and especially so in the vicinity of Hurst Point the eastern most point of Christchurch Bay. The western extremity of Hegistbury Head provides a relatively conspicuous seamark.
Christchurch Ledge and the Shingles Bank, on the northwest side of the Needles Channel, are the bays primary hazards. Approaches to Christchurch Bay are covered in the Christchurch Harbour entry.
Anchor according to draft and conditions if they prove suitable. There are no specific restrictions to anchoring other than keeping outside the bathing area. This is clearly noted on all charts and is marked by 14 yellow 'byelaw buoys' laid about 250 metres out from the low water mark.
The northwest end of the bay, off Mudeford where the Avon and Stour flow out of Christchurch Harbour entrance, offers the best protection. Good holding will be had in fine sand. Land on the beach or at Mudeford.
Why visit here?Christchurch Bay is typically used as a tide-wait location. But it has plenty to offer and especially so for a family boat.
The anchoring area sits offshore of a choice of safe sandy beaches, stretching from Mudeford sandbank to Highcliffe, as well as those on Mudeford Spit opposite The Run. The fronting beach of Avon, close east of Mudeford Quay, leads into Friars Cliff, Steamer Point and Highcliffe Castle beach progressing eastwards along the north shore of the bay. But Avon beach is by far the sandiest due to the area’s coastal defences and artificial dredging. A pleasant coastal walk can be had however by making ones way along the promenade which leads past colourful beach huts that have views across to the Isle of Wight and The Needles.
Likewise, it is only a short dinghy ride across to Mudeford Spit, the sandbar that closes in Christchurch Harbour from the south. Here again, the spit has sandy beaches on both sides backed by colourful beach huts. These structures are far from trivial as a 5.5 x 3.6 metres Mudeford hut, with no water supply nor toilet, became Britain's most expensive beach hut when it fetched £270,000. From land, the spit is accessed by foot from Hengistbury Head at the southern end from which a novelty land train runs.
Hengistbury Head is one of England’s most significant archaeological areas. Investigations of the headland have revealed a wealth of activity from at least 10,500 BC. The foundations of the Celtic fort, which became a Roman fort, remain on the promontory to this day. Vast quantities of archaeological finds indicate the level of trade that passed through Christchurch Harbour, its port of trade. Thousands of British coins, Breton pots, Italian amphorae, raw purple glass ornaments made of bronze and amber have been unearthed on the headland. The headland is a nature reserve today with a visitor centre which tells its story. The historic headland’s views alone, out over Christchurch Harbour, Bournemouth Bay and further across to the Purbecks, New Forest and the Isle of Wight, make it worthwhile climb.
A ferry service runs to the spit from the Mudeford Quay. Very much a working quay it is piled high with lobster pots and has its own interesting story to tell. In 1784 it was the site of an extraordinary battle fought from where the car park stands today.
Eighteenth-Century Christchurch was a relatively poor town with a silting harbour that was in decline. But its sheltered nature, its road access being easily blocked at two crossing points and the complications of The Run made it an ideal area for local smugglers to ply their trade. By the middle of the century, it had become a harbour industry with established connections to neighbouring towns and the wilds of the New Forest beyond. At the time Reverend Richard Warner observed 'a procession of twenty or thirty wagons, loaded with kegs of spirits, an armed man sitting at the front and tail of each, and surrounded by a troop of two or three hundred horsemen, every one carrying on his enormous saddle from two to four tubs of spirits, winding ... along the skirts of Hengistbury Head, on their way towards the wild country to the north-west of Christchurch... '
One way or another, virtually the whole town and every level of society was involved in this highly successful method of tax avoidance. The ‘Westminster Journal’ noted in 1748 ‘We hear from the New Forest in Hampshire that Smugglers have got to such a height in that part of the country that scarcely a week passes but great quantities of goods are run between Lymington and Christchurch' The ‘Hampshire Notes and Queries’ went on to say ‘...every labourer was either a poacher or a smuggler, very often a combination of the two'. For some, the choice lay between starvation and for others, even those who wanted no part in the illegal trade, had to toe the line or suffer brutal punishments from the gangs of the so-called ‘Free Traders’.
Whatever the case, smuggling had become a Christchurch Harbour mainstay and Mudeford Quay was at the sharp end of the stick. The harbour’s contraband was traditionally landed by longboat on Avon Beach. The illegal cargo was then brought in across the harbour and up the narrow channels that cut across Standpit Marsh. The centre for smuggling operations was ‘The Haven House Inn’ on Mudeford Quay with the corresponding ‘The Ship In Distress Inn’ situated at Standpit, and both of these public houses remain to this day. July 15th, 1784 the greatest volume of contraband ever managed in a single run was landed at Mudeford leading to ‘The Battle of Mudeford’.
Two smuggling luggers the Phoenix and Civil Usage arrived that day from the Channel Islands with a huge cargo of tea and brandy. A revenue cutter the Resolution came upon the boats and sent in a longboat to bring a halt to the smuggling. The revenue men were abruptly warned off by the vast number of smugglers who had occupied the Haven House Inn and erected breastworks to defend the entrance. Vastly outmanned, the revenue men of the Resolution beat a retreat and watched on helplessly while a force of 300 men, utilising 100 carts and 400 horses, landed the 6,000 casks of spirits and 30 tons of tea on the beach. With little else they could do, the Resolution then sailed out into Poole Bay looking for assistance. There they were joined by the Customs’ Cutter, Swan and they found a 28 gun Royal Navy Sloop, HMS Orestes off The Needles. All three boats then converged on the Harbour entrance arriving there at about six in the evening.
The smuggler's luggers were by then beached on the shingle inside the harbour, set to be ballasted, and the cartloads of contraband were moving away from the shore. Captain William Allen, the master of the HMS Orestes, saw the opportunity to seize the two ships. He immediately launched a shore expedition comprising six boats of customs men and heavily armed marines to engage the smugglers. As they neared the shore Allen, in the head longboat, stood and shouted to the smugglers on the ships to remain on the decks where they stood and surrender. The reply, to his surprise, was a deafening fusillade from the well-prepared smugglers. Allen fell back in the boat, mortally wounded, still urging his troops on. A lengthy firefight ensued that lasted for over three hours, such that the smugglers returned to Christchurch for more powder and shot.
The smugglers had the best of it firing from trenches they had dug along the beach, whereas the government forces had to take aim from a rocking open boats without cover. The sergeant of Marines, now in command, seeing that two luggers were aground and going nowhere eventually decided to return to the HMS Orestes with his wounded. At sunset with the contraband long gone the smugglers were observed from HMS Orestes by Commander Ellis, now in command, returning to the luggers. He ordered the nine-pound iron shot to be fired over the smuggler's heads from the main guns. This dissuaded any further attempt to secure the luggers. Then, on a rising tide at three am, the sailors and Marines entered the harbour again. They took the two luggers without further opposition bringing the event to a close.
Christchurch Bay may not be the most protected anchorage. But in moderate summer weather, it is an ideal location to visit with plenty to please and interest crews of a wide variety of ages.
What facilities are available?There are toilets ashore on Avon Beach. There is a slip at Mudeford Quay, where there is a convenient car park adjacent. Trailer parking is permitted within a designated area, for up to 48 hours free of charge, but there is a small fee for the use of the slip.
Limited supplies are available from Avon and Mudeford beach cafés. There are a few shops at Mudeford village, and the sizable town of Christchurch has all the shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and banking facilities you would expect.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur S/Y Whistler. Photography with thanks to Michael Harpur.
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