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Charlestown

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Overview





Situated on England's southwest coast and on the northwest shore of St. Austell Bay, Charlestown is the only harbour the bay offers. Little has changed here since Georgian times, and given adequate notice, the pretty harbour receives visiting boats into an inner wet basin. In good conditions, it is also possible to anchor outside or maybe dry in the outer basin.

Complete protection can be had when locked in to the harbour’s inner wet basin. Attentive navigation is required for access as the entrance is constrained, difficult and there is a lock to enter. It is best addressed by newcomers with the benefit of daylight. It may only be approached by arrangement, two hours before high water and in offshore winds or calm weather. The harbour is usually closed during south-easterlies.



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Keyfacts for Charlestown
Facilities
Water hosepipe available alongsideWater available via tapWaste disposal bins availableMini-supermarket or supermarket availableFuel by arrangement with bulk tanker providerSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot 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 areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaInternet via a wireless access point availableDoctor or hospital in the areaPharmacy in the areaMarine engineering services available in the areaRigging services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaSail making or sail repair servicesBus service available in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBerth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Dangerous to enter when it is Beaufort force 4 or more from ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW and SW.Restriction: access via a channel with a lock or enclosed by a lockRestriction: rising tide required for access

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Approaches
3 stars: Attentive navigation; daylight access with dangers that need attention.
Shelter
5 stars: Complete protection; all-round shelter in all reasonable conditions.



Last modified
February 14th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A completely protected location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Water hosepipe available alongsideWater available via tapWaste disposal bins availableMini-supermarket or supermarket availableFuel by arrangement with bulk tanker providerSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot 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 areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaInternet via a wireless access point availableDoctor or hospital in the areaPharmacy in the areaMarine engineering services available in the areaRigging services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaSail making or sail repair servicesBus service available in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBerth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Dangerous to enter when it is Beaufort force 4 or more from ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW and SW.Restriction: access via a channel with a lock or enclosed by a lockRestriction: rising tide required for access



HM  +44 1726 70241     HM  +44 1726 70241      info@square-sail.com     square-sail.com      Ch.14 [Charlestown]
Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 19.830' N, 004° 45.351' W

This is the pierhead of the outer breakwater and entrance that exhibits a light, 2FR(vert)5m1M.

What is the initial fix?

The following Charlestown Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
50° 19.640' N, 004° 45.000' W
This is a ⅓ of a mile out from the entrance on the 5-metre contour. The entrance should just be open here on a bearing of 310° T.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location

  • Gribbin Head daymark clearly defines the eastern extremity of St. Austell Bay.

  • Keeping 300 meters out from the shore clears all dangers in St. Austell Bay.

  • By prior arrangment with the harbour master the lock to the inner basin opens on request from about HW ±0200.


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 Charlestown for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Par - 1.4 miles ENE
  2. Polkerris - 1.8 miles E
  3. Mevagissey - 2.4 miles SSW
  4. Portmellon - 2.6 miles SSW
  5. Fowey - 2.9 miles E
  6. Gorran Haven - 3.4 miles SSW
  7. Polperro Harbour - 5.7 miles E
  8. Looe Harbour - 7.3 miles E
  9. The River Fal - 7.4 miles WSW
  10. Portscatho - 7.5 miles SW
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Par - 1.4 miles ENE
  2. Polkerris - 1.8 miles E
  3. Mevagissey - 2.4 miles SSW
  4. Portmellon - 2.6 miles SSW
  5. Fowey - 2.9 miles E
  6. Gorran Haven - 3.4 miles SSW
  7. Polperro Harbour - 5.7 miles E
  8. Looe Harbour - 7.3 miles E
  9. The River Fal - 7.4 miles WSW
  10. Portscatho - 7.5 miles SW
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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What's the story here?
Charlestown Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Charlestown is a village and port that lies in the northwest part of St. Austell Bay about 2¼ miles to the west of Par and a ½ mile to the south of the town of St. Austell. The harbour area was built in the late 18th-century and, having remained relatively unchanged up to the present day, is Grade II listed. As such it is no longer a commercial port but home to a number of tall ships that can normally berth here for free, and to leisure craft which tend to pay a premium. Its pretty Georgian appearance means that it is frequently used as a backdrop to a film set.


Charlestown's entrance and outer tidal basin
Image: Michael Harpur


The harbour consists of an outer tidal basin and an inner wet basin maintained by a tidal lock. The tidal basin is entered between two piers 13.7 metres wide, and the inner wet basin between lock gates 10.7 metres wide. Depths inside the wet basin are similar to the entrance of the outer basin. With the gates closed it supports vessels carrying up to 3.7 metres draught and 57 metres LOA, with a 9 metres beam. The outer basin dries at LWS but has depths of 4.3 metres at HWS and 3 metres at HWN.


Inner basin at Charlestown
Image: Michael Harpur


On the lowest tides the approaches to Charlestown dry out to almost 200 metres from the pierhead, and there is a drying height of 1.2 metres immediately outside the entrance to the outer basin. At about W±0200 the lock opens on request to provide access to the inner wet basin.

Access to the inner basin is by prior arrangement with the harbour master on VHF Ch 14 [Charlestown], Landline+44 1726 70241, Mobile+44 1726 70241, E-mailinfo@square-sail.com. The harbour website is Websitewww.square-sail.com.

Although the lock opens on request from about HW ±0200, the harbour master may request a vessel to wait for a short while if more vessels are expected. A tide wait mooring buoy, rated for vessels of up to 15 tonnes, can be found 400 metres south by southeast of the harbour entrance and just outside of the 2 metre contour. Alternatively, at high water and during settled conditions it may be possible to wait in the outer basin. The gate fee is usually waived if it falls within a Square Sail's entry schedule. Seek guidance from the harbourmaster.

It is possible to anchor offshore in westerlies or calm conditions and come in and explore the harbour by tender.


How to get in?
Charlestown Harbour with Gribbin Head in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location for seaward approaches.

The prominent Gribbin Head, the eastern extremity of St. Austell Bay, makes the best seamark for the bay. It may be easily recognised by a conspicuous square beacon tower 26 metres high, with red and white horizontal stripes, which stands 104 metres above high water.

Black Head, Gerrans Point and Polmear Island seen from east of the entrance
Image: Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0


Black Head which is bold and steep-to, is the western entrance point of St. Austell Bay and the northern entry point of Mevagissey Bay, of which Chapel Point located about 2½ miles southward, forms the southern entrance point.

St. Austell Bay is largely clear of dangers and a path that stands 300 meters out from the shore clears all of them. Stand well off the inner points of Little Gribbin Point, on the east side of the bay, and Gerrans Point on the west, as rocks extend nearly 200 metres off these points.

Charlestown lies north of Black Point. A conspicuous hotel stands at Crinnis, ¾ of a mile eastward of the harbour. The outer basin entrance and approach dry, and a red ensign is shown when the harbour is open and a black shape when it is closed.


The entrance to Charlestown with the submerged wall showing
Image: Michael Harpur


The final approach to the harbour entrance should be made from the southeast as it is flanked by rocks on either side. A line of bearing of 310° T with the entrance just open leads in between the reefs extending from Polmear Island and the breakwater on the west, and the reefs extending from Appletree Point on the east side.


Submerged training wall extending eastward from Eastern pierhead
Image: Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0


The entrance opens to the east and on a final approach to it, do not to overshoot the head of the inner eastern pierhead. A submerged training wall extends eastward from its pierhead to a reef further along the shore.


The tidal gate as seen at low water
Image: Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0


Once inside the outer basin, prepare to turn to starboard for the tidal lock gate that leads into the inner basin.

At night the breakwaters are lit, 2FG & 2FR(vert)5m1M. A red light is exhibited from a 10-metre high flagstaff at the north entrance when the port is closed.

Inner wet basin at Charlestown
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Berth as arranged with the harbour master or pick up the buoy 400 metres south of the harbour if waiting for the tide or the opening of the lock.

Those intending on anchoring should keep out at least 300 metres from the shore. This avoids drying rocks that fringe the coast and should provide enough depth with good sand holding. Land at the outer basin which has ample steps or at the slip during high water. Just be aware that this part of the harbour dries.


Why visit here?
Charlestown as experienced today, largely dates back to the late 18th century planned development of the local entrepreneur Charles Rashleigh. He privately funded the construction of the harbour and its surrounds to serve a thriving copper and china clay industry that existed at that time. In so doing it became locally known as ‘Charles's town’ before being officially renamed Charlestown in 1799. To this day the port has kept this name to remain faithful and to honour its benefactor.

Charlestown usually has one or two square sailed ships alongside
Image: Michael Harpur


Before Rashleigh’s development, the area revolved around two medieval hamlets, Higher and Lower Polmear. First recorded as Porthmeur in 1403, the original place name was derived from the Cornish elements of porth meaning ‘cove’ and meur meaning ‘big or great’ to contrast with ‘Porthpean’, to the west, meaning ‘small cove’. In time this was contracted to Polmear, with Lower Polmear being a scattering of cottages around a rocky cove and beach. At the latter end of the 18th-century, this amounted to 26 people, made up of 9 fishermen and their families. It had three fish cellars, in which the fisherman’s catch of pilchards was processed.

John Smeaton
Image: Public Domain
At the end of the 18th-century, the St Austell mineral extraction boom arrived bringing Charles Rashleigh to Duporth Manor just outside the village. In 1784 he acquired Polmear with the objective of developing the first industrial harbour in St. Austell Bay. At the time this was an obvious business opportunity as the nearby Crinnis mine alone was building up to export nearly 4,000 tons of copper per year. Most of this went off the beach that fronted the protected little cove of Polmear. By the 1780s a coal yard was established to service the ships anchored offshore. Rashleigh contracted the foremost engineer of the day John Smeaton, who built the third Eddystone lighthouse, to design the harbour, and it was on his plans that the construction of the harbour commenced in 1790.

The construction of the outer breakwater was completed in 1790, and later by 1793 the eastern breakwater, which formed the drying outer basin. A gun battery was then built on Crinnis Head to the west of the harbour mouth, as a defence against possible French attacks. The excavation of an inner basin or wet dock within the natural inlet began in earnest 1872. Originally the wet basin was substantially smaller than the existing arrangement, but its excavation was nevertheless a major engineering feat, requiring nearly a decade of quarrying into the hillside. A flushing system also had to be devised to keep the wet dock topped up and the harbour scoured of silt deposits. As the valley contained no suitable water source, water was brought from the Luxulyan Valley some 6.4 km away, via an aqueduct to two large reservoir ponds located on the hillside above the harbour. These ponds were also used to power other industrial activities including a waterwheel for Charlestown Mill to the north. Finally, the first dock gates were completed in 1799.


The breakwater as seen from the site of the gun battery which can be visited
today

Image: Michael Harpur


The level of activity during the construction period 1790-1810 and following the completion must have been phenomenal. As alongside the docks, a host of ancillary works necessary for the business of the new industrial settlement and harbour were also part of the works. These included shipbuilding and repairs, a foundry and tin-smelting house, as well as dry-stores and yards for ore, china stone, and coal and timber. The large, open, cobbled areas were essentially holding bays required for the storage of goods in transit. A large kiln was located on the site of the present harbour office at the quayside, as well as others in the harbour area that were used to burn imported limestone to create lime for the building trade and agricultural fertiliser.


The drying outer basin was the first part of the harbour to be completed
Image: Michael Harpur


The port that Rashleigh and Smeaton initially conceived was substantially finished at the turn of the century. Charlestown quickly became the principal port for the St. Austell mining boom. Copper ore was exported to the smelters in South Wales with a return import cargo of coal to power the engines of the local mines. China clay and china stone were exported to the potteries in the Midlands and timber and limestone was imported. Rashleigh did not overlook the existing pilchard fishing industry and Charlestown also became one of the most significant fishing stations along this area of the coastline. Despite competition from the port at Pentewan, which opened in 1826, and from Par across the bay, which opened shortly afterwards, Charlestown prospered. It became a model new Georgian town and as the business started to grow so did its population which was recorded as 2,871 in the 1851 Census.



The drying outer basin at low water as seen over the tide gates
Image: Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0


Sadly the story would not end well for Rashleigh himself. He appointed his personal servant and footman Joseph Dingle to the role of superintendent of works for the harbour. It was a tragic misjudgement of character and Dingle systematically embezzled around £32,000 from the project - a sum equivalent to circa £2.5 million in current terms. The subsequent financial difficulties and personal legal battles over the embezzled money would bankrupt both Dingle and Rashleigh. Rashleigh died in 1823 leaving such sizeable debts that his family were forced from Duporth and the estate was put up for sale. Charlestown Harbour was caught up in the financial problems of his estate but weathered the storm to thrive for a further half-century.



Square Sail Ships impounded in Charlestown
Image: Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0


By the 1870s the copper mining in this area of Cornwall had collapsed and the notoriously elusive pilchard shoals had disappeared. But the harbour then got a second wind in the then rapid expansion in the export of china clay. In 1876 alone, Charlestown shipped over 34,000 tons of china clay. But as the ships of the 20th century grew the limitations of the harbour, the drying outer basin, the narrow entrance and dog-leg turn into the wet basin, started to restrict the type of vessel it could accommodate. By the 1990s, the size of vessels used for the transport of china clay had outgrown the harbour and the export trade went to Par and Fowey instead, soon after Par would also lose out to the deepwater port of Fowey.


Yacht alongside in Charlestown's inner wet basin
Image: Michael Harpur


By then Charlestown, with its almost entirely intact and narrow Georgian Harbour and the well-preserved overlooking terraces of Georgian houses and cottages, had become an attraction for tourists and more important filmmakers. It had first appeared in movies such as the 1940s ‘Frenchman's Creek’ and many TV series including the 1970s ‘The Onedin Line’. With this purpose in mind, the ‘Square Sail’ company bought the harbour and various surrounding buildings and land in 1993. The inner floating basin then became home to their square-rigged vessels which they made available for corporate charter and for the tuition of the skills of the traditional offshore seaman.


Yacht alongside in Charlestown's inner wet basin
Image: Michael Harpur


Much of Square Sail's business involved using the harbour and their ships as film sets such as the late 1990’s ‘Hornblower’ and ‘A Respectable Trade' and the 2015 Poldark television series. It also featured in movies such as the 1997 'Rebecca', 1999 'Longitude', 2016 'Taboo' and it also featured in Tim Burton's 2010 'Alice in Wonderland'. Today Charlestown is acknowledged as appearing in more films and television series than any other location in Cornwall. Charlestown's ships, Earl of Pembroke, Kaskelot and Phoenix, all authentic 20th-century replicas, earn their keep as film stars in movies themselves. They can sometimes be visited when 'resting' between film and TV appearances.


The inner end of the wet basin
Image: Michael Harpur


In 2019 the harbour changed hands again to Eden Project co-founder Sir Tim Smit. Sir Tim, who also founded the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan, is adding the port to the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre in Charlestown which he bought in 2016. His vision is to continue to enhance the unique Georgian nature of the harbour.


Shipwreck and Heritage Centre just above the moored schooner
Image: Michael Harpur


The history of this wonderful unspoilt port can be further explored in the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre that started in 1976 in one of the former dry-stores for china clay on Quay Road. The centre contains a number of exhibits relating to Charlestown's maritime past along with more unusual artefacts from over 150 shipwrecks along Cornwall's coast. It is also possible to explore the underground tunnels where clay was stored, in the museum. People who like to stride out can take a walk from Charlestown over to either Carlyon Bay and Fowey in the east, or Porthpean in the west of St Austell Bay. For those with family aboard the harbour has two well-frequented gently shelving beaches on either side of the entrance.


Basking in the history of the inner wet basin
Image: Michael Harpur


From a boating point of view, the same limitations of the drying outer basin, the narrow entrance and dog-leg turn into the inner basin, that halted its development as a commercial harbour can be just as off-putting today to skippers of leisure vessels who dislike manoeuvring in confined spaces. But this is a rare gem of a location as it provides the opportunity to step back in time and moor up opposite some beautiful square riggers in a Georgian port overlooked by granite cottages. Once alongside, it is possible to enjoy that nostalgia with complete peace of mind as it is the only perfectly secure berth the bay has to offer. Likewise, it is also the only berth where a vessel may be safely left to visit The Eden Project that is less than 10 minutes by taxi from Charlestown.


What facilities are available?
Although moving into new management, Square Sail have in the past carried out a wide range of work on boats providing various shipwrights, spar repairers, riggers, sailmakers, electronics and instrumentation experts. Vessels can be hauled out here if required. When working on vessels berthing is free of charge.

The village has two good pubs, 'The Pier House Hotel' and the 'Rashleigh Arms' public house owned by St Austell Brewery. Its post office has now closed, but there is a small store, and number of places to eat. There is also a cafe in the museum.

Almost everything can be had at the large town of St Austell situated about a mile away. It has a mainline train station with a bus station facing the entrance, which makes for an easy interchange between buses and trains. National Express coach services call here and there is a dedicated link that operates to the Eden Project.


With thanks to:
eOceanic


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The above plots are not precise and indicative only.






Charlestown Aerial Overview



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