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Portscatho

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Overview





Portscatho is a small village in a cove situated on England's southwest coast about three miles northeast of the entrance to Falmouth Harbour. It offers visitor buoys and an anchorage outside its small drying harbour.

The cove provides tolerable shelter in moderate offshore conditions from west round to north. Positioned in the southwest end of a clean bay with gradually descending depths to the shore, the approach is straightforward during daylight and at any stage of the tide.



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Keyfacts for Portscatho
Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway 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 area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pier

Protected sectors

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

Approaches
4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
Shelter
3 stars: Tolerable; in suitable conditions a vessel may be left unwatched and an overnight stay.



Last modified
March 19th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A tolerable location with straightforward access.

Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway 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 area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pier



Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 10.906' N, 004° 58.250' W

This is in a depth of about 3 metres 150 metres to the northeast of Portscatho's small pier.

What is the initial fix?

The following Portscatho Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
50° 10.940' N, 004° 57.840' W
This is about midway between Pencabe and Pednvaden on the 10-metre contour.


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

  • A central approach from the southeast steering for Gerrans Church, a good seamark for Portscatho, presents no issue.

  • Vessels approaching from Veryan Bay need to navigate around Gull Rock and The Whelps.

  • Vessels approaching from southwest should be aware that races and overfalls, called The Bizzies, can occur over an underwater ledge extending from Greeb Point.


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 Portscatho for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Saint Mawes - 1.4 miles SW
  2. Falmouth - 2.5 miles WSW
  3. The River Fal - 3.5 miles NNW
  4. Gillan Creek - 4.6 miles SW
  5. Helford River - 4.9 miles SW
  6. Gorran Haven - 4.9 miles ENE
  7. Portmellon - 5.4 miles NE
  8. Mevagissey - 5.6 miles NE
  9. Coverack - 6.6 miles SSW
  10. Charlestown - 7.5 miles NE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Saint Mawes - 1.4 miles SW
  2. Falmouth - 2.5 miles WSW
  3. The River Fal - 3.5 miles NNW
  4. Gillan Creek - 4.6 miles SW
  5. Helford River - 4.9 miles SW
  6. Gorran Haven - 4.9 miles ENE
  7. Portmellon - 5.4 miles NE
  8. Mevagissey - 5.6 miles NE
  9. Coverack - 6.6 miles SSW
  10. Charlestown - 7.5 miles NE
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?
Portscatho Quay set into the southern corner of a small Gerrans Bay bight
Image: Michael Harpur


Portscatho is located on the Roseland Peninsula and tucked into the south-westerly corner of Gerrans Bay of which it is the main village. Set into the southern end of a small east-facing cove, located between Pencabe and Pednvaden, it has a small pier on its southern side that gives protection to the drying foreshore. This provides protection for a drying harbour, from which a few part-time boats of less than 5 metres work their pots and nets. The fishing village adjoins Gerrans which is in such close proximity that the two villages have effectively coalesced.

The harbour is run by the local council and they provide seasonal moorings. For further information contact Simon Taffnder, 1000 - 1230 Mon, Wed, Fri, Landline+44 1872 580 243, E-mailtaffndersimon@gmail.com or a alternatively, Andy Brigden, Maritime Manager, E-mailabrigden@cornwall.gov.uk. Visitors Moorings are charged £15.00 per day, or for a short stay of up to 2 hours £3.00 exclusive of VAT (set at 20%). It is possible to anchor outside of the moorings in good holding. The drying harbour is best left to its collection of small open boats but can prove useful for landing.


How to get in?
Portscatho is tucked into the south-westerly corner of Gerrans Bay
Image: Michael Harpur


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

Gerrans Bay is entered between Greeb Point and Nare Head. The bay is 3½ miles wide and 1½ miles deep with soundings from 25 metres in the centre gradually decreasing to the shore. The bay is clear of dangers but at low water, the rocks dry out to 200 metres offshore.


Nare Head, Gull Rock and The Whelps as seen over Portscatho Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Western Approach Vessels approaching from the east should make note of Gull Rock and The Whelps. The significant Gull Rock is a 38 metres high jagged pyramid that lies a ⅓ of a mile south-eastward from Nare Head, which is the north entrance to the bay. It has a 600 metres wide clear passage between it and the land that passes from Veryan Bay to Gerrans Bay with the least depth being 6 metres.

The spire of the church standing in Gerrans, above Portscatho and 2½ miles southwest of Nare Head, is conspicuous from seaward. Keeping the spire midway between Nare Head and Gull Rock on 248° T leads through the passage.

Those passing south of Gull Rock need to navigate around The Whelps. This is a covered reef with two detached rocky patches that mostly dry to 4.6 metres, and which extends 600 metres south-southwest from Gull Rock. At its southern extremity is the outer Whelp, which is the larger of the two detached rocks, with the middle Whelp being located about midway between it and Gull Rock. Both rocks may be approached to within 200 metres in good conditions.


The 77 metres high Gerrans Spire, top right, is visible throughout the bay
Image: Michael Harpur


South Western Approach Vessels approaching from the southwest should note a spit extends a mile eastward from Greeb Point. An area of races and overfalls called The Bizzies can occur around this underwater ledge and especially over its outer shallowest rocky patch that has a least depth of 3.8 metres. It is an area best avoided in fresh winds and groundswell.

A central approach from the southeast presents no issue. Gerrans Church, with its 77 metres high spire located a ¼ inland, is clearly visible from offshore making a good seamark for Portscatho.


The moorings situated to the northwest of the quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Initial fix location From the initial fix sound into a depth of your preference to the northeast of the harbour where the yellow mooring buoys will be seen. Drying rocks extend to seaward around its small harbour area and modern breakwater, so stand well off this area.


The channel cut through the rock to the quay at low water
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Anchor according to draft and conditions leaving the harbour clear for small craft. There is plenty of space outside the moorings to anchoring in 5 metres with good holding in sand and shingle.

Local boats behind the quay at low water
Image: Michael Harpur


Land at the quay or on the beach. Those intending on landing at the quay should note that it is entered through a channel. This has been cut through the rocks around the head of the pier to enable half-tide access. The rocks on either side of it dry to about 3 metres. The comings and goings of local boats keeps the seaweed clear of its approaches so that the exposed sand makes the path highly visible.


Pednvaden head and the sandy Porthcurnick Beach
Image: Michael Harpur


It is also possible to sound in 300 metres northward, under Pednvaden, and anchor in sand. Land on the sandy Porthcurnick beach or come south to Portscatho. At low tide, Porthcurnick has acres of flat sand and being a National Trust owned beach it has toilet facilities.


Why visit here?
Portscatho, or more correctly 'Portscatha' derives its name from the conjunction of the old Cornish words of Porth and scathow. The word scathow being the plural of schath meaning 'large rowing-boat', so the name means 'harbour' or 'cove' of 'rowing boats'.


Historically the harbour had no quay, just its natural protective rock formation
Image: Michael Harpur


Protected from the prevailing winds the little cove of Portscatho is likely to have been used for launching fishing boats since mediaeval times. The small harbour that is seen today developed during the 18th and 19th-century pilchard fishing boom. 'The pilchard' as Alan Kittridge noted in his 1989 'Cornwall's Maritime Heritage',' was responsible for the development of virtually all of Cornwall's picturesque fishing villages and coves'. This included Portscatho which was in its time one of the busiest pilchard ports on Cornwall's south coast.


The small quay was not added until 1891
Image: Michael Harpur


It was on the little oily fish that the community was built, the fishermen, the women and children who packed the fish for export, the boatbuilders, the rope makers and the men who made nets, as well as the smiths, masons and carpenters who built the cellars. An 1841 map shows two fish cellars, and a coastguard watch-house was noted on an 1880 map. The original harbour was protected by just its naturally occurring rocks and it was not until 1891 that the small quay was constructed.


The view from the quay across the cove to Pednvaden
Image: Michael Harpur


Yet, guided by shouts from ‘Huers’ from the high surrounding cliffs, the small natural harbour brought in enormous quantities of fish. During the great catch of 1908, when the pilchards were almost overpoweringly abundant, the fishermen worked continuously through several days to land four and a half million. But as was well noted by Fortescue Hitchins and Samuel Drew in their 1824 'The History of Cornwall' research piece ... 'few things are more precarious than the adventures in the pilchard fisheries', it was a boom-and-bust occupation. The great hauls were a thing of legends but the fortunes of the fishing seasons could so easily fluctuate from one year to the next. As was the case with almost all other coastal Cornish villages, the community had a side income from smuggling, to even out their highly unpredictable earnings.


The channel cut through the rock to the quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Portscatho was one of the last locations to maintain its smuggling activities along this coast. It continued well into the 1840s when Cornwall’s black market economy had all but come to a close. Being so remote and having the benefit of the adjoining hills, where scouts could reliably see the approach of any revenue cutters, it avoided the clampdown that put an end to most other ports. It was only after 1841, when Prime Minister Robert Peel killed it off by eliminating tariffs on more than 600 products, that Portscatho let go of the rough trade.


Many of the houses overlooking the harbour today date back to the 19th-century
Image: Michael Harpur


The village has all the characteristics of a traditional Cornish fishing village, including a harbour wall reportedly one of the county’s largest granite breakwaters, and surrounded by many small stone buildings. All set below a rising hinterland with a higher village that has streets, a church and many houses that are larger than the usual cottages. The latter being set well away from the invasive smell of the oily fish, the proceeds from which financed their construction.


Unlit port beacon on the pierhead
Image: Michael Harpur


Today the two villages of Gerrans and Portscatho have now virtually merged into one, although they have retained their individual identities and there is still some local rivalry between the two. But Portscatho's fishing days are all but over. Today there are only three part-time boats of less than 5 metres working pots and nets from here. The sea still yields a harvest, but the larger catch since the 19th century has been holidaymakers, who return year after year to this small holiday resort. Its beaches, cafés and tiny harbour tend to attract an arty crowd, the Portscatho Society of Artists was formed here in 1984. It has the air of a village recently found by tourists, but not yet taken over.


Portscatho beach at high water
Image: Tim Green


The same shelter that attracts boaters makes for great family appeal with safe swimming, ample rock pools to explore, and fine sandy beaches. It also offers interesting walks with an abundance of wildflowers. Much of Gerrans Bay is surrounded by National Trust land and the surrounding countryside of the Roseland Peninsula is perhaps some of the most beautiful on the Coastal Path. Portscatho represents England as it was and should be. However most of the people here are holidaymakers with the bulk of the housing being for rent or second homes. This makes it is a delight in the season, but unfortunately it means that the locals are priced out of owning properties so the village is absolutely dead in the middle of winter.

The protected cove with views out over Gerrans Bay make it an attractive target
for a second home

Image: Michael Harpur


From a boating perspective, being so close to Falmouth and affording shelter from the prevailing south-westerly winds, it is a very popular days sail for many of its boatmen. It makes for a good anchorage in westerly winds as a ridge of land to the south and west of the villages protects it from the worst of the prevailing winds. So it makes for a wonderful out of the way location for the coastal cruiser, except of course when the 'east wind doth blow'.


What facilities are available?
Toilets near the beach. In the village centre, you’ll find several shops including a butcher and a decent grocery/off licence. It is possible to buy locally caught fish and locally grown garden produce as well as a locally produced crafts. The Plume of Feathers pub serves up St Austell Ales and good pub grub. Five minutes walk up the hill to Gerrans provides another good pub, the Royal Standard.


With thanks to:
eOceanic


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