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A fast passage from The Solent to Waymouth

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What is the route?
This is a tidal efficiency for vessels making a westbound passage from Cowes or The Solent area in general to Weymouth and beyond.

Why sail this route?
The tides of The Solent and the channel are formidable. There are many areas where tidal streams can leave a boat standing during springs and most small vessels will not be able to make progress against a foul tide in a tide gate such as the Needles Channel on the western tip of the Isle of Wight.

Conversely, get the timing right and the body of water that would halt all progress provides a seamless fast conveyor to your destination. This route provides a tidal timing efficiency that enables a fast passage westward from Cowes, or indeed locations further east such as Portsmouth, allowing a vessel to make a single jump westward as far as Weymouth with a fair tide all the way. Using this efficiency a boat capable of making 5 knots through the water should make Weymouth before the tide turns adverse.

Tidal overview
Today's summary tidal overview for this route as of Tuesday, October 4th at 15:14. The key to this passage is to pick up the back eddy along northwest Wight. After this everything falls into place.

Northeast Wight Back Eddy

(HW Dover -0240 to -0200)

Starts in 01:19:02

(Tue 16:34 to 17:14)

What are the navigational notes?
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the route. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Clicking the 'Expand to Fullscreen' icon opens a larger viewing area in a new tab.

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The above plots are not precise and are indicative only.


This is a tidal efficiency that utilises a back eddy along the northwest coast of the Isle Of Wight that enables a vessel to pass through the western Solent, exit The Needles and enter into the English Channel streams when all the tides are favourable. Careful pilotage is essential when hugging the coast of northwest Wight so as to make the best of the back-eddy. It is therefore critical to familiarise oneself with the northwest coast as set out in The Solent and Isle of Wight Route location Coastal Overview alongside a detailed set of charts and the waypoints provided are suitable for your vessel.


The starboard buoy off the entrance to Cowes Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

The following are the key tidal gates for the passage. The route suggests a passage from Cowes Harbour Click to view haven, as best described in the Folly Inn Click to view haven entry the efficiency may be utilised from surrounding locations. Hence, addition tidal gates are provided to assist a passage from other parts of The Solent and or Portsmouth.

  • • Calshot Spit Back Eddy along the mainland HW Dover -3:40

  • • Cowes Back Eddy along northwest Wight HW Dover -2:40

  • • Eastern Solent Tide sets west in Stokes Bay/Off Wooton HW Dover -1:40

  • • Western Solent Tide sets west in Hurst Narrows HW Dover -0:40

  • • Anvil Point Tide sets west at HW Dover

The English Channel turns adverse, eastward, at HW Dover +6 which provides a fair tide window of 9 hours for this journey of a little under 50 miles as plotted. Should the tide turn before arriving at Weymouth the adverse tides that will be experienced in Weymouth Bay are less severe than those that would be encountered further out in the channel.

Weymouth Harbour in the northwest corner of Weymouth Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Another useful tidal efficiencies for continuing further westward from Weymouth Bay, as far as Start Point, is possible by optimising the timing detailed in Rounding Portland Bill by the 'Inner Passage' Route location.


St. Alban's, or St Aldhelm's, Head
Image: Robin Webster via CC BY-SA 2.0
Care should be taken when rounding Saint Alban’s Head as Saint Alban’s Ledge, with depths of 8.5 to 16 metres, extends up to 2.5 miles southwest of the headland. Lit buoys associated with this range are moored in the vicinity of the ledge. The unevenness of the ground generally precipitates a race that can be hazardous for leisure craft and particularly so during Springs with blustery wind-over-tide conditions. The race extends about one mile offshore and is sometimes found more westerly and sometimes more easterly depending on whether the wind and tide are with or against each other.

As this passage is with the west-going stream and the prevailing winds are southwesterly it is most likely that the race will be running. If the wind-against-tide is Beaufort F5 or more it is best to pass south around the race and take the extra miles. Neap tides are always better than springs of course.

St. Alban's Race
Image: Robin Webster via CC BY-SA 2.0
The suggested waypoint is set close to St. Alban's Head and inside the race that, on the west-going tide, will be to the southwest of the head. The indicated waypoint is only for positioning as this is all eyeball navigation depending upon the position of the race. Rough water will most likely to have been experienced on the run from Anvil Point to St. Alban's Head but close inshore it is much better, not completely calm, but very much better. As St. Alban's Head is approached the race will clear seen and well-defined flat sea area is up to at least 75 metres wide from the head. The head is very steep too and has deep water close in, so go in as close in as it feels comfortable.

Precautions should be made well before Anvil Point in case you do drop down into the race. It can produce large standing waves which rather suddenly rear up in front of the vessel when crossing the ledge. By the time you have seen them, with the tide running beneath you, it is too late to turn back you just have to push on through. Hence it is best to have everything squared away below decks before Anvil Point, all hatches closed and all crew are in heavy weather gear with lifejackets and harnesses clipped on.

St Alban's Head NCI Lookout Station
Image: Robin Webster via CC BY-SA 2.0
The engine should be running, on standby or for motor sailing, but maintain a sharp lookout. One of the primary hazards of the area are its numerous lobster pot buoys can be moored up to a ½ mile of the shore in the vicinity of Saint Alban’s Head during the sailing season. They are sometimes sub-surface because they are dragged under by the current so it might be prudent not to have the prop turning in this area.

If you get caught in the overfalls, don't panic, the best option is just let the tide carry you through. The standing waves will stall the boat and shake all the wind out of the sails and it is not much better under power so steering is difficult. The currents will deliver the vessel out the other side very quickly.

If you have further concerns St. Alban's Head NCI Lookout Station is situated on the headland overlooking the race and they should be able to advise. Call +44 1929 439220 to contact the lookout during opening hours or leave a voicemail if it is not answered. Calls are usually actioned the next working day. The lookout itself is not equipped with e-mail facilities but enquiries to the Station can be made to e: st.albans.head@nci.org.uk which is checked frequently but is not monitored 24/7.


A firing range area resides between Saint Alban’s Head and Lulworth Cove extending 12 miles seaward. When the range is in use three range safety boats, VHF Ch. 08 and 16, patrol the edges of the danger area. Red flags and red flashing lights are displayed above the coast guard station on St. Alban’s Head and on Bindon Hill, with its distinctive white chalk scar, in the west side of Worbarrow Bay. Other inland range boundary red flags may be seen from time to time but these can be ignored by those at sea.

Red Flag shown on Povington Hill
Image: Bob Embleton via CC BY-SA 2.0
The Lulworth Gunnery Range schedule may be obtained in advance from the 'Lulworth Range Walks and Tyneham Village' opening times website or by phone from the range safety officer P: +44 1929 404701 or +44 1929 404712. A recording of range operating times is given out on P: +44 1929 404819. Fortunately, the range is closed most weekends and during the main school summer holiday periods.

In the event of any uncertainty Portland Coastguard, VHF Channel 8, will be delighted to advise. The range safety boats may also be contacted by VHF and the range safety officer by phone as above. Technically yachts may pass through the firing area and some do so enduring considerable pressure from the safety boats. But this is not recommended as it is inconsiderate and disrupts the firing schedule. All that it means is a few extra miles are added to the journey.


The complete course is 46.45 miles from the waypoint 'Cowes Harbour Entrance' to 'Weymouth Harbour' tending in a west south westerly direction (reciprocal east north easterly).

Cowes Harbour Entrance, 50° 46.069' N, 001° 18.037' W
The position of the Starboard Buoy at the entrance to Cowes Harbour.

       Next waypoint: 0.13 miles, course 313.11°T (reciprocal 133.11°T)

Moorings, 50° 46.158' N, 001° 18.187' W
Close north of the unlit moorings immediately west of Cowes Harbour entrance.

       Next waypoint: 0.44 miles, course 274.46°T (reciprocal 94.46°T)

Egypt Point, 50° 46.192' N, 001° 18.879' W
The race buoy close north of Egypt Point, Fl. Y4s (Mar-Dec).

       Next waypoint: 0.43 miles, course 239.82°T (reciprocal 59.82°T)

Race Buoy, 50° 45.974' N, 001° 19.472' W
Immediately north of a race buoy situated close west of Egypt Point, Fl. Y4s (Mar-Dec).

       Next waypoint: 0.75 miles, course 225.56°T (reciprocal 45.56°T)

Gurnard Ledge, 50° 45.449' N, 001° 20.318' W
Immediately south of the Gurnard Ledge buoy Fl(4) G.15s. This marks the dangerous Gurnard Ledge situated ¾ of a mile east from the head. It runs nearly parallel to the shore with parts of it drying at low water springs.

       Next waypoint: 0.61 miles, course 227.48°T (reciprocal 47.48°T)

Quarry Ledge, 50° 45.040' N, 001° 21.023' W
Close west of Quarry Ledge that extends 300 metres from Gurnard Head.

       Next waypoint: 0.70 miles, course 230.89°T (reciprocal 50.89°T)

Thorness Bay, 50° 44.598' N, 001° 21.882' W
Close south of the Thorness Bay race buoy, Fl. Y4s (Mar-Dec).

       Next waypoint: 2.83 miles, course 250.74°T (reciprocal 70.74°T)

Hamstead Ledge, 50° 43.665' N, 001° 26.095' W
Close outside Hamstead Ledge that is situated a ½ mile west of the entrance to Newtown Creek and 3 miles east of Yarmouth. The ledge extends 250 metres from the shore and this is close outside the ledge and inside the Hamstead Ledge can buoy, FL(2)G.5s, that will be seen about a ¼ of a mile from the shore.

       Next waypoint: 3.60 miles, course 251.90°T (reciprocal 71.90°T)

Sconce, 50° 42.546' N, 001° 31.492' W
Immediately north of the 'Sconce' north cardinal mark, Q, situated 250 metres off the shoreline. The cardinal is moored off the disused Fort Victoria that overlooks The Solent from Sconce Point which forms the northwest extremity of the Isle of Wight.

       Next waypoint: 4.77 miles, course 228.35°T (reciprocal 48.35°T)

SW Shingles, 50° 39.377' N, 001° 37.108' W
Close east of the ‘SW Shingles’ port light buoy, Fl. R. 2.5s, marking the southwest end of Shingles. The Shingles bank commences to the west of The Needles. From there it extends east by northeast for 3 miles to its northeast extremity that terminates about half a mile out from Hurst Beach. Its south-eastern face forms the northwest side of the Needles Channel.

       Next waypoint: 13.59 miles, course 252.92°T (reciprocal 72.92°T)

Anvil Point, 50° 35.359' N, 001° 57.557' W
Close south of Anvil Point located a ⅓ of a mile southwest of Durlston Head and 3.5 miles east by northeast of Saint Alban’s Head. Anvil Point is low and cliffy with higher land close within and a lighthouse, standing on the point, comprises a conspicuous dwelling and tower 12 metres high.

       Next waypoint: 3.75 miles, course 256.95°T (reciprocal 76.95°T)

Alban’s Head, 50° 34.510' N, 002° 3.308' W
Saint Alban’s Head, also known as Saint Aldhelm’s Head, is a bold headland 107 metres high, on the summit of which is an ancient chapel and coastguard station. Saint Aldhelm's Head Coastguard maintain a light on the headland, Iso.R.2s (occas). Care should be taken when rounding this point as Saint Alban’s Ledge generally has a race running off it.

       Next waypoint: 14.85 miles, course 278.44°T (reciprocal 98.44°T)

Weymouth Harbour, 50° 36.650' N, 002° 26.445' W
This is Weymouth Harbour's initial fix set about 250 metres outside the harbour entrance on the alignment, of about 240° T of the harbour’s red transit lights F.R.

What is the best sailing time?
May to September is the traditional UK Sailing season with June-July offering the best weather. The British Isles weather is highly variable, and the amount of bad weather varies quite widely from year to year. This is because they are islands positioned between the Atlantic Ocean and the large landmass of continental Europe. As a result, the entire area lays under an area where five main air masses meet and alternate:

  • • Tropical Maritime Air Mass - from the Atlantic

  • • Polar Maritime Air Mass - from Greenland

  • • Arctic Maritime Air Mass

  • • Polar Continental Air Mass - from central Europe

  • • Tropical Continental Air Mass - from North Africa

Depending on the movements of the jet stream, any and all of these air masses can come in over the isles, creating weather fronts where they meet and bringing with them all types of weather.

The prevailing winds for the British Isles as a whole are from the western quarter which generally blows for two-thirds of the year predominantly from the southwest. Gales from the westward are felt in all seasons, but from November to March, inclusive, they are most frequent and generally last three or four days. Of these, a southwest gale is considered to be the most powerful system. The winter period is largely characterised by wind and rain.

The fine summer weather of the sailing season is typically punctuated by the passage of Atlantic depression that bringing periods of strong wind and rain, and sometimes poor visibility. These gales rarely cause surprises as they are usually forecasted well in advance. Good weather windows of 48 hours are easy to predict but any longer than that there's an increasing chance of change.

Fogs are frequent in all parts of the Channel and are formed both on the English and French coasts. In summer they only obscure the land in the morning and are readily dispersed by heat or a light breeze. But the moist haze, driven in by westerly winds from the sea, tends to linger and is only dispersed by strong winds. In the eastern part of the Channel, it is rare for the land to be completely free from mists. The only exception is when the wind is from the northeast which makes the mist free coastline highly distinctive from a great distance.

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