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Coastal Overview from Portland Bill to Start Point

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What is the route?
This is the Coastal Overview for the area between Portland Bill and Start Point. Detailed coastal overviews are intended to be read alongside local area charts so that the key considerations may be noted and pencilled in well in advance. The intention is not only to make passages safer, by highlighting coastal dangers but also to make them more enjoyable by presenting all the havens along the way so that the occasional coastal gem might not be overlooked. The sequence of description is from east to west or coastal clockwise.

Why sail this route?
Cruising encompasses a combination of long passage runs, to move between coastal sailing grounds and more detailed inshore navigation within the sailing areas. Our 'Coastal Overviews' strive to support both these requirements by providing a combination of key coastal characteristics and immediate offshore area dangers to assist in local approaches to a desired haven's initial fix. Illustrated waypoints should only be considered as an indicative route. They need not be adhered to in order if a coastal section is being passed over provided the intended cut has been checked to be free of hazards.

Tidal overview
Today's summary tidal overview for this route as of Wednesday, April 17th at 13:43. The following tide indicator is indicative of the tides to the south of Portland Bill where a dangerous tidal race, called Portland Race, exists. The Race normally extends about 2 miles south of the Bill, a little to the west during the west-going ebb, and to the east during the east-going flood, as best seen on the charts. The worst part of Portland Race, being well defined by overfalls, is formed one to two miles south of the point but it can extend much further south in bad weather.

The race is caused by very strong south going currents that run, for 10 out of 12 hours, along the east and west sides of Portland Peninsula to converge close south of the Bill. This convergence happens whilst colliding with the main east/west going English Channel currents when they are being pushed upward over the uneven and shoaling bottom of Portland Ledge that extends 1¼ miles southward of the Bill.

The result is one of the most dangerous extended areas of broken water a vessel can encounter in the English Channel. During spring tides, streams attain 7 knots in the direction of the main current and flows of 10 knots have been found in and close by the race. In fine weather, the noise caused by the Race may be heard for a considerable distance. Conversely, at Neaps, the race can be barely perceptible.

The safest and easiest approach is always to be found by ‘passing outside’, or to seaward of the race and its overfalls. It is recommended that leisure craft should keep at least three to five miles south of the Bill during calm weather or at least seven miles in bad conditions, especially so during wind-over-tide conditions on a spring tide. The east-going flood to the south of the race is favourable for the best part of 7 hours from HW Dover +6.

South & East going tide

(HW Dover +0545 to -0040)


(Tidal flow )

Ends in 04:42:44

(Wed 12:26 to 18:26)

South & West going tide

(HW Dover -0040 to +0545)

Starts in 04:57:44

(Wed 18:41 to 01:06)

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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Please zoom out (-) if all of the waypoints are not displayed.
The above plots are not precise and are indicative only.


From a cruising perspective proceeding westward from Portland Bill opens one of England’s most spectacular cruising grounds of western Dorset and eastern Devon. A passage from the Bill of Portland to Start Point is 50 miles southwest and the coast curves inward into the broad sweep of Lyme Bay. The head of Lyme Bay provides few berthing opportunities off all the small coastal towns that are largely only sheltered from northerly winds. From Portland Bill to Exmouth any anchorages off all the small coastal towns are largely only sheltered from northerly winds. Continuing southward along the Devon coast, especially so from Babbacombe Bay, there is a good measure of protection from the prevailing south westerlies and possibilities abound.

Start Point, known as 'The Start' by mariners of old, is a significant English Channel transition point. At about Start Point, the seaway takes on the long deep Oceanic wave of the lower Channel as opposed to the short ‘chop’ of the channel.

The Tides in the English Channel will be a central planning feature for all cruisers. The area between Start Point and Selsey Bill plays host to a tidal Channel peculiarity. To the west of Start Point, the stream turns progressively later as the tide advances up the Strait. But in the vicinity of Start Point, these progressive stream changes cease. After this, the Ocean’s outer stream contends with the weight of a body of water contained between the Oceanic stream and the Strait of Dover. These two bodies run in contrary directions for most of the tidal cycle. They oppose each other in the area between Start Point to Selsey Bill and as far southward as the Gulf of St. Malo.

In all events, the tidal flows should be closely examined with great care, so as to make the best progress. There are a host of useful harbours and bays to wait out a foul stream along this coast or indeed run for cover in the event of the advance of foul weather. Fast passages can be had along here and it is possible to traverse the coastline in as little as two tides.


Bill of Portland
Image: CC0

On the southeast side of Portland Bill, the southern extreme of the Portland Peninsula there stands the conspicuous 41-metre high tower of Portland Bill Light.

Portland Bill - Lighthouse Fl(4)20s43m25M & F.R19m13M Dia(1)30s position: 50° 30'.848 N 002° 27'.384 W

Another light is exhibited from the west face of the Isle 250 metres northwest of the lighthouse Oc.(2)Y.10s10M. A stone beacon stands at an elevation of 18 metres on the southern extremity of the shore and is meant to warn small vessels of a rock shelf with several loose boulders which front the point. The prominent structure of a former light, Old Low Light, is situated 0.4 miles north by northeast of Portland Bill Light.

A dangerous tidal race, called Portland Race, exists to the south of Portland Bill. The Race normally extends about 2 miles south of the Bill, a little to the west during the West going ebb, and to the east during the East going flood, as best seen on the charts. The worst part of Portland Race, being well defined by overfalls, is formed one to two miles south of the point but it can extend much further south in bad weather.

In heavy weather, especially when the wind is blowing against the current, a severe and very dangerous sea state occurs with irregular steep standing waves and breakers. In an easterly gale, against the body of the flood stream, the whole space between Portland and the Shambles is one sheet of broken water. Even in fine weather, the noise caused by the Race may be heard for a considerable distance. Conversely, during neeps with fair winds, the race can be barely perceptible.

The majority of Weymouth's lifeboat calls are to rescue yachts that were unaware of the race’s dangers and were unexpectedly swept into the tumult unable to escape. So, in all circumstances, Portland Race should be avoided by small craft. The options, therefore, are to avoid the Portland Race by ‘passing outside’ of the area, or by taking the 'inside passage' between the Bill and the race.

  • • The safest route is always to pass outside of the Portland Race as this coastal overview along with the Needles to Portland Bill Route location provides waypoints to seaward of the race and its overfalls. Keep at least three to five miles south of the Bill during calm weather or at least seven miles in bad conditions, especially so during wind-over-tide conditions on a spring tide. The east-going flood to the south of the race is favourable for the best part of 7 hours from HW Dover +6.

  • • Pass close south of the Bill in an area of relatively smooth water, located anywhere between the rocks off the end of the Bill and the Race to the south. The shorter 'Inside Passage' is a useful channel for leisure craft. It is an area of relatively smooth water where the currents are more moderate between ½ and ¾ of a mile wide, with depths of from 5 to 16 metres. It is this preferred option in good conditions, neap tides, settled seas, wind and current in accord and timed for slack water with the tide turning favourable for the direction intended. The 'Routes' entry Rounding Portland Bill by the 'Inner Passage' Route location provides tidal timer and indicative set of waypoints for this approach.

Tall Ship taking the 'inner passage'
Image: © Marc Bryans

From the Bill of Portland the coast curves in a north-westward direction for 24 miles to Lyme Regis. Then it curves inward in a broad sweep trending westward for 15 miles to Exmouth. Within this area between the extreme points between Bill of Portland and Straight Point, situated 35 miles to the west, is Lyme Bay. Straight Point the western entrance point, is formed of earth cliffs. From it, the coast then trends two miles northeast to Otterton Point.
Please note

A firing range area, marked by two lighted buoys, extends up to 1.5 miles east of Straight Point as best indicated on the chart. Red flags are displayed when the rifle range is in use.

Portland and Chesil Beach westward from the Isle of Portland
Image: Spencer Means via CC BY-SA 2.0

From the north end of the Portland Peninsula to Bridport, the coast is almost straight from its low extended point of the southern extremity of the Bill of Portland. The southeast part of this stretch is formed by Chesil Beach. This beach consists of a steep-to narrow isthmus of shingle, about 200 metres wide and 13 metres high. Lagoons lie between the inner side of this isthmus and the land.

Chesil Beach to the Isle of Portland as seen from the northwest
Image: John Armagh

The deep bight of West Bay, particularly so Chesil Cove on the northwest side of the Isle of Portland, is sheltered from winds between south by southeast and north by east.

Chesil Cove as seen from The Vern
Image: Jim Champion via CC BY-SA 2.0
Therefore they make a good location to wait for a favourable tide to get around the Bill. But it should be used with some caution as it is far from ideal. The water is deep and steep to the shoreline and the holding ground, of loose gravel and shells, is poor. If a sudden, but not uncommon, shift of wind takes place, to the west, a heavy sea soon gets up. So vessels should be watchful and ready to vacate the anchorage immediately.

The small harbour of West Bay Click to view haven lies at the head of Lyme Bay, 15 miles north by northwest of Portland Bill, 3 miles east by southeast of Golden Cap and 6.5 miles east by south of Lyme Regis. It is known locally by the original name of Bridport Harbour after its principal Saxon town of Bridport situated 1.4 miles north of the harbour. The harbour was renamed ‘West Bay’ after the railway arrived in a Victorian bid to remarket the town as a seaside resort.

Set on the mouth of the River Brit the harbour consists of an outer harbour and inner harbour basin that is used by fishing boats and pleasure craft. The outer harbour, enclosed between two piers, is dredged each spring to provide a depth of around 0.75 metres CD. It has specially designated visitor pontoons that are laid each season with space to accommodate about 10 vessels.

West Bay (Bridport Harbour)
Image: Michael Harpur

The inner harbour is entered over a sill which dries to 0.1 metres CD. Beyond the cill the inner harbour expands into a secure inner basin, 160 metres long and 42 metres wide, the vast majority of which dries up to as much as 0.7 metres save for a deep pool at its centre. There may be a couple of berths with 2 metres alongside the East Pier where visiting fishing boats and commercial vessels berth. During gales, the sea breaks so heavily at the entrance rendering the harbour unapproachable.

West Bay's signature ochre cliffs that lie close east
Image: Pengannel

West and southwest of Bridport Harbour are the two rocky shoals of High Ground and Pollock. The shoals lie about ¾ of a mile apart, with 11 metres of water between them. The High Ground, the westernmost shoal, lies west by north 2 miles from Bridport and about a ½ mile offshore. High Ground is a ½ mile in length and has only 3 metres of water near its southeast end. The Pollock is a smaller shoal, and nearly circular; it lies west by south ¾ of a mile from Bridport. It has 3.7 metres over its shallowest part. An outfall pipeline extends about 0.8 miles south by southwest from close east of Bridport Harbour entrance. It is marked by a lit buoy at the seaward end and situated on the contour that resides immediately outside both the shoals.

Lyme Regis
Image: Michael Harpur

Twenty-two miles from the Bill of Portland is the small harbour of Lyme Regis Click to view haven that dries at low tide. At Lyme Regis the coast trends east and the cliffs continue along this section except near the mouth of the River Char, 1.8 miles east by northeast of the harbour. Golden Cap, where the cliffs rise to a height of 187 metres, is located 3.5 miles east of Lyme Regis.

Yachts moored off Lyme Regis with Golden Cap in the backdrop
Image: Eugene Birchall via CC BY-SA 2.0

Lyme Regis Harbour is used by small fishing boats and pleasure craft. The harbour is protected from the southwest by The Cobb rock and a sizable stone pier. A lit range indicates the approach to the harbour. During strong south winds, the sea breaks heavily around its piers. The inner pier presents a light, Oc.WR.8s6m9/7M. Another light F.G.8m9M on a bearing of 284°T provides a leading mark with the pierhead light 250 metres apart. A south cardinal Q(6)+LF.15s is situated a ¼ of a mile east of the outer pier head of Lyme Regis Harbour, marking an outfall.

Lyme Regis Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Twenty-six miles west by northwest of Portland Bill is the precipitous 130 metres high chalk cliff of Beer Head. This is the westernmost chalk cliff in England and the cliffs extending to the west of the point consist of red sandstone. Seven miles north of Beer Head a conspicuous radio mast will be seen standing at an elevation of 445 metres on Stockland Hill.

Image: Michael Harpur

On the eastern side of the head is the confined Beer Roads anchorage off the village of Beer Click to view haven situated ¾ of a mile north by northeast of Beer Head. The anchorage provides shelter from northerly winds over a sandy bottom. A prominent water tower stands 1.2 miles north by northeast of the village.

Local boats hauled out on Beer's gravel beach
Image: Michael Harpur

All the rocky ledges between Exmouth’s Straight Point and Beer Head may be avoided by keeping a ½ mile offshore. It is also possible to anchor off these resorts in settled northerly quadrant winds.
Please note

Keep a sharp eye out for crab pots that are often laid from 2 to 4 miles offshore close east of Beer Head.

Mouth of River Axe and the small harbour of Axmouth at high water
Image: Michael Harpur

Between Beer Head and Haven Cliff, is the broad and fertile valley of the River Axe, apparently the ancient bed of a large river, though at present only an insignificant stream flows into the sea. Close within the river mouth is the small drying harbour of Axmouth Click to view haven that has a landing quay and the Axe Yacht Club opposite where visiting boats can make arrangments to dry out.

Axe Yacht Club pontoons
Image: Michael Harpur

The river berths provide complete protection from all conditions but the shallow narrow entrance, over a drying sandbar, is challenging. The haven is only suitable for vessels carrying no more than 1.2 - 1.5 metres of draught and up to 8.5 metres LOA although longer boats may be accommodated by prior arrangement. It may only be addressed at high water ±00:30 and during settled or offshore conditions.

Sidmouth's striking red cliffs with Beer Head in the backdrop
Image: CC0

Sidmouth, a resort town, is situated five miles westward of Beer Head in a valley between two hills. It is fronted by two offshore rock breakwaters and in a valley running nearly at right angles to the coast. The valley is bound by the 175 metres high Salcombe Hill, to the east, and the 154 metres high Peak Hill to the west.

Sidmouth as seen from Salcombe Hill to the east
Image: Andy Hawkins via CC BY-SA 2.0

The River Sid, a mere streamlet, flows close to the east side of the town but its entrance is choked by the shingle beach. The water simply percolates through the bank to the sea. A light Fl. R5s2M is shown near the beach on the west side of the creek.

Budleigh Salterton as seen from the east
Image: Joe via CC BY-NC 2.0

The village of Budleigh Salterton, another resort town four miles southwest of Sidmouth, stands about ¾ of a mile westward of Otterton Point, in a narrow dell running obliquely to the shore. Between the village and the point is the River Otter, a small rivulet, whose mouth is barred by an accumulation of shingle. It is about 18 metres wide at high water springs and has then a depth of 1.8 metres. Vessels hugging the shore should avoid Otterton Ledge that runs off a ¼ of a mile southwest by west from the river mouth.

River Otter end of Budleigh Salterton's beach with the Otterton Ledge exposed
Image: Eugene Birchall via CC BY-SA 2.0

Vessels approaching the anchorage off the village should be careful to avoid the isolated Foot Clout Rock. Awash at low water springs it is situated a ½ mile southeast by south of the Budleigh Salterton chapel.


Image: Michael Harpur

In any developed southeasterly or easterly conditions, it should be borne in mind that there is no shelter along this coast except in the harbours of Torquay, Brixham or Dartmouth, since under these conditions the sea breaks across the entrances the harbours of Exmouth, Teignmouth and the several anchorages along the coast to Tor Bay which are all open to the east. Conversely, from Portland Bill to this point the anchorages off all the small coastal towns are largely only sheltered from northerly winds.

Exmouth Harbour lies in a coastal bight between Straight Point and Langstone Point situated about three miles southwest. Between these points the River Exe falls into the sea. The town fronts the shore on the east side of the entrance to the River Exe. Holy Trinity Church, with a tower and flagstaff, and the Catholic Church with a green spire, stand in the west part of the town and are prominent.

Yacht approaching Exmouth Harbour along the north shore
Image: Michael Harpur

Numerous drying shoals and sandbanks obstruct the entrance and it is approached through a narrow channel, which is fronted by a bar that has a least depth of 0.5 metres. The channel lies close to the north shore, which is subject to frequent change, but it is well buoyed.

The entrance can be difficult in easterlies on an ebb tide. Anything above a Force 4 with an easterly wind starts a bit of breaking surf from 2 hours after high water when the water over Pole Sand gets shallow. Likewise, it is inadvisable to try enter against a foul tide as the ebb tide can attain up to 4.5 knots around Warren Pont if a lot of rain is coming downriver. It would, therefore, be prudent to enter only on a rising tide, preferably starting an approach at high water -1 or 2 hours, depending on where inside the estuary you intend berthing, as there are several shallow patches to look out for.

Deep water moorings are available close inside the entrance in The Bight
Image: Michael Harpur

Because of all of this, the Exe is difficult to access in any onshore conditions, and entirely unapproachable in a heavy sea. Therefore, it should never be depended upon for refuge in stormy weather.

But don’t be off put by this, the entrance just needs a bit of respect and for the vast majority of the time there's nothing to worry about. Likewise, the Exe Estuary is a lot friendlier than it looks and once inside the calm and sheltered waters of the estuary there are beautiful sights and ample wildlife. The upper reaches can be a bit muddy and is the domain of the shallow draft boat that can take to the bottom, but there's lots of water lower down. Exmouth Marina Click to view haven details seaward approaches and Topsham Click to view haven details the run up the River Exe to the north end of the estuary. Exmouth Click to view haven has a small marina just at the river mouth and deep water moorings in The Bight Click to view haven, close within, can be used to formulate a cruising plan for the estuary as there is plenty to go at.

A boat can be locked in for up to a month in Turf Lock
Image: Michael Harpur

In addition to Exmouth we list the small village Starcross Click to view haven, Starcross Yacht Club Click to view haven, the highly protected Turf Lock Click to view haven in the canal basin that leads to the city of Exeter and the wonderfully historic Topsham Click to view haven at the head of the estuary to name but a few. There is easily a week, if not two, of cruising in the protected waters of a designated RAMSAR site that is one of the top rivers in the country for wildlife and a feeding ground for several seals.

Image: CC0

Between Exmouth and Teignmouth about 5 miles to the southwest the coast is bordered by low sandstone cliffs and numerous rocks. The small, but fashionable Dawlish, has a railway line fronting the sea along with Victorian houses and beach huts. Located at the outlet of the small River Dawlish Water, also called The Brook, between Permian red sandstone cliffs it is fronted by a sandy beach. During the 18th-century, it grew from a small fishing port to become a well-known seaside resort and its rail line, often damaged by storms, is much photographed. The town is in one of the numerous valleys for which this coast is celebrated. Parish churches and a few villas will be seen standing a ½ mile from the sea.

Train approaching Dawlish station
Image: Farzeymedic via CC BY 4.0

Nearly a ½ mile offshore east and abreast of the town, 0.8 of a mile south by southwest of Langstone Point is the Dawlish Rock with 1.8 metres of water. An outfall pipeline extends from the shore in the vicinity of this rock. With the exception of Dawlish Rock, the coast from Teignmouth to the River Exe is clear of outlying dangers but care needs to be taken when approaching Exmouth Harbour.

Teignmouth Harbour as seen from Shaldon
Image: Tinmothian

Halfway between Exmouth and Torbay and, 39 miles northwest by west from the Bill of Portland and 4.5 miles north by east from Hope’s Nose, is Teignmouth Click to view haven. The town is set at the mouth of the River Teign and it falls into the sea through a narrow channel obstructed by a bar. The entrance lies between The Ness and The Point, 300 metres northwest.

The Point at Teignmouth
Image: Michael Harpur

The Point is a low sand spit tongue that is marked near its southwest extremity by a light beacon. Spratt Sand, which dries and whose shape is constantly changing, extends almost a ½ a mile of The Point. It flanks the north side of the approach channel and is marked by a port buoy, Fl.G.2s. Pole Sand extends a ¼ of a mile east from The Ness, flanking the south side of the approach channel, with East Pole Sand, which also dries at its outer end and is marked by a port buoy Fl.R.2s.

Teignmouth visitor pontoons off the back beach
Image: Michael Harpur

The harbour is approached over The Bar, that nearly dries at low water springs and is ever changing from the effects of southerly gales, that lies between the drying sandbanks of East Pole Sand and the southeast edge of Spratt Sand on each side. From the Ness, on the south side of the entrance, to The Point, on the north side, the distance across the entrance at high water is only a ¼ of a mile. The Harbour Authority aims to maintain a dredged channel with a least depth 1 metre above CD, along a prescribed transit, that leads over The Bar.

The Ness as seen from Teignmouth's esplanade with Hope's Nose and the Ore Stone
in the backdrop

Image: Barry Lewis

The Ness is a beautiful headland of red sandstone clothed with verdure, rising boldly from the water's edge to the height of 50 metres. The town is situated largely on the small peninsula at the north side of the entrance. It is a tourist resort servicing the sandy spit at its southern end that fronts the town. Saint Michael’s Church, with a tower and flagstaff, stands in the northeast part of the town and is conspicuous from the approaches.

Teignmouth has an outflow buoy situated 1.3 miles east by southeast of The Ness and closer in the channel is marked by port and starboard buoys. Due to this shifting nature of the fairway vessels considering approaching the harbour should seek out current local knowledge.

Diffusers - Fl.Y.5s position: 50°31.969’N 003°27.783’W

Watcombe Cove
Image: Michael Harpur

Watcombe CoveClick to view haven midway between Teignmouth and the northern entry point of Tor Bay. It is a small sandy cove at the base of a wooded hillside with a seasonal café and public toilets.

Babbacombe Bay with Oddicombe Beach in its northern half
Image: Michael Harpur

Continuing southward towards Babbacombe Bay Click to view haven, there is a good measure of protection from the prevailing south westerlies. The bay lies just over three miles south of Teignmouth and a mile to the north of Hope’s Nose. The bay affords a good anchorage in westerly winds over a sandy bottom.

Yacht at anchor in Anstey’s Cove with Long Quarry Point in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur

A little over a ½ mile south-westward of Babbacombe Bay and around Long Quarry Point lies the quieter Anstey’s Cove Click to view haven. It offers another more enclosed anchoring opportunity with a small shingle beach, backed by steep rocks, upon which to land.

Hope’s Nose with the Lead Stone (or Flat Rock), Ore Stone and Thantcher Rock
left, Hope's Cove and Anstey’s Cove to the right

Image: Michael Harpur

Hope’s Nose is a sloping headland rising to a knoll, 105 metres high, about a ½ mile inland. Two prominent radio masts stand at the west side of the bay, about 5 miles west-southwest of Hope’s Nose. To the south of Hope’s Nose lies Tor Bay, entered between it and Berry Head situated 4 miles to the south. On the north side of the entrance point is the final anchorage along this short stretch of coast Hope Cove Click to view haven.

Hope Cove
Image: Michael Harpur

Well sheltered from the prevailing winds, like Babbacombe and Anstey’s Cove, all three anchorages make convenient tide wait locations to cross Lyme Bay, 40 miles to Portland Bill. Straight in and out these havens also could serve to provide a midway stepping stone for a Portland to Plymouth run or vice versa should you want to forgo the creature comforts and temptations of Brixham Marina. But similar to all the anchorages in Tor Bay, none offer a safe haven in easterlies, where only the harbours of Torquay or Brixham will provide protection.

Yachts passing close west of Lead Stone (or Flat Rock) with Ore Stone in the

Image: Michael Harpur

Near Hope’s Nose there are three rocky islets. The closest is the Lead Stone, or Flat Rock, that lies 250 metres southeast of Hope’s Nose. The outer is the Ore Stone that is a conspicuous peaked rock located about a ½ mile southeast of the point. It is 32 metres high and forms a good mark especially from the south. The Ore Stone has the small straggling and awash rock called The Sunker situated 90 metres from its southern point.

Thatcher Rock and Point
Image: Michael Harpur

The 41 metre high Thatcher Rock lies about 0.8 miles west of Ore Stone closer into the shoreline. It is conspicuous and more rounded than the Ore Stone. On some bearings, these two rocks could be mistaken for one another.

East Shag
Image: Derek Harper via CC BY-SA 2.0

To the westward of these and in the north end of Tor Bay are the Morris Rogue with 0.8 metres of water over it, and the high East Shag and West Shag Rocks. Above these rocks on the shore stands a conspicuous white block of flats, 0.7 miles west by southwest of Hope’s Nose. A prominent hotel is situated about 0.5 miles west of this block. The Ore Stone, with its own length open of Thatcher Rock, will clear all rocks and shoals along the north shore of Tor Bay.


Tor Bay is a beautiful natural harbour providing shelter from winds and waves from the westerly sector. Its natural protection has traditionally allowed ships to anchor in the Bay for shelter as almost all of Tor Bay affords good protection from the prevailing winds. Today the Torbay area is a holiday destination known as the English Riviera that has its own favourable micro-climate, which contributes to its overall sunny image.

Tor Bay as seen from Berry Head
Image: Michael Harpur

Together with its principal towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, Tor Bay forms the borough of Torbay which was created in 1998. Tor Bay Harbour Authority is part of Torbay Council and is responsible for providing comprehensive and effective marine services within the three enclosed harbours. The bay is a popular stopover for boats cruising the Westcountry and it is also the venue for a variety of prestigious maritime events throughout the summer season.

Torquay Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

From a purely sailing perspective, Tor Bay affords good shelter from westerly winds, but it should be quickly vacated should a south or south-easterly gale be forecast as they throw a heavy sea into the bay. It is also very straightforward as, apart from the above-mentioned rocks in the bay's north end, Tor Bay is clean beyond the 5-metre contour. Within Tor Bay are the major yacht harbours of Torquay at the north end of the bay, Brixham at the southern end and a smaller pier at Paignton.
Please note

Brixham is the best port to run for with onshore gales.

Image: CC0

Torquay Harbour Click to view haven, situated in the northwest corner of Tor Bay, is the region's main city. The town's economy, like Brixham's on the south side of the bay, was initially based upon fishing and agriculture, but in the early 19th-century, it began to develop into a fashionable seaside resort, initially frequented by members of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars while the Royal Navy anchored in the bay.

Paignton Harbour and promenade pier
Image: Michael Harpur

Torquay Harbour consists of an outer and an inner harbour protected behind the arms of two south facing piers. The harbour is entered via a west facing offset in its piers and Torquay Yacht Marina is situated immediately within in the northwest part of the outer harbour.

Paignton Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Paignton Click to view haven, a large seaside resort, occupies much of the west side of the bay which is bordered by sandy beaches. Paignton Harbour is a small drying harbour used by small fishing and pleasure boats. The harbour is situated on the north side of Roundham Head in the centre of the western side of Tor Bay. It is formed by two enclosing piers with an entrance that opens to the north and it exhibits a light, Q.R.7m3M, on the outer pierhead. The cliffs at Roundham Head are all composed of red sandstone. Paignton Pier, a promenade pier, extends from the shore a ¼ of a mile north of Paignton Harbour.

Brixham Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Brixham Harbour Click to view haven is situated a mile west of Berry Head and consists of an outer and inner harbour. The outer harbour is protected from seaward by a large breakwater which extends a ½ mile northwest from the shore. Tucked behind a wave screen in the southeast corner of the enclosed area is Brixham Marina.

Inner Harbour Brixham
Image: Michael Harpur

There are numerous moorings for fishing craft and yachts in the outer harbour area that leaves no space for a vessel to anchor. Those choosing to anchor should do so 400 metres west by southwest of the breakwater head well clear of the harbour fairway.

Berry Head from seaward at dusk
Image: Graham Rabbits

Berry Head marks the southern entrance point of Tor Bay. The headland may be seen in clear weather from a distance of 20 miles. It is especially prominent from the southeast, the head forms an excellent landmark because of the whitish appearance of the cliffs in relation to the surrounding land.

Berry Head Light, coast guard station and radio mast
Image: Michael Harpur

It is a steep-to and nearly vertical limestone cliff surmounted by a 55-metre high table top summit. Berry Head Light is shown from a structure, 5 metres high, standing on the flat top of this headland. A coast guard station is situated close to the light structure as well as a radio mast.


From Berry Head the coast trends in a southwest direction for four miles with high undulating land to the Mew Stone laying east of the entrance to the River Dart. It rises to a height of 145 metres at Southdown Cliff one mile within Sharkham Point, the summit of which is 66 metres high. At Scabbacombe Head the summit of the cliff is 130 metres high. Again at Downend Point, where the cliff is 60 metres high, the land rises to 155 metres, a ½ mile inland.

Berry Head
Image: Ross Cowley

Several steep-to and dangerous rocks lie up to a ½ mile offshore along this coast. These present vessels passing south from Tor Bay with the option of some light inshore pilotage or a more relaxed passage by giving the shoreline a berth of more than a ½ mile.

Cod Rock and Mew Stone south of Berry Head
Image: Michael Harpur

Cod Rock and Mew Stone, 19 and 17 metres high, are two steep and rocky islets with the higher Cod Rock being the outer of the two. It bears south ⅓ of a mile from Berry Head and is a ¼ of a mile offshore. The area between the rocks and the shore are foul and should not be approached.

Durl Rock, of Durl Head with Mew Stone and Berry Head in the backdrop
Image: Tom Bastin

A mile south by southwest from Berry Head and about half that distance eastward of Sharkham Point is the Mudstone Ledge. This is a deep ledge ranging from 5.4 to 9.4 metres and is of little concern to leisure craft in moderate weather. All the dangers south of Berry Head can be avoided by keeping Hope's Nose open east of Berry Head.

St Mary’s Bay
Image: Tom Jolliffe via CC BY-SA 2.0

There are several beach anchorages between Berry Head and the mouth of the River Dart along this coast. They may only be made use of in settled or moderate offshore conditions as they typically offer poor shale holding in places. The first of these is St. Mary’s Bay which lies ¾ of a mile southwest of Berry Head. It contains Brixham's largest beach that is made up of sand and shingle and it has interesting rock formations in the surrounding cliffs. Access to St. Mary’s is challenging from land making the delightful sandy stretch at the bottom of the cliffs the preserve of the committed beach goer or boater in settled or offshore conditions.

Man Sands
Image: © Jacky Shepley

Man Sands lies close north of Cranbrock Point and is overlooked by the cottages that were once a coastguard station, it offers the next berthing opportunity. One of South Devon’s lesser-known beaches, Man Sands is surprisingly large, at over 500 metres in length when the tide is out. Although exposed it is clear of offshore dangers in the approaches.

Scabbacombe Bay as seen from Scabbacombe Head
Image: Tom Bastin

The bay off Scabbacombe Sands proves the most popular mooring point for most boaters. Like St. Mary’s Bay the beach from the land requires a challenging walk, so it is rarely overrun even at the best of times. Scabbacombe Sands is a small pebble and sand beach and no facilities.

Yacht anchored off Scabbacombe Sands
Image: Philip Halling via CC BY-SA 2.0

A ½ mile north of the anchorage, the Druids Mare dries by 2.9 metes. A ½ mile to the south the outlying Nimble Rock, covered by only 1.9 metres, is a hidden danger. Scabbacombe Head in line the 126 metres high cliff summit, a ⅓ of a mile northward of the bay, on 330° as best seen on a chart, marks the danger. Keeping the southern end of the beach due west on approach clears all hazards.

Long Sands close north of Scabbacombe Sands with Scabbacombe Head in the

Image: Philip Halling via CC BY-SA 2.0

Close north of Scabbacombe, around a small seperating headland, is the alternative anchorage of Long Sands.

East Blackstone Rock
Image: Derek Harper via CC BY-SA 2.0
The most prominent outlying rock is East Blackstone Rock that is always visible. It is made up of two adjacent rocks with the highest being 3 metres above high water. It lies about a ½ mile east from Outer Froward Point at the entrance to Dartmouth and has no outlying dangers.

About ¾ of a mile to the northeast of East Blackstone Rock is Nimble Rock with only 1 metre of water over it. Nimble Rock is steep to and lies about ⅓ of a mile offshore. Start Point lighthouse seen open either side of East Blackstone clears Nimble Rock.

800 metres north by northeast of East Blackstone Rock and about 370 metres from the shore is Boatfield Rock, with 2.4 metres of water over it.

Dartmouth Harbour Click to view haven lies close to the mouth of the River Dart that exits into the sea 7.5 miles northeast of Start Point and 5 miles southwest by west of Berry Head. The town of Dartmouth is situated on the west bank, about a ½ mile above the entrance. Set in a deep river valley that is naturally protected by the entrance which forms an almost land-locked estuary, the harbour and the River Dart is the most sheltered haven on this coast with almost all of its berthing opportunities providing complete protection.

Dartmouth Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

The smaller town of Kingswear stands on the east side of the river. The town’s position may be recognised from seaward by the granite peaks or tors, which break the outline of the Dartmoor Range. The most remarkable of these are the 457 metres Haytor and 473 metres high Rippon Tor. The latter Rippon Tor is easily distinguished from the Haytor by its single culminating point or cairn, whilst Haytor, on the contrary, presents a forked or jagged appearance. Rippon Tor bearing north leads to the entrance of the harbour, which as the land is approached, will be more distinctly recognised by the tall square tower of Stoke Fleming Church. This stands conspicuously on high ground about two miles west of the entrance. Off the eastern side of the entrance is the 35 metres high and remarkably rocky islet of the Mew Stone lying immediately offshore of the eastern side of the entrance.

Kingswear and the River Dart
Image: Herbythyme via GFDL

Although the entrance to the River Dart is fringed by several dangers they are all well marked by lighted buoys and leading lights that make approaches straightforward at all stages of the tide, night or day. Almost all of these dangers such as the East Blackstone, the Mew Stone, the high rock south of the visible Shooter, the Verticals, the West Rock, the Homestone, and the rocks off Combe Point, lie in a line. In daylight, a good clearing mark for all these outer dangers can be had by keeping the 16 metres high East Blackstone well open of the Mew Stone, east by north. This provides a clearing line that will lead to the south of all the dangers off Dartmouth.

Outer Forward Point and the Mew Stone
Image: Martin Dawes via CC BY-SA 2.0

Dangers on the eastern shore at the mouth of the River Dart include the Mew Stone, The Verticals, Bears Tail Rock and Old Castle Rock. The rocky 35 metre high Mew Stone islet lies about 300 metres offshore, a little to the east of Outer Froward Point. It has a south cardinal moored circa 300 metres to the south-eastward.

Mew Stone – South Cardinal VQ(6)+LFl.10s position: 50° 19.919' N, 003° 31.870' W

It is steep-to on its eastern side, but the channel between it and the land should be avoided as it is full of boulders and rocky shelves drying up to 2.1 metres. If for any reason a vessel is carried through by the tide keep as near as possible in mid-channel as the rocks dry off either side for a considerable distance.

The Mew Stone with its south cardinal mark
Image: pjrbroughty

Beyond the many high rocks extending from the Mew Stone in a westerly direction, are The Verticals. This is a ledge of dangerous rocks, running parallel with the coast a full ¼ of a mile west of the Mew Stone. Some of these rocks, that take their name from their high and precipitous sides, show at low water. The West Rock of The Verticals is awash only at the lowest tides and it is best to give this locality a wide berth. A south cardinal 200 metres to the southwest marks West Rock.

West Rock – South Cardinal Q(6)+LFl.15s position: 50° 19.861’N, 003°32.471’W

Primary marks for eastern approaches to the River Dart
Image: Michael Harpur

The Bears Tail Rock lies approximately 90 metres south of Inner Froward Point and has 1.3 metres of water over it. It is well out of the normal harbour track but leisure craft intending to run between the Mew Stone and the shore should note its position and steer for the Castle Ledge starboard buoy to avoid it. With the highest peaks of the Shooter and Mew Stone in line, set a line of bearing that leads directly over it.

Mewstone Rock and the 24-metre high daymark on the hill behind Froward Point
Image: Graham Rabbits

Another dangerous patch of sunken rocks that skirts the harbour fairway beyond this is Old Castle Rock with 1.8 metres of water over it. It lies about a ¼ of a mile to the west of Inner Froward Point with a good channel inside it. On this patch, called Castle Ledge, there are several shoal heads that should not present any issues to leisure craft. Castle Ledge is marked by a port buoy. After this, a central path up through the entrance presents no dangers.

Castle Ledge – Fl.G.5s position: 50°20.001’N, 003°33.114’W.

Rocks fringing the western shore are the Combe Rocks, Meg Rocks, and Homestone Rocks. The Combe Rocks group lie immediately off Combe Point, and many of them are at all times above water, and all of them show at low tide. The outermost rock of the group, Outer Combe, lies about 200 metres from the shore and dries at half-tide. The rock dries to 3.5 metres above high water and when seen it may be freely approached as it has deep water all around it. Even when covered its position is readily discernable in daylight as it is situated scarcely 100 metres to the east of Old Combe rock that is always above water.

The approach to the River Dart
Image: Michael Harpur

Northeast by north from the Outer Combe Rock for a ¼ of a mile, a succession of high heads show themselves from half ebb to low water. These are called the Meg Rocks, inside of which lies Combe Bay.

Further offshore is the patch of rocks called Homestone Rocks that are marked by Homestone port hand buoy. The Homestone Rocks lie a ¼ of a mile east-southeast from Combe Point, leaving a safe deep-water channel between them and the Combe Rocks. The highest head of the patch is named the Homestone, over which there is 0.9 metres of cover at low water. Kingswear Castle open east or west of Blackstone Rock clears it on either side and Stoke Fleming Church, in line with the extreme of Combe Point, leads to the south.

Homestone - port buoy Q.R position: 50° 19.618' N, 003° 33.542' W

The approach to the River Dart with Outer Combe Rock and Meg Rocks visible
Image: Michael Harpur

Except for the Western Blackstone Rock nothing dries off Blackstone Point at low water and Western Blackstone Rock should be passed on its outside. Local leisure craft occasionally run between Blackstone Rock and Blackstone Point. It is possible to use this channel but not at low water as there are two shoal heads within its immediate area. The first is on the southern approach with only 1.2 metres over it and the latter, with 1.5 metres of water, lies nearly in mid-channel. As there is a rise of 5 metres, a vessel may use this channel at or near high water, taking care in doing so, to be centre channel between the rock and the point. Kingswear Castle open of Blackstone Point, northeast, leads to the east of all the dangers of the western shoreline as well as the Outer Combe, and all dangers between Combe and Blackstone Points.

Dartmouth Castle and the narrows between Castle Point and Kettle Point
Image: Michael Harpur

Dartmouth Harbour is as far as many visiting boats get to, but it’s upriver that the River Dart Click to view haven really comes into its own. It is navigable to Dittisham, situated three miles upriver, at any state of the tide and six miles further inland to the drying Totnes after half-flood. The river offers a wide range of berthing options that include moorings, anchoring or drying out alongside a range of quays. From a boating perspective, this is sailing at its best and few rivers can match the natural beauty of the Dart which should not be overlooked.

Dittisham and the River Dart
Image: Michael Harpur

From Dartmouth towards Start Point the coast is generally low, rising gradually in the interior. In the northern part of the bay, there is the sunken Earlstones Rock. Lying about of a ½ mile west by south from Combe Point it has from 3.7 to 4.3 metres over it and presents no danger to leisure craft.

Between 0.7 of a mile and 4 miles northeast of Start Point is the Skerries Bank. This is a dangerous bank of ground of shell and fine gravel. It extends for 3½ miles northeast by east with an average breadth of a ½ mile. Near its southern end, there is only 2.1 metres of water and other parts have from about 3 to 8 metres. The shoal terminates to the northeast in a sandbank, nearly one mile in length, with 4.6 metres on its shallowest part. In boisterous weather, the sea breaks heavily on all parts of the Skerries but especially so upon its southwest end. A passage more than a ½ mile wide leads between the southern end of the bank and Start Point. It is more than navigable but should not be used during periods of heavy weather. By night the Skerries Bank is covered by Start Point red auxiliary light between the bearings of 210° - 255° T.

Hallsands in the south end of Start Bay
Image: Graham Richardson

Between the Skerries and the shore lies Start Bay which runs from Start Point and Combe Point, 7 miles north by northeast. This is bordered by a 5-mile long beach extending from Hallsands to Strete Head. A church, with a conspicuous tower, stands at Stoke Fleming, about a mile west by southwest of Combe Point. Start Point shelters Start Bay, with the wind to the westward of southwest, and in offshore winds, except within a ½ mile of Start Point where the ground is rocky, the whole of this bay provides a good anchorage over sand and gravel. The bays popular anchorages are at Blackpool Sands, Slapton Sands and off Beesands. Tucked in behind high ground and at the apex of the eastern projecting spur of Start Point, Hallsands Click to view haven provides the best protection from prevailing winds and the most convenient location to round Start Point.

Yacht approaching Start Point
Image: Will via CC BY-SA 2.0

It would be best to anchor out as the tide runs to the south nine hours out of the twelve and it might set a boat on the shore if too close in. But should the wind veer to the south of south-southwest weigh anchor and run for Dartmouth or Torbay, as a heavy sea is thrown in by south-easterly gales. Likewise in strong easterly winds, the Skerries Bank provides no shelter to the bay and the broken water reaches to the shore.

Start Point lighthouse and the Black Stone rock
Image: Anthony Parks via CC BY-SA 2.0

Start Point may be recognised by its rugged appearance and a conspicuous white lighthouse that stands 130 metres inside of its eastern extreme. The five hillocks on the ridge near the lighthouse are each about 60 metres high. Within a mile of the point, the land rises steeply to 120 metres. Two prominent radio masts stand on the heights, about a mile west by northwest of the point. The only dangers in the vicinity of Start Point are the Black Stone and Cherrick Rocks that lie about 500 metres south by east from the Start Point.

Start Point Lighthouse Fl(3)10s 62m 25M, F.R. 55m 9M, Horn (1) 60s position: 50° 13.347'N, 003° 38.548'W

Those making a fast passage along the coast between Berry Head and Start Point may keep outside all the dangers by utilising three alignments. Hope's Nose, bearing less than 359°T, and open of Berry Head passes to the east of all dangers south of Berry Head. Approaching Dartmouth, keep Hope's Nose well open of Berry Head, north by east, to pass east of all the dangers between Dartmouth and Berry Head. Berry Head open of Scabbacombe Head, bearing northeast, to pass to the east of the Skerries. Alternatively, just keeping over a ½ mile out or outside the 20-metre contour makes for a pilotage free passage.


The complete course is 64.65 miles from the waypoint 'Portland' to 'Start Point' tending in a west south westerly direction (reciprocal east north easterly).

Portland, 50° 26.000' N, 002° 28.000' W
5 miles southward of the Bill of Portland, clear of The Shambles and Portland Ledge. This is well south of the dangerous Portland Race that extends to the south of Portland Bill. The worst part of the race, being well defined by overfalls, is formed one to two miles south of the point but it can extend much further south in bad weather.

       Next waypoint: 22.97 miles, course 308.64°T (reciprocal 128.64°T)

Lyme Regis, 50° 40.276' N, 002° 56.288' W
3 miles south of Lyme Regis.

       Next waypoint: 16.49 miles, course 246.33°T (reciprocal 66.33°T)

Exmouth, 50° 33.619' N, 003° 20.052' W
3 miles south-eastward of the final approach to Exmouth.

       Next waypoint: 23.08 miles, course 205.75°T (reciprocal 25.75°T)

Start Point - East Side, 50° 12.823' N, 003° 35.714' W
Circa 2 miles east-southeast of Start Point. This is clear of the tidal rips that occur up to a mile south and east of the point that are particularly pronounced during spring tides. The velocity of the stream, off the point, can attain rates of 3 knots but when blowing fresh there is a strong race, both on the flood and ebb.

       Next waypoint: 2.10 miles, course 242.11°T (reciprocal 62.11°T)

Start Point, 50° 11.840' N, 003° 38.614' W
This is 1½ miles south of Start Point Light. It is clear of the tidal rips that occur up to a mile south and east of the point that is particularly pronounced during spring tides. The velocity of the stream, off the point, can attain rates of 3 knots but when blowing fresh there is a strong race, both on the flood and ebb.

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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