Passage making along the East Coast

As ever make sure you have the right charts, pilots are useful to find anchorages and for crossing the Thames but Reeds will do at a pinch if you are taking the direct route across the Thames estuary.

These are the paper charts I used to back up electronic ones for the passage making, more would be advisable if not in a hurry and certainly more if doing the trip without electronic charts

Imray, for economy and the inset charts of many harbours :

  • 2100 Kent and Sussex Coasts Chart Atlas or folio.
  • C1 Thames Estuary 1:120,000 (Allows you to see the passage across the estuary on one chart)
  • C24 Flamborough Head to Fife Ness 1:250,000
  • C23 Fife Ness to Moray Firth 1:250,000
  • C68 Cape Wrath to Wick & the Orkney Islands 1:160,000


  • Imray Cook's Country, Spurn Head to St Abbs.
  • Imray North Sea Passage Pilot.
  • Shell Channel Pilot (coverage to the N Foreland)
  • CCC Orkney & Shetland Islands Pilot (Coverage N of Inverness and it is essentially mandatory N of  Wick.

With plenty of anchorages available when there are moderate winds from the west, passage making along the east coast is pretty straight forward, although getting across the Thames Estuary and The Wash requires some care and possibly long legs. The fun starts when the wind has some east in it and the anchorages become untenable.

Apart from the dangers of lea shores in strong winds the problem is that the majority of harbours between Blyth and Harwich can only be accessed for a few hours either side of high water due to a drying approach, locks or swing/lift bridges, the passage and opening times then do not line up so half or more of a favourable tide can be lost. Those that are available are well off the direct route and may still require locking in and out. Marinas on the Orwell and Stour are good examples, good stops when cruising the area, but not so good when passage making requiring long diversions.

Along the Scottish coast the Moray Firth is 75 NM wide between Wick and Peterhead and crossing the Firth of Forth is potentially longer, either direct (watch out for wind farms under construction from late 2020) or following the coast, fortunately when I did this segment southbound winds were moderate and mainly westerly so I was able to anchor off Montrose and Lindisfarne before making a dash for Blyth when strong winds were forecast. Northbound it was a very long (and cold!) leg from Lindisfarne direct to Peterhead.

Passing the Humber and The Wash.

Between Peterhead and Lowestoft there are no anchorages with protection from an easterly wind, the nearest thing to it is the Humber estuary behind Spurn Point and that can be marginal. 

Unless you want to go well into the Humber, the first harbours south of Blyth accessible 24 hours a day in all weather, at any state of the tide are Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.  This means waiting for a 3 day weather window if single handed, one to strike as far south as practical in one day before anchoring for a  nights sleep prior to a long overnight leg between the two ports, or the reverse if going north. In 2020 that meant 12 days in Blyth during the first Covid lock down - so no facilities and a long walk into town.

The anchorage at Filey has some shelter from the North and I used it on my 2020 and 2021 trips.

Filey Brig providing protection from most of the waves 
coming in from the northeast but some swell was present coming
in at right angles to the boats heading at anchor.

Blyth to Filey, leaving at 01:00 for the best tide, 74 NM in 15.5 hours.

Filey to Lowestoft, 135 NM in 27 hours. Quite doable single handed but very
busy from east of the Humber and lots of wind farms and oil / gas rigs to look
out for. Blyth - Lowestoft would not be a big deal crewed but probably not sensible
single handed for most people. North bound in 2021 I did this leg in 28 hours.

The Thames Estuary

Lowestoft to the Downs
79 NM in less than 16 hours.
In reasonable weather the Thames estuary is as difficult as you want to make it, going inshore there are lots of moving channels and sandbanks, complicated often strong tides, commercial shipping, wind farms and TSS's, but in light westerly winds there are also plenty of places to anchor to sleep through an adverse tide plus a good number of tidal harbours. It can make a very pleasant and quite lengthy cruise in its own right. 

But we are talking about passage making. Given a good favourable wind and / or a good reliable engine the easiest route is to go direct on the offshore route.

Going south the route is outside of the Shipwash, picking up the two way route (open to small craft < 20m LOA) east of Long Sand Head and Kentish Knock then west of the Thanet Wind farm to Ramsgate or take the Gull Stream to the Downs (holding a bit iffy in the spot I chose) or on to Dover - I did not go that far in 2020 as the outer marina with 24 hour access was still under construction, and it was getting late.

Northbound the route is essentially the same but with the option in the suitable conditions of anchoring inshore before reaching Lowestoft.

Caution is needed in the Gull Stream due to strong tides and in bad weather it and the entrance to to Ramsgate can be really nasty with wind against tide, I was very glad to get into the harbour there in 2021 after an unpleasant motor up from the South Foreland.

Either way Harwich is an optional stop off but is a long way off route and a busy commercial port.

Wind Farms

In UK waters it is, despite what some work boat crews say, legal (source: Stuart Carruthers  & Toby Heppell, April 24, 2020 in Yachting Monthly on-line) to sail through a wind farm providing you keep 50 metres away from the pylons and keep clear of work boats which may be restricted in their ability to manoeuvre whilst landing crew etc. 

From the YM article:

"Some farms in the UK do have a designated passage through them, such as the wide one through Foulger’s Gat [The London Array], but generally there is only a 50m safety zone around each turbine so passage through sites is absolutely fine."

Other countries, e.g. The Netherlands, prohibit transits through at least some of their farms.

Personally I steer clear of them so I have not researched this further or checked on the legal position of fields under construction, guard boats appear to believe no one should go into any of the declared area, I had repeated warnings of an area with nothing being built whilst I was clearly outside and skirting the area, but the notice to mariners usually says "Yachtsmen are advised that a safety zone of 500m becomes operational around the turbines under construction." Those that I have measured are between 0.25 and 0.4 NM apart so going between pylons under construction is not on.

As they expand (particularly possible projects in the Rampion Field off Shoreham which already gets in the way) I may change my mind if the weather is good.

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