Passage Making - The Solent to Land's End.

There are multiple serious tidal gates to consider between The Solent to and around Land's end, the most important being:

  • The western Solent then through Hurst Narrows and either the North or Needles Channels.
  • Portland Bill.
  • Start Point.
  • Lands End.
St Alban's, Dodman and The Lizard also need to be taken into account.

Here is my assessment of the impact if you get it wrong in reasonable weather, skippers should make their decisions based on their own assessment and published works. 

I assume good sailing conditions and that restrictions, guidance etc. in the Pilot / Sailing Directions are adhered to, for example the appropriate clearance is maintained, not doing so would likely be dangerous and might well increase the delay. Wind against tide may well make otherwise straightforward down-tide passages very uncomfortable if not downright dangerous, see the sailing directions. Increasing distance off will usually help unless passing inside dangers e.g. the Portland inshore route and may not be possible in the eastern channel or around Lands End due to shipping lanes.

 An inconvenience, perhaps 1 or 2 knots above the general current.
**  A serious delay but some progress might be made with a fair wind or under engine.
***  You may be going backwards at times. Potentially dangerous, especially wind against tide.
****  Actively dangerous possibly in BOTH directions if attempted at the wrong time & likely impassable against the tide.

On the South coast all will be well known to south coast sailors, from east to west:

  • Dover straights. **
  • Beachy Head * / **
  • Dungeness * / **
  • Looe Channel - Spithead ** / ***
  • St Catherines Point **
  • The Western Solent ** / (***)
  • Hurst Narrows - Needles or N channel. *** / (****)
  • Anvil point / St Alban's Head **
  • Portland Bill offshore route 3 to >5 miles depending on conditions ***/****
  • Portland Bill inshore route ****
  • Start Point - Prawl Point - Bolt Head - Bolt Tail. *** / (****)
  • Dodman * / **
  • The Lizard ** / ***
  • Runnel Stone - Lands End - Cape Cornwall *** / ****
And don't forget that at Springs tides of 2 - 3 knots are to be found along much of this coast.

Triangles = significant Tidal gates, Blue anchors = marinas,
red anchors = anchorages. Click to enlarge.
A good selection of anchorages from The Solent west can be found in my pages on anchorages.


West bound the most critical for planning is Portland, heading west Lands End initially has to take care of itself as you don't know when you will get there or what the weather will be like when you do. 

There are two options for rounding the Bill, my preference single handed, given suitable weather, will always be the inshore route as this can allow a start across Lyme Bay at daybreak hopefully avoiding a tiring overnight sail. To do that you need to leave the Solent just before or on a neap tide, the degree of flexibility will depend on the time of year, the speed of the boat and, as always, the weather.

East bound the inshore route is likely to be problematic due to timing after a long crossing of Lyme Bay after managing the tidal gate at The Start. I have done it from Beer and Lyme Regis, only a few hours away, and once from Brixham.

Not a day to try the inshore route. Note waves coming from multiple directions. 

All times are UTC

Using a Neap Tide.

See Reed's almanack or the Channel Pilot for full details and guidance but essentially the inshore route can only be used:

  • From HW Dover - 1 hour to + 2 Hours (when west bound).
  • Within 3 cables of the shore in good conditions, 1 cable in marginally strong winds.
  • In daylight, to be able to spot the numerous lobster pot floats potentially being towed under. And rocks.
  • In quite weather, certainly not above Force 4 and potentially less, nor with a stiff wind against tide, with a swell running or often on Springs.
My track around the bill on one of my 2 west
bounds passages in 2022. The waypoint just
north of my track was for an east bound trip.
Remembering that at a given place high tide on a neap tide will always happen at about the same hour, on a Neap tide the gate at Portland will normally open between 06:00 and 07:00 and close between 09:00 and 10:00. During high summer daylight will not be a problem but in winter it will be. At the late March equinox (20th or 21st) sunrise will be about 06:10 at Portland, so on a clear day you can weigh or slip at Portland around 04:30 during Nautical Twilight and approach the Bill during Civil Twilight which in good weather will normally be good enough.

A few days delay will allow a later start but a few days earlier and daylight may not be available. So working back from that, given good weather, you ideally want to leave the Solent one to three days before the neap tide which allows an early start from Portland across Lyme Bay, at 4 knots this should get you to Brixham by 13:30, Hallsands by 15:00 or Plymouth before midnight. 

Tides from Plymouth will then be reasonable to get you further west with sensible (c 07:00) start times. My trip from Hope Cove to Newlyn in August 2021 after using the inshore route is about as good as it gets.

In summer a few days earlier will work although that will require a very early departure from Portland. 

Leaving Portland two or three days after neaps will work but as you approach Springs the start will be so late in the day that you will be committed to an overnight crossing so you may as well use the outside route described below or in suitable conditions stop off at Lyme Regis or Beer.

Rounding the Bill just after sunrise in August 2022, track shown
above. Note the pot buoys as close to at slack water as it gets, I had
already avoided more than one on the approach. Also the rock just awash
in the line from the day mark. From there I was anchored in Hope Cove
in daylight well in time for dinner.
Two days before Neaps the west going tide will start off Calshot or Cowes at around 04:30 and 17:00 so there are two options, a very early start from the Hamble or an even earlier one from Portsmouth heading for Studland or Portland, or my preference, leave late afternoon (which works well with the logistics of getting the car home for a long trip and getting back by public transport) and take the evening tide down to Hurst, anchor there for the night then leave early next morning with a sporting chance of reaching Portland at a sensible time, even in a smallish boat. 

If the weather does not cooperate and you don't want to use the engine all the way (who does?) or the weather window is short, the to leg to Portland can be split into two stopping off at Pool, Studland (as I did in 2021), Swanage or perhaps Chapman's Pool just west of St Alban's, in the later case a very early start could get you past the Bill and across Lyme Bay in a day using the inshore or offshore route.

Anchored for the night inside Hurst Point, March 2022.

Leaving on or near Springs

On a spring tide the west going tide will start off of Calshot at about 11:30 so I would leave the Hamble an hour or so before that and given favourable winds carry the tide to somewhere between the Needles fairway buoy and Portland, keeping well off Portland (> c 3 NM) to avoid the race and a long way offshore (> 5 NM) if there is a stiff breeze against tide. With the tide I will then be making little or no progress until around midnight when the tide turns. I'll then get to the Start to face another adverse tide and would hopefully get to Plymouth early afternoon and stay there for a night to catch up on sleep.

Struggling to get round Portland with an adverse tide 2020,
going backwards at times (next picture), snapshot at about 22:00.

And then struggling to get past Start Point next morning. Hamble
to Plymouth in 35 hours.

My recent passages past Portland can be found under three labels:

Lands End

This is well described in Reed's so check that out, the best start points are St Michaels Mount, Newlyn, Moushole or from one of the "waiting" buoys off Penzance Harbour, I have done St Mawes to St Ives in one go in daylight but that was largely under engine when there was no wind. Both those anchorages can be exposed and it can get expensive and crowded in Newlyn Harbour so if the weather is not suitable St Mawes or further up the Fal can be a good place to wait for the weather and tide.

Be aware that due to complex and strong tides, navigation applications, at least seaPro and another, may not give accurate or optimal timings around Lands End. Use Reeds or a good Pilot for timings. Estimates for Newlyn to the Isles of Scilly are better but again check the pilot.

and my Passage Making, The West Coast that includes the rounding of Land's End.

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