Port Tack

Our sail would be taking us from the beautiful Poole Harbour across to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, therefore we would be entering the Solent from the West. In doing so we had a number of things to take into consideration when planning our passage:

  • The tides
  • The weather
  • The Shingles bank – a notorious bank just outside the entrance to the Solent
  • Needles Channel or North Channel?
  • The Trap – a steep-sided shingle spit south east of Hurst Castle
  • Lots of big ships and commercial vessels!
  • Strong currents at the entrance to Cowes

Vessels coming from the west can choose either the North Channel or the Needles Channel when making their approach into the Solent. The North Channel is north of the Shingles bank whereas the Needles Channel is south. The Needles channel can be a rough place to be. From doing our research online and via the almanac we decided to opt for the North Channel, which runs closer to shore towards Hurst Castle. People had commented on forums that the Needles channel was not advisable with a strong south west wind either on an ebb or flood tide. Whilst the forecast wasn’t for strong winds we didn’t want to take any chances. The overall consensus was that the North Channel was more preferable.

Our chosen day would also happen to fall on ‘springs’ – when the difference between high and low tide is at its greatest. We ideally wanted to be going with the tide and didn’t want to be against the tide at the entrance to Cowes due to the strong currents experienced there. The downside of going with the tide on a springs also meant that the current would be at its strongest going around Hurst Castle and into the Solent. We also had to get out of Poole Harbour which can also experience strong currents at the entrance by Sandbanks, again more noticeable on a springs.

We established that high water Portsmouth would be at 13.38. At this time there was no current direction showing in our Admiralty tidal stream atlas for Cowes however an hour before showed the current was still flowing into the Medina river yet was flowing out of the Solent in a westerly direction. Two hours before high water Portsmouth (11.38) showed the tide going in our favour (up the Solent towards Cowes). As this was our first time sailing Poole to Cowes we wanted the tide to be in our favour so we said we wanted to arrive no later than 12.30pm.

The tide across Poole Bay would also be going in our favour but to ensure we had the maximum amount of time we had to leave 1 hour before low water Poole. This would also allow us to catch the last of the ebb tide as it leaves Poole Harbour. We didn’t want to be punching against the flood at the entrance to Poole harbour, especially on a spring tide. Low water that day in Poole was at 06.11 and as we were currently on a swing mooring at Lake Yard (right at the back of the harbour) we set a departure time of 05.00. This we felt would allow us enough time to transit through the harbour before the tide turned.

We set our waypoints:
WP1 – Bar Buoy 1 at the end of the Swash Channel outside of Poole Harbour
WP2 – North Head Green Buoy, marking the entrance into the North Channel
WP3 – East Cardinal Buoy, marking the Shingles and to avoid The Trap
WP4 – North Cardinal Buoy (Bell), just inside the Solent close to Fort Victoria
WP5 – North Cardinal Buoy, just outside of Cowes

The forecast was good, showing around 10kts of wind maximum from the South West with sunny spells.

Our Sail from Poole to Cowes

We departed slightly behind schedule at 05.15. As we were on ‘springs’ we cautiously transited along the Wareham Channel. We were getting close to low water where the tide height would be just 0.1m. With our charts showing depths at just 2.1m in places along this channel we were a little apprehensive. Despite having a draught of 1.5m we would still prefer a bit more water below the keel! Once we entered the turning basin at the shipping port we felt a bit happier and raised our sail. We continued to motor sail through the harbour and out into the Swash channel heading for our first waypoint. As we were late in leaving the tide had started to turn by this point which created a few swells but nothing to get worried about.

We made our turn towards Hurst Castle and the Solent. The wind was still fairly light so we rigged a preventer line just to stop our main whipping around. The sea state was good and the sun was attempting to pop out! We were still motor sailing mind!

Passing Hengistbury head we past over Christchurch ledge which created a few more waves but nothing to get concerned about. What was more worrying was the amount of lobster pots along this stretch of coast – there’s lots! And they’re hard to spot!

As we made our turn into the North Channel the boat speed picked up. This was expected as we were on springs and the current here can get strong. However the conditions were still light so it wasn’t uncomfortable. And before long we were in the Solent.

Making our way up the Solent was very pleasant. We were still motor sailing but the sun had finally popped out! Despite it being August there were few boats around and the couple of ‘bigger’ ships were no where close.

Our destination was East Cowes Marina, around 1.5nm down the River Medina. As we approached Cowes we could feel the strength of the current as we turned towards the entrance but once past the breakwater it was like a mill pond! We sailed past the Red Funnel ferries terminal and past the floating bridge/chain ferry which crosses over the river connecting Cowes with East Cowes before arriving at our destination at 10.50.

Log Book Entries

These were our positions throughout our sail:

05.15 Slipped Mooring Buoy Lake Yard – 50°42.5N 02°01.02W
06.35 50°39.71N 001°53.30W
08.00 50°41.92N 001°42.17W
08.45 50°42.51N 001°34.82W (just past WP2)
09.40 50°44.28N 001°25.24W
10.50 Arrived East Cowes Marina – 50°45.17N 001°17.52W

Our Navionics showed our average speed of 5.9kts with a maximum speed of 10.2kts. The distance logged was 33.1nm.

And as it was only 10.50am we still had time to head to the local pub for a well earned fry up!


Please plan your passage carefully. Whilst we hope this info may be of help please do not rely on it when planning your own sail. Study your charts, tides and weather and don’t take any risks. Safe Sailing!

Sailing Poole to Cowes (via Hurst Castle & The Needles) on the Isle of Wight

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