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Sailing around St Albans Head on the Jurassic Coast

Our latest passage was taking us from Portland Harbour along the beautiful Jurassic Coast to the seaside town of Swanage.

We had completed this sail on a couple of previous occasions but this would be the first time we would be taking the inshore passage around St Albans head. As cautious sailors we had always headed offshore in the past! The ledge extends some 4 miles out and can cause some pretty rough seas so we have usually given it a wide berth of at least 5 miles. But this time the weather and conditions were looking favourable so we thought why not!

When taking the inshore passage you pass the firing ranges of Lulworth, and they do not like you sailing through when they’re firing. In fact if you start getting close they quickly come flying out on their range control boat to chase you away! However as it was the summer holidays the firing ranges were not in operation. You can get information about the times on the GOV.UK website. You can also call up Lulworth Range Safety Boat on Channel 8 or telephone 01929 404819. When the ranges are in use mariners are asked to avoid their sea danger areas which extends approximately 6 nautical miles south of Lulworth Cove and to keep at least 1+ miles clear of the target buoys on St.Albans ledge.

Sailing towards St Albans Head
Approaching St Albans Head, Jurassic Coast

The wind was particularly light so for the majority of our trip we were motor sailing. However the previous few days had been fairly windy so we did incur a bit of a swell, particularly as we approached the headland at St Albans Head. We called up the NCI at St Albans Head on Channel 65, call sign ‘St Albans Head NCI’ who advised us that conditions around the headland were fine and we should have no problems proceeding on our intended route.

On arrival into Swanage we picked up a mooring buoy belonging to Swanage Sailing Club who have a number of swing moorings available in the bay. The cost was £10 a night. Payment can be posted through the letterbox at the sailing club – they have a little box with envelopes in it. On the envelope you write your boat name and the number of nights you are staying, pop the cash in the envelope and post it through the letterbox! Alternatively you can call the number on the pick up mooring buoy and pay by card. The buoys have pick up lines, albeit ours was a milk carton attached to a line with another line wrapped around it, a little messy but better than none at all!

The sailing club were also kind enough to allow us to tie up our tender to some trailers they had on their beach, although it is a bit of a hike up the beach. Unfortunately Swanage is not very well catered for secure tender/dinghy storage for visiting yachts and boats. There is a steep concrete slip just by the stone pier which has 4 or 5 rings to which you can tie your dinghy. However there is a step up to it so if your tender is fairly heavy it could be a bit of a struggle. Also at busy times, like it was, this gets full quickly. A couple of the tenders actually looked like they had been left there for some time! Another downside for us was the fact this area is right by a small beach popular with children and dogs. It was very busy so getting to the slip was difficult. We also didn’t like the idea of so many people sitting and ‘operating’ around our tender and outboard!

However there is a water taxi service which runs at peak times such as weekends and school holidays – https://www.facebook.com/Swanagewatertaxi/. Telephone 07802 480139. Lee who runs it is fantastic…..a great helpful guy who provides a very prompt and reliable service. The cost was £2.50 per person (2021) and it runs from 9.00am until 6.00pm (weather and season dependant so do check first).

Swanage is a lovely bay but when the wind turns easterly the bay is not a pleasant place to be. This is what happened to us on our last night. The sea turns rolly and the waves kick up. It was time to move on…..!

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