IOPCC Trip Report

Around the Island East to West
January 2nd 2011

This paddle was originally open to everyone but as there was hardly any interest shown (is anyone out there?) We decided to use the day to paddle around the Isle of Portland from Sandsfoot to Chesil Cove – that is East to West.

After careful planning using the tidal flow charts and monitoring the weather over the previous few days, five members of IOPCC met at Sandsfoot and decided to head off towards the Bill.

The five paddlers – Jon, Dicky, Toby, Ian and I are all experienced and also used to paddling with each other. We were suitable dressed for the chilly conditions and had all the necessary safety equipment with us in quantity. Expectations of staying close together and looking out for each other were implicit.

It was evident from the sea state in Portland Harbour that this wasn’t going to be a quiet little dibble. The wind was Force 3 – 4 mainly E/ENE but it was sufficient to produce waves in the harbour. We had spoken to Portland Coastguard to log our trip before leaving Sandsfoot beach at 10.30 and as we crossed towards the South Ship Channel we heard a group of 16 paddlers also logging their trip. They were from Upper Hamble Canoe Club and were paddling from Castletown to Chesil Cove. Our initial thoughts were that this was a very large group to be tackling such a serious stretch of water.

As we approached the South Ship Channel we could see that the sea was rough. There was significant tidal flow in the entrance which is normal but the sea outside was also quite rough with some breaking waves. This produced much whooping and hollering from Dicky and Jon as they enjoyed bouncing their way out!

As we made our way along the East coast of the Isle we were surprised by the speed and strength of the tidal flow. This was a small tide we were paddling on and although tidal flow on the flood is strong, it was more than we had expected. It was all going our way, though, so we made good progress. Off every little point there was tidal activity, known as ‘shaffles’ locally. The race off Grove Point was extensive.

As we approached Red Crane (?) the promontory just before the Bill the sea looked significantly rougher ahead and I put my camera away (Bad sign!). We had a reality check whilst being swiftly taken into the rough water by the tide. Staying close together we negotiated this section of rough water and rounded the corner to find relative calm at the Bill of Portland. We took time to wave and pose for photographs by our shore party, Sharon and Keith, before moving on towards Pulpit Rock. Jon just could not resist paddling through Pulpit Rock despite a huddle of fishermen on it with lines out in all directions. We were at this point at 12.15 - an hour and a half after leaving Sandsfoot.

The sea was much calmer on the west side of the Isle with the entire race on the flood being off to the East. There was however a large groundswell with some huge lumps of water coming through.

We paddled down the West Coast of Portland stopping to eat Toby’s cheese and pickled onion sandwiches. When we were off Blacknor Point, Portland Coastguard called us on VHF to warn us of large dumping surf at Chesil Cove which might make our landing difficult. Nobby had called in with the information and asked it to be passed on. Thanks Nobby for giving us the heads up on this.

We paddled down to Chesil as a group and decided we would land because as it was now 13.15 it was too late to consider paddling back round the Island. We observed the landing for a while and Dicky chose his spot and got ashore perfectly. Once one person is safely ashore it is easier for the rest of the group and we all landed without incident.

We were quite cold once ashore but all had hot drinks and food with us and were soon warmed up with the exercise of carrying the boats up Chesil Beach. Sharon had kindly offered to be our taxi service as well as photographer and shore contact so we soon had the shuttle underway.

A friend of the other group of kayakers was  at Chesil Cove waiting for them to appear. It turned out that they were from The Upper Hamble Canoe Club. She told us that they were an experienced group and had coaches with them and had done much bigger trips than this. I turned my VHF back on at this point – about 15.00.

When we left Chesil Cove there was no sign of the Hamble group and, of course, we now know why. They were about to be involved in one of the biggest incidents involving kayakers for some time. They sent their mayday at 16.00 and at this point they were off the Bill. You can read more about their incident by following the links on this page.

The first we knew about the incident was when I had a call from Ken at about 17.15 – asking if it was us! Thankfully it wasn’t.

I don’t know what went wrong on the water but I do know that the conditions were much worse than we had expected from the weather forecast and the size of the tide. The Hamble group were out for a very long time, their original intention was to come into Chesil Cove but it looks as if they may have come round the Bill and then decided to try to paddle back to Portland Harbour. It all went horribly wrong for them but thankfully all 16 were saved by the RNLI in a very impressive rescue co-ordinated by Portland Coastguard.

This incident must make us very determined to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. Planning is very important especially in an area like the Isle of Portland. Everyone knows Portland Bill is potentially a dangerous place to be. They know all this – this is a quote from The Upper Hamble Canoe Club website…

“However, the ocean can be temperamental, so weather, tides and charts should be considered and journeys planned.”

Mistakes were made and I suspect their biggest errors were made before they got on the water. In my first few months of sea paddling I received some sound and memorable advice from Mark Rainsley. Something along the lines of ‘the most important skill you will develop as a sea kayaker is when to go and when not to go’. Wise words.
Portland Harbour at the Hood Entrance Bit choppy on the way to Grove Point
Toby and Ian Approaching the Bill
Pulpit Rock Jon
Time to check out the caves Dicky
Toby and his world class cheese and pickled onion sandwiches Jon and Dicky
Pig! Waiting to land at Chesil Cove
Safe and sound Shore contact, photographer, taxi service and superstar...Sharon
GPS trace of the paddle.

Click the thumbnail to view a bigger image.

Pictures of the paddle are on the
Galleries Page.


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Report: Barbara Browning
Pictures: Barbara Browning



Paddling on the Jurassic Coast