IOPCC Trip Report

Chalk to Chalk
Friday 13th April 2012

Chalk to Chalk is a classic paddle, linking the chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks near Swanage to the chalk Needles on the Isle of Wight. A trip planned a number of times, but called off because of poor weather. Friday 13th doesnít sound like an auspicious day for a crossing, but the tides were right and the weather looked almost perfect, so we went for it. The plan was to start from Sandbanks, cross to Old Harry Rocks and catch the start of the easterly tide to help us across to the Needles, then along to Fort Albert on the Island, cross over to Hurst Castle, and then up the small estuary to Keyhaven, total distance around 20 nautical miles (nms). The group comprised Barbara, Tony & I, (none of us at the peak of fitness), with Ian providing invaluable transport (many many thanks, Ian). Tides were just after neaps.

Set off from Sandbanks just before the planned start time of 9:00am, and with light winds, clear blue skies and a following tide, got to Old Harry Rocks earlier than anticipated. We went round Old Harry Rocks to make it a real Chalk to Chalk, then set off on a pre-calculated compass bearing, which, counter-intuitively, felt like it was taking us out to sea, with no sign of the Isle of Wight. We still had a little ebb tide against us for a short while, but it soon felt as if it were changing and our pace seemed to increase.

A couple of stops, rafting up for a drink & nibbles. At one stop, a couple of yachts sailed past, and we could hear them on the radio wondering what we were doing there as it seemed a long way out to sea, and if we were ok. Barbara radioed them to thank them for their concern, and said we knew what we were doing!

Gradually, the Isle of Wight became clearer through the slight haze, first a smudge on the horizon, then more clearly with cliffs. Because of the visual distance, the Island appeared to be floating on the water, a perspective which didnít go until we got quite close.

As we approached the Island, the Shingles and the shipping channel require some attention. I had identified a red beacon buoy (SW Shingles) which we needed to stay to the south of, and we headed for what we thought was the right buoy. When we got close, we realized it wasnít the right buoy, the right buoy being further to the south, so we ended up going through some choppy water as the tide surged over a shallow area of the Shingles. Next section was across the shipping channel, just under a mile. No shipping, but a strong tide by this time, so a ferry glide across to the Needles, using the lighthouse and cliff behind as a transit, and paddling hard at about 45 degrees to avoid dropping below the lighthouse; hard work, but dramatic and exciting. The passage plan showed 4 hours for the 13 nms from Old Harry Rocks to the Needles, but we had done it in around 3 Ĺ hours.

Quick photo opportunity at the Needles lighthouse, then went through between the stacks (threading the Needles), with a little overfall and some bouncy water. Then across Alum Bay to stop for lunch on a beach.

After lunch, the passage plan was to continue along the coast to Fort Albert, then ferry glide across to Hurst Castle, but there was hardly any boat traffic, and it looked calm, so we cut across directly to Hurst Castle. We came across/went through a few little tidal races, and some bumpy bits, but with the tidal assistance we made the distance, 2 nms, in about 30 minutes.

The round the back of Hurst Castle, and up the small estuary to Keyhaven, a completely different landscape of mud and salt marshes, as if we were suddenly paddling somewhere on the East Anglian coast.

Ian was waiting for us when we got there. And as we disembarked, someone was kind enough to ask where we had come from, and was suitably impressed when we told them; always a good feeling.
A classic trip in excellent conditions and with great company; what more could we ask for!


Seen off by the terrier support team Approaching Old Harry
Tony and Hugh Tide race off the Shingles
Hugh at the Needles and Tony
Lunch at Alum Bay Hurst Castle...nearly back
Keyhaven Conquering heroes!

Pictures of the paddle are on the
Galleries Page


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Report: Hugh de Iongh
Pics: Barbara Hackworthy



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