We’ve all heard the saying, “Any port in a storm”.  Unfortunately, that really only applies to commercial vessels, who usually have the ability to get safely into commercial ports in bad weather.  For leisure sailors, the reality is far, far different…

Because the UK is home to some of the larger tidal ranges in the world, a great many UK harbours suffer from large tidal flows into and out of their entrances during the peaks of the twice-daily tidal cycles. Combined with naturally occurring sea floor features such as bars at the entrance, access to UK harbours is often restricted during peak tidal flows.  Storms and high winds only exacerbate that situation, as the wind against the tidal flows makes the water much rougher, and boat passages difficult if not outright dangerous.  For example, tidal flows out of Poole Harbour can reach up to 5 knots of water speed at peak, which can be sustained for nearly an hour.  A small boat trying to enter Poole is likely to have an engine that is only capable of propelling the boat at 5 to 6 knots – meaning that at full power they are standing still!  No wonder that sailors refer to the tidal flow times as the “tidal gate” – and indeed it is as if a giant gate exists at the harbour entrance barring small boats.

When storms or darkness descend upon the English Coast then, sailors facing inaccessible harbours have only two alternatives – stay out to sea and ride it out, or find a safe place to drop their anchor outside of the harbour.  Riding out a storm in the English Channel is not something that many sailors would do willingly, and many coastal boats are not up to the task if it is a severe storm.  Therefore it is imperative that they find a safe shelter, a place to drop the anchor that protects their boat from the prevailing winds and the worst of the waves.

The only real protection comes from land, either naturally occurring land or man-made breakwaters.  Thankfully, the English Coast has a great many anchorages, but relatively few of them are protected from several sides.

In an unsheltered anchorage, the waves and wind enter the bay and “stack-up” the water as the bay shoals.  Boats in unsheltered anchorages can find themselves plunging up and down 2 meter or larger waves, with each boat movement threatening to unset the anchor as the boat surges against it, and making life below very difficult for the crew.  The crew will sleep little, what with their bunks moving violently as the boat plunges, and of course the worry of dragging the anchor means that someone (if not everyone!) will likely stay awake to keep watch.

In a sheltered anchorage, the reduction in wind and waves allows the boat’s crew to move about safely on the boat’s deck to deploy the anchor from the bow, a task that can be fairly dangerous in an unsheltered anchorage in itself.  And once deployed, the anchor is put under much reduced stress and forces to dislodge it.  The crew can repair to their bunks, which will not be slamming up and down all night.  And they can sleep well, knowing that their protection means that they will not be dragging out their anchor.  These anchorages, these “sheltered anchorages”, are essential refuges for sailors and boaters -and are like gold in their rarity and value in protecting the lives of sailors.

Studland Bay is a popular and valuable anchorage which is sheltered from the prevailing southwesterly and westerly winds, and is used as a picturesque daytime stop, for overnight stays for boats on passage, and as a refuge from heavy weather from the west sector.  It is the only such anchorage on the coast between Weymouth and the Solent, other than Poole Harbour itself.