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This article first appeared in  RIB International.

Poole, the St Tropez of the South? 

Or so says the tourist literature, a grand claim for somewhere in the UK but what’s it like as a place to go boating? Paul Glatzel reports.

 It’s that time of the year again and you’re sitting there thinking about what a new season’s boating will bring, you’ve listed the little jobs that need doing on the boat, and you’ve finally sussed the mystifying little (big!) manual on the new electronic gizmo you bought at Excel.  But now the hard part – where’s that special location to take the boat this summer that you and the family will remember for years to come?

 After Sydney, Poole is the second largest natural in the world, has a coastline of some 60 miles and covers 10 acres. The Harbour is a place of contrasts, on the one hand Poole Harbour is about vast wealth, large expensive houses (the Sandbanks Peninsula is the 4th most expensive place in the world to live), glorious Sunseekers (they’re built here), swanky bars and delightful restaurants. On the other hand it is an area of truly outstanding natural beauty where you can experience total tranquillity well away from other boats and people. In fact, in some areas of the harbour you will can anchor with only one or two other boats for company and you’ll struggle to believe you are actually in one of the busiest boating areas in the country.

 If you are trailing then your first challenge is to find somewhere to launch. Baiter Slipway is the only ‘large-ish’ public slipway and is just along from Poole Town centre. The shallow angle of the slipway means that you will struggle to launch anything over about 18 ft by hand or you will need an extremely long line to attach to the trailer. In the summer it can become hugely busy with long queues to launch and recover. Alternatives are the marina slipways but do make sure you book in advance as they will be closed to all but those who prebook or have a marina pass when it’s busy.

 Check the tide tables too as the approaches to one or two of the launch sites dry out at low water springs. Apparently, the average depth of water in the harbour is 2ft, so always check a chart and the tide tables to work out where you can go. Staying in the main channels is a safe bet but will mean you miss out on some of the really beautiful areas of the harbour.

 In addition to the usual ‘rules of the road’ you will also need to adhere to the local bylaws governing the harbour. These impose speed restrictions of 6 or 10 knots throughout the harbour (and a little beyond) in the summer season, whilst over the winter months the limit is lifted in some of the main channels.

 From the entrance to the harbour two well marked channels take you up towards Poole Quay.  The North Channel is the longer route and is mainly used by pleasure craft whilst the Main Channel is also used by the various ferries and commercial ships that frequent the harbour.  To the side of the Main Channel is a small ships channel that you should keep to as much as possible. If you are a bit more adventurous though follow the winding channel round behind Brownsea Island (where Baden-Powell founded the Scouts in 1907) and anchor for complete tranquillity and stunning scenery. The channel continues round the back of Green and Furzey Islands and back to Brownsea past Pottery Pier.  Pottery Pier is a great little anchorage which is popular with local boats, be careful if swimming here as the tide can really rip through the anchorage.  If the tide is with you then a trip between the Arne Peninsula and Long Island is well worth it too – you may even see the Harbour’s resident seal if you’re lucky.

 Once back in the main channel you have the choice of turning up towards the Wareham Channel heading up to Wareham. This takes you past the Royal Marines/SBS base and into the waterski area. If you want to ski here obtain a permit from the Harbour Commissioners or from the office at Baiter, stay in the approved ski area and keep an eye on the depth.

 The long and winding channel that leads you up to Wareham Quay is best attempted on a flood tide to ensure you have plenty of water and time at Wareham. Once at Wareham you can grab a bite to eat at one of the quayside eateries whilst keeping an eye on your pride and joy. Back at Poole Quay mooring in the new Marina at Dolphin Haven gives you the opportunity to explore the revitalised Quayside and wander around the town, short term moorings are always available. Pottering along the Quay towards the lifting bridge takes you past the Sunseeker factory where you can size up your next purchase! Continuing under the bridge and towards Holes Bay brings the new RNLI training centre into sight and yet more Sunseekers. Follow the channel on and you reach the largest marina in the harbour - Cobbs Quay. Here you can get a short term berth and a bite to eat overlooking the marina and Holes Bay.

 There is so much to do and see in the harbour that you could spend many days just exploring it and soaking up the beauty. Make time though to get beyond the harbour entrance and see the beaches, cliffs and bays that have lead to this part of the Dorset coast being listed as a World Heritage site.

 As you exit the Harbour keep well clear of the Chain Ferry and its trailing chains. It indicates its direction of travel by a black ball at the ‘front’ of the ferry and a strobe light if darker. Ahead of you is the Swash channel whilst immediately left before the Swash cardinal mark is the Looe Channel leading towards the beaches of Bournemouth.

 Continuing out along the Swash Channel don’t be tempted to turn right too soon until the last in the line of red posts. These posts mark a ridge of rocks referred to as the “Training Bank” – many a boat has come to grief on top of them. Equally don’t turn to the left too soon as the shallows of Hook Sands claim many a prop and outdrive each year. Once clear you can safely turn to Starboard and head to the beaches and anchorages of Studland Bay.

 Between the Harbour entrance and the rock formation known as “Old Harry” are 3 miles of golden sandy beaches. If its takes your fancy then there’s even a nudist beach, beach volleyball is particularly popular!

 Where the beaches meet the cliffs is South Beach. Well sheltered and hugely popular, in the summer you will do well to find anywhere to even lay an anchor let alone let out 6x the depth of anchor warp. Anchoring here though allows you to reach the beach and its little café or stroll up the hill to the Bankes Arms with its large beer garden and stunning views over the bay (there’s a public toilet there too!). Slightly back towards the Harbour entrance is Middle Beach. There’s a café but it seems less popular with the boating fraternity. There’s also the National Trust centre with a café and other facilities but the hordes of people who have fallen out of the car park and onto the beaches here rules it out as a sensible place to stop. If you want to ski then most boats either ski parallel to the beaches or parallel to the cliffs towards Old Harry, keep outside of the yellow marks which denote the 5 knots zone. During the day the wash from other craft can make it uncomfortable, wait though til late in the afternoon and the seas will usually calm considerably.

 Old Harry is an outcrop of rock at the end of the cliffs and marks the turn out of Studland Bay and towards Swanage. The cliffs and caves between Old Harry and Swanage are worth a look but time your arrival there to avoid the choppy conditions you get there as tide races round the headland. Swanage is a great bay with excellent waterskiing (if the wind is from the right direction) and is far less crowded although the beaches are shingle so not as child friendly. Swanage itself is a pleasant little village but you will need to anchor up or take a mooring and contact the water taxi to get to shore. Progressing along the coast you will appreciate why this coastline receives so many plaudits, whilst not as rugged as the coast of Cornwall the cliffs and small bays are stunningly impressive, no more so than Durdle Dor and Lulworth Cove. Formed by the action of thousands of years of erosion in an area of softer rock Lulworth Cove is a delightful small bay which is well worth a visit.

 Had you turned left when exiting the harbour you would have passed down the Looe Channel towards the Solent. The channel passes close to the shore area of the Sandbanks Peninsula so beware of adventurous swimmers and stay well clear of the beach. As you pass through the Looe Channel check out the flats and houses to your left which enjoy a view out of their rear towards the sea and the front over the Harbour. Whilst you may choose to anchor here you could hop down the coast towards Hengistbury Head where you will find the entrance to Christchurch Harbour.

 Christchurch Harbour is far smaller than Poole’s and has less places to stop but it is well worth a visit, keep to the channels as there is very little water outside them. You will need to time your entry carefully as the entrance is very shallow at low water springs.

 There’s so much to see and do round Poole that many people choose to make it a place to stay for a week or two, even then you can go back each year, each week or even each day and you will always see or hear something new and different. As the tourist blurb puts it – “it’s a beautiful place” and it’s a great boating location too.


 Imray – Poole Harbour (Code Y15)

Stanfords – Local series (Code L12)

Admirality – Poole harbour and approaches (Code SC 2611)

 Launch sites

 Check out www.boatlaunch.co.uk


 Piplers, Poole Quay

Force 4, Bournemouth Road

CQ Chandlers, Cobbs Quay

Quay West Chandlers, Mitchells Boat Yard

Salterns Marina, Salterns


 Poole Harbour Control – 01202 440200 – VHF Channel 14

Dolphin Yacht Haven – 01202 649488 – VHF Channel 80

Poole Tourism (www.pooletourism.com & 01202 253253)


 Cobbs Quay (Diesel, Petrol & LPG)

Poole Quay (Diesel)

Salterns Marina (Diesel & Petrol)

Floating fuel barge (Diesel & Petrol) (located near “Aunt Betty” cardinal mark just outside the main channel)


Paul Glatzel runs a RYA Powerboat School in the harbour – Powerboat Training UK (www.powerboat-training-uk.co.uk).

Author: Paul Glatzel
Contact: www.powerboat-training-uk.co.uk

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