Weymouth Bay

Jim Saltonstall looks at Weymouth Bay - sailing's Olympic field of dreams

Friday July 21st 2000, Author: Jim Saltonstall M.B.E., Location: United Kingdom
One of the best racing venues in Great Britain today, Weymouth offers superb conditions for all types of racing machine. Central to the south coast of England, it attracts many classes of dinghy for their national championships, as well as other important events - like Olympic selection trials. Recently Weymouth was nominated as one of the nine national sailing academies, with a view to it being the preferred site for the Olympic yachting regatta - if the games come to Great Britain in 2012.

During April 2000, the new centre was opened in time for the British Olympic trials. It is based at the old Royal Naval helicopter base in Portland, and now offers good shore side facilities that will be constantly improved. There are sheds large enough to take the majority of dinghies and small yachts with their rigs left up, safe over-night storage and a dry area to work on the boats during the rainy season!

The clubhouse offers a bar and excellent ferret fodder, good changing rooms and showers, and superb hospitality offered by both Phil and Sandra Gollop, who manage the site. Launching facilities are excellent, with two wide concrete ramps into the harbour, accessible at all states of the tide. There is also plenty of car parking space, on site, next to the boat park and clubhouse.

Accommodation in the area is plentiful, either in Portland itself, or in Weymouth. Book early for the summer months though, as it is very popular, being steeped in both character and history. On Portland Bill, there is an excellent youth hostel that’s good value for money. There are numerous excellent pubs and restaurants in both Portland and Weymouth, many of them frequented by the majority of sailors. Phil and Sandra will also advise you where to acquire the best fish and chips. The centre can offer various other facilities if requested in good time, such as the ever-faithful "Sorebones" - Dr Frank and Jeni Newton's race management facility, with racing marks, rescue boats etc.

Race Areas

Weymouth Bay

The main racing area is normally situated between the middle entrance of Portland harbour, 'A' head and White Nothe, where the cliffs begin to rise, straddling the twenty metre depth contour on the chart.

Wind Direction

340-030 degrees: Shifty! Eyes-out-of-the-boat with the wind in this direction. The shifts down in the starting area can be up to 30 degrees either side of the mean wind direction - and quite frequent (every one-to-three minutes). In contrast, up in the windward mark area, the shifts can be as much as 60 degrees within a two minute period. It is essential to know before the start the numbers on the compass - when are you high and low on either tack? So that at start time you know which is the lifting tack out of the starting area, then you can make sure that you are in sequence with the wind oscillations up the beat. With this information between your port and starboard earlobes, you can use this data to good effect each time you round the leeward mark.

Remember that in the northern hemisphere, as the wind leaves the land to come onto the water, there is an initial wind veer - moving to the right. So in a northerly wind, there will be a lifting port tack in towards the land. The closer to the shore you are, the bigger the lift will be - check it out on the day of the race. Also, look at where the mark is in relation to the valleys to the west of White Nothe. The wind is stronger coming down the valley with a spreading effect as it comes out onto the sea. This can lift you on either port or starboard tack, depending on the mark’s position in relation to the exit of the valley.

030-100 degrees: Go Left! There is more wind on the left because of the convergence. And if you get close enough to the land, you get headed as you go in on starboard tack and lifted as you come out on port.

100-180 degrees: The most stable wind direction for the bay, in both strength and velocity - but it also produces the roughest sea! Tidal direction plays a more significant part now, which we will look at separately later.

180 degrees: Work the middle-to-left up the beat, so as to stay away from the Bill (Portland Bill) where there is less wind because of the wind divergence. Caution - with an ebb spring tide, hard right can pay, especially in light winds if the starboard layline is anywhere near the wall of Portland harbour. We will look at this later when we talk about the tidal direction.

190-210 degrees: With the wind in this direction, the wind is well affected by the Bill itself, with the wind flowing around both its northern and southern sides as well as coming over the top and dropping vertically down on its north-east edge. Where the race area is in relation to the Bill, and how far away from it the windward mark is, will determine the best way to go up the beat. Generally speaking, if the Bill is more on the port side of the course it pays to go left for the convergence (giving more wind); if the Bill is more in the middle, look out for the shifts, especially as you get closer to it.

220-250 degrees: There is now a natural wind bend in the bay, as the wind comes around the northern edge of the Bill, it is squeezed through Portland harbour. Out into the bay, it then starts to parallel the coast line. From the starting area, the long starboard tack takes you into the bend - heading you sailing in, while port tack lifts you on the way out. Be careful not to overstand the windward mark, especially with an ebbing tide.

250-300 degrees: Between 250 and 270 degrees, it normally pays to work the shifts left-of-middle, with the wind coming around the northern side of the Bill. From 270 to 300, it pays to work the shifts right-of-middle, with the wind coming around the northern side of Weymouth town.

300-350 degrees: The wind is now coming from over the town, with shifts of up to 15 degrees. Once again, this is very much the numbers game on the compass, knowing your highs and lows as you exit the starting area and each time you round the leeward mark.


The tide in Weymouth Bay is only significant south of the ten metre line running around the bay, and more so as you get closer to the twenty metre line and to the south of that. The other area of tidal concern is along Portland harbour wall, northerly on the flood, southerly on the ebb, except at the north and middle entrances, where as you would expect, it is more westerly on the flood and easterly on the ebb. In the bay itself, the flood tide comes past Portland Bill, then travels in a north-easterly direction sweeping clockwise around the bay. It is strongest either side of the twenty metre line and to the south, heading towards Lulworth Bank. The ebb tide sweeps around the bay anti-clockwise in a south-westerly direction. It is again strongest either side of the twenty metre line and to the south. Further North in the bay, tidal movement is minimal. Between the north entrance of Portland Harbour and Osmington is a large area of still water.

Portland Harbour

Wind Direction

340-020 degrees: Shifty! The numbers game on the compass again. High land blocks the wind coming over Castle Cove, so the wind shifts up around the windward mark area can be up to 60 degrees. Down in the leeward mark area they are only 20 degrees - don't get to the laylines early!

020-090 degrees: Go Left! There is convergent breeze to the left-of-middle, with a possible header on starboard as you go into the left hand side, and lifts out on port as you sail off the north shore.

090-160 degrees: This is the most stable direction in the harbour, in both direction and velocity.

160-220 degrees: The worst direction, with the wind coming around both sides of the Bill, as well as over the top. As you approach the windward mark area, standby to be capsized from above! What is critical now, is the position of the windward mark in relation to the Bill. If the windward mark is more to the left, expect more lifts on port tack, with the wind coming around the eastern side of the Bill. If the windward mark is more to the right, expect lifts on starboard with the wind coming more around the western side.

220-280 degrees: Go Left! There is more breeze that way, because of the convergence on the left-hand side of the course, around the northern edge of the Bill. If the windward mark is close to the northern edge of the Bill, be aware of a right hand shift lifting starboard tack, as the wind bends around the northern edge.

280-340 degrees: Left-of-middle normally pays as there is a divergence of wind on the south side of the course; however, the tide can now play an important part in your race strategy as you will see when we talk about the tide in the harbour.


In Portland harbour, the tide is mainly significant during spring tides. Its effect can be felt mainly near the entrances across the tide range, and also near the bridge up in the north-west corner of the harbour. The flood tide travels across the harbour from east-to-west, and clockwise around its western side up to the bridge. During the ebb, it travels across the harbour from west-to-east and anti-clockwise around the western side of the harbour, so be careful with your laylines in the lighter wind races.

Sea Breeze

A good sea breeze will develop in the bay given the following conditions: Early morning whilst jogging prior to breakfast(!), there is a light north-westerly blowing with a clear blue sky. Then by approximately 1100-1200, cumulus clouds start to develop over the land. Thereafter, expect the sea breeze to come in. The initial direction is usually 160 degrees, backing to approximately 140 degrees as it builds, then veering with the sun as the day gets older. It should end the afternoon at approximately 240 degrees. So in the afternoon, protect the starboard side of the course!

Weymouth and Portland are great places to race and train. I am sure that as the facilities continue to improve, they will become more and more popular with all the keen racing classes.

Other Information Sources

Admiralty Charts

2255 (good detailed chart of the racing area)

Admiralty Small Craft Charts

SC2610 (Portland Bill to Anvil Point, just south of Poole, not as much detail as 2255 above)

Tidal Information

Tide Flow Chart Portland/Needles, published by Roberts Charts
Admiralty Tidal Stream Atlas Number 257 (Approaches to Portland)

Tourist Office

Weymouth, phone: 01305 785 747

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