Cruise into Chichester Harbour on the South Coast
Tuesday - 27 July 2021
For many small-craft skippers contemplating a cruise into Chichester Harbour on the South Coast, the thought (and reputation) of Chichester Bar, three-quarters of a mile south-west of the harbour entrance, can present something of a physical barrier. Perhaps it’s best to interpret this shifting, shallow spit as a justification for simply doing your homework properly beforehand: studying definitive, up-to-date LightHouse charts, respecting the weather and tides, and checking Local Notices to Mariners.
The approach to the 27 navigable square miles of Chichester Harbour is subject to a substantial tidal range. Low water exposes a number of channels, and mariners need to be mindful of the East Pole, Middle Pole and West Pole sands as well as the hefty shingle bank on the eastern side, marked by three conical green buoys and ominously named The Winner; but novices should be reassured that navigation buoys clearly indicate the deep-water channels. While it’s reasonable to assume that these will provide a minimum depth of two metres at low water, Chichester Bar itself silts up readily despite being sporadically dredged; and even then, only to a depth of 1.5m below chart datum (equating to a depth of 2m at mean low water Springs). This can shrink over time, and following severe gales, to a mere 0.7m below chart datum, so it’s imperative to be up to speed with the latest depths.
The advice to skippers tackling the bar for the first time is to cross during Neaps in placid summer conditions, with a light offshore wind. It should be noted that attempting entry in strong onshore winds on ebb tides capable of reaching up to six knots is actively discouraged!
Once beyond the bar, the rewards can be plentiful for keen-eyed, nature-loving mariners, although of course it very much pays to keep your wits about you. The waters are exceptionally busy, hosting regular race events and accommodating thousands of sailing craft, and are consequently well policed by the Harbour Authority. The eight-knot speed limit and rules of the road are strictly enforced, and boats are expected to display the appropriate daysignals.
With its largely undeveloped and pristine environment, a rich network of creeks, saltings and tidal flats, Chichester Harbour is an emblematic focal point for conservation projects and studies, and is home to a gratifyingly wide variety of wildlife. Birdwatchers cherish the proliferation of waders, wildfowl and overwintering geese that use this Special Protection Area as a safe and well-stocked larder, while the expanse also contains precious, carefully monitored colonies of water voles, bats and common seals. The bat listening walks introduced by Chichester Harbour Conservancy have proved extremely popular in recent years.
As you’d expect, Chichester Harbour is also very well served with visitor mooring and boat servicing amenities. The 140-berth Sparkes Marina, on the south-eastern tip of Hayling Island, is situated right at the start of the approach, and its dedicated visitor berths offer up to 2m depth at mean low water Springs. Itchenor Sailing Club, meanwhile, has six swinging moorings for visitors, each of which can accommodate up to six yachts depending on their size, as well as visitors’ pontoon moorings sited beyond the club on the channel’s south side.
At the eastern end of the harbour, Chichester Marina proudly possesses a Five Gold Anchors award, indicative of the first-class facilities which visitors can expect. The fees for overnight stays in the marinas include harbour dues, but if stopping overnight thereafter within the harbour but outside a marina, harbour dues would then be applicable.
As regards anchorages, these are available west of Fairway Buoy on the south side of the channel, east of Pilsey Island and north of East Head. Care must naturally be taken to avoid anchoring in the main channel or near navigation and racing marks, and vessels at anchor are required to display an anchor light during hours of darkness and a black ball in daylight. In addition, there are public jetties at Itchenor and Emsworth, where scrubbing piles are also located, bookable through the harbour office.