Isle of Wight Cowes

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Weather & Tides
Today - Light Cloud
Maximum: 7C, Minimum: 3C
Wind: 10mph Westerly, Visibility: Good, Pollution: Low, Sunrise: 07:53 GMT, Sunset: 16:43 GMT
Friday - Light Cloud
Maximum: 11C, Minimum: 7C
Wind: 13mph Westerly, Visibility: Good, Pollution: Low, Sunrise: 07:51 GMT, Sunset: 16:45 GMT
Saturday - Light Rain
Maximum: 10C, Minimum: 5C
Wind: 25mph South Westerly, Visibility: Good, Pollution: Low, Sunrise: 07:50 GMT, Sunset: 16:46 GMT
Thu 24 Jan
Fri 25 Jan
Sat 26 Jan
Sun 27 Jan
Mon 28 Jan
Tue 29 Jan
Wed 30 Jan


Playing the tidal streams to advantage from Cowes to Gurnard Bay by Peter Bruce, author of Solent and Island Tidal streams.

One certainty for tidal streams in confined areas such as the Solent, where tidal streams are pretty fast compared to, say, the coast of Britain clear of headlands, is that the tide will run faster in deeper water. If at all possible one does not want to be fighting a contrary tide in the deep trenches left over from when the Solent was a river, a situation that could be likened to going the wrong way up an escalator. Thus roundabout routes in shallow water are often found to pay, especially in light airs. One of the great delights of sailing in the Solent is the possibility of riding a favourable eddy whilst others struggle against a contrary spring stream. One feels a grand sense of achievement as the competition fades into the haze behind. In a race, the first yacht to pick up the eddy may be long gone by the time others discover it, so it is most helpful to know how and where eddies form.
In simple terms, an eddy will form on the downstream side of a promontory, moreover the larger the promontory and the faster the main stream, the more pronounced the eddy will be. Initially an eddy forms weakly close to the shore where the depth may be too shallow to take any advantage. As the main tide develops in strength as time passes, the eddy will gradually strengthen and spread further out to sea. With very strong tides, and consequent very strong eddies, a second eddy can form inshore of the first that runs in the direction of the main tidal stream. The tide line, which is the interface between the main stream and the eddy, is usually recognisable as a stream of more turbulent water often with flotsam present. Unlike sailing in a contrary tidal flow, when it pays to keep in as shallow water as possible, the strongest flow of the eddy will be nearer the tide line. It may be that the eddy that forms on a spring tide will not form at all at neaps, though for those beating against a foul tide there will still be an advantage in sailing in a slacker stream where the spring tide eddy develops. Finally one should not forget that the direction of the tidal stream changes along the shore first so, compounded by an eddy, the shore stream will run faster than the developing main stream for up to an hour after the main tide has changed.
Running aground can be a heavy price to pay for exploiting an eddy, so those with a penchant for using favourable currents near the shore need to know what hazards lie beneath the surface. In many cases a close watch on the echo sounder is all that is needed to avoid encountering the seabed but there are places where local knowledge is more than useful, and Cowes is definitely one of these. The book Solent Hazards has been recently updated and provides invaluable information.
Just west of the entrance to Cowes harbour, off The Green, there is an eddy that develops on the flood tide, which at one time was known as Uffa’s Eddy after the old Solent master Uffa Fox. Once well developed, the eddy forms out in deeper water, however one may want or are forced by other yachts to go close inshore, for example when going to windward. It is worth knowing that by keeping to seaward of the transit between the old Egypt Point light structure and the statue with a lion semi-rampant off the New Holmwood Hotel, one keeps clear of Grantham Rocks that pop up from otherwise quite deep water. Useful though Uffa’s Eddy is, it comes to an abrupt end at Egypt Point, and those who have the option to start on the other side of the Solent may now have a significant advantage. It will usually pay to go on the north shore if the windward mark is further west than Saltmead.

Should circumstances dictate the use of the Island shore, less tide will be found inside Gurnard Ledge, but this can be a tricky route with a real danger, towards low tide, of bigger yachts being unable to cross the ledge at its western end. Race officers usually set courses that do not allow this situation to occur, but from time to time they do. For example in 1981 about a quarter of the Admiral’s Cup fleet went aground on Gurnard Ledge. To the west of Egypt Point on the Solent flood the tide is still strong and adverse nearly everywhere along the Island shore. However it should be remembered that the strongest tide of all in the central Solent, nearly four knots at extreme spring tides, is well offshore to the north of Gurnard Ledge buoy. Of course even stronger tidal streams can be found in the west Solent off Hurst Point.
At the height of a Solent ebb tide, an eddy or slack tide forms in Gurnard Bay and it will invariably pay to keep in the eddy when going to the east provided, of course, one can clear Gurnard Ledge. To achieve this one needs to be precisely sure of the location of Gurnard Ledge, as Gurnard Ledge buoy is too far out to provide anything more than a rough indication. A good strategy is to motor out to Gurnard Bay one calm day, perhaps when the start has been postponed through lack of wind, and establish one’s own transits for the eastern end of the ledge. It has been known for lobster pot buoys to be laid on Gurnard Ledge and, when these are laid, the task of knowing the whereabouts of the ledge is made much easier. Permanent transits are, of course, more reliable. At the west end, Baxter’s buoy marks the approximate position of deeper water, but the location of Baxter’s buoy changes slightly from year to year as the buoy is re-laid every spring.

Playing the tidal streams to advantage from Cowes to Osborne Bay by Peter Bruce.

To the east of the entrance of Cowes harbour the inshore tidal streams deserve a little attention as eddies form at the promontory. Towards the end of the main flood tide a west going eddy forms in the mouth of Cowes Harbour and occasionally advantage can be taken of it in spite of shallow water and course restrictions such as Prince Consort and Snowden buoys. These are designed to keep racing yachts away from the harbour moorings after the hefty racing yacht Prospect of Whitby creamed in, collided with and dismasted an innocently parked X boat. There are two lines of moorings north of the new breakwater so there is still a need for Snowden. In addition, as one should expect, an eddy forms in the shallow water to the east of Castle Point and gradually spreads out to deeper water as the rate of the tidal stream develops. On a flood tide the direction that the yachts anchored in Osborne Bay indicates when the eddy is running. The prevailing wind being what it is, one is often approaching Castle Point from the east against the wind. On closing the point, against the tide, the wind becomes more and more gusty, the lulls matching the gusts, and one has to balance the advantage of slacker tide against the disadvantage of a wind of erratic strength. The best solution is usually to sail just on the inshore side of the tide line between eddy and mainstream and at the point itself go in as close as one’s draft allows. In the case of small sailing vessels with low rigs and shallow drafts it can be possible to sail too close to the trees and lose the wind altogether, especially at high tide. Going in close will lead to some stressful moments when the wind dies but overall one will come through on top, except when there is a deal of south or south east in the wind. In this situation there will never be sufficient wind inshore and it will always pay to stay out in the strong contrary tide. Once past Castle Point the wind steadies and the tidal stream becomes slacker, but when the view of Ryde Promontory is lost behind Castle Point on an inshore tack, someone’s eye should be fixed on the echo sounder, as the Shrape mud is not far off. Incidentally, when just laying Old Castle Point on port tack in a fresh breeze, it can often pay to change to a smaller headsail just for the short beat to the finish.

Some argue that, because of the whopping tidal stream, the Solent is a ‘hell of a place to sail’. However, for those who have learnt to play the tide to their advantage it is a very good reason to keep coming back.

A world-renowned yachting centre with an internationally respected major sailing event named after it, Cowes, is one of the UK’s premier tourist destinations. The main port of the Isle of Wight, it is situated around a natural harbour at the mouth of the Medina River. Originally a busy fishing village constructed around two coastal forts built by Henry VIII, the town has a fine tradition for shipbuilding and is home to dozens of chandlers. As you would expect the marinas are world-class and play host to some of the finest cruisers and yachts money can buy.

The town with it’s colourful, narrow streets is famous for its vibrant thoroughly hospitable atmosphere and many lively drinking establishments; there are actually more pubs per square mile in Cowes than any other town in the UK. The High Street is a delight for shoppers, with its superb array of fashion outlets, gifts shops, and delicatessens. There is also a splendid choice of restaurants and cafes serving tasty local seafood and speciality dishes. For culture vultures there are plenty of historic places of interest to visit, the 19th century Northwood House & Park, St. Mary’s Church and East Cowes’ magnificent Osborne House, the former holiday home of Queen Victoria.

Cowes predominant attraction is of course the sailing and the main calendar event is Cowes Week, which is considered by many to be the premier event of the maritime year. But for those who are looking for a truly fascinating short break or daytrip the town has an awful lot to offer. It may well even tempt you back for more.
Comments (26)
22/10/2017 @ 4:47 pm
HG Crew
Yes Glen, two crew members are arriving tomorrow (Monday) and will start updating straight away. Watch this space.
21/10/2017 @ 3:16 pm
Glen Phipps
Glad to see you are updating Cowes now. Also sorry to hear about Paul. Thoughts are with his family.
05/08/2014 @ 12:54 pm
The Food Hamper: Great shop for provisions, everything delicious.
Also handy for Marina.
17/12/2013 @ 5:51 pm
Greg and Ben
RAWLINGS HOTEL Would just like to echo the Jackson Crew members comments on Rawlings Hotel. They really are both crew and guest friendly. We didnt have the best results in our race last time we stayed there, but it wont stop us staying there again next year..Looking forward to it already!
17/12/2013 @ 7:44 am
Bill and Brenda
Been using Hamilton's butchers for years for meat and général sailing provisions, thanks to all the staff and a merry xmas to all.
15/12/2013 @ 6:07 pm
Jackson Crew member
RAWLINGS HOTEL Great to see you have Rawlings on here. Extremely crew friendly, great value for money, and a lovely pool too. Will be back!
10/12/2013 @ 8:46 am
Frequent visitor
Stay at Duke of York, great location and food.
08/12/2013 @ 12:29 pm
Could not be bothered going out to eat the other night, and purchased a pre-cooked meal of pork in dijon mustard from The Food Hamper. All i had to do was reheat it for a couple of minutes.
Very impressed and was delicious.
Apparently it was made on the premises earlier that day.
06/12/2013 @ 8:45 am
Passing through Joe
Very comfortable beds at the Union,stayed there last week and slept like a log .
02/12/2013 @ 9:21 pm
Paul H.Guides
Amabi , try it especially if you are local or visiting friends and family, or SAILING to town. Fairly new to Island, but worth keeping an eye on and supporting.
Beautiful Tapas and relaxing atmosphere and will not be disappointed that you have walked all the way from town ( at least 3 minutes even if you dawdle )
I would imagine that booking is essential once the season rolls around again.
First time for me, but thoroughly enjoyed it.
To simplify matters, inbetween East Cowes and Cowes on main road if arriving or leaving by chain ferry.
26/11/2013 @ 1:27 pm
Joe {East Cowes}
Found your charts very useful last weekend, keep up good work.
26/11/2013 @ 8:39 am
Joe {East Cowes}
Found your charts very useful last weekend, keep up good work.
22/11/2013 @ 8:48 am
Had some work done at Lallows recently and was very satisfied, and would use them again.
01/08/2013 @ 5:05 am
Mark Knowles
Massive thanks and respect to Clare Lallows for the excellent work carried out on our beloved Dufour. Thanks guys we are now back in Plymouth, no probs en route.
29/07/2013 @ 9:44 am
Harbourguides Crew
Hi J and Crew
We were planning to update it before this Summer 2013, but just couldnt make it in time, so we have it penned in for the end of this Summer. We will be updating the whole of the Island so we expect our crew members to be there for some time.
Sorry if its a little late this time, but due to the popularity of our harbour guides we struggle to get round all every two years, but we are working on it.
H G Crew
29/07/2013 @ 9:40 am
Jezza and Crew
Hi guys, we love using your guides on our travels, and are coming over to the Isle of Wight later this Summer. We cant help but notice that its due to be updated..Can you let us know when.
J & Crew
26/04/2013 @ 11:12 am
Greg and family
Stayed at the New Holmwood Hotel..cant fault it! The food also excellent.
29/10/2012 @ 8:01 pm
Jake and crew
We also frequented Mojacs restaurant.Great food and hospitality provided by Mark and Helen.
loved it!!
29/10/2012 @ 7:57 pm
Jake and crew
Had great repair work carried out Clare Lallows. Good professional advice and prompt service . Thanks.
27/10/2012 @ 6:39 am
Night off boat family
We are yacht owners and use Harbourguides quite often. But as we stay on our boat we wondered why there was a designated page for accommodation? We have a Contessa 32 and consider her a very comfortable boat to sleep on.However our family and friend visits have become less and less regular in the past few years. but thanks to your accommodation section on your site we are now getting our children and grand children visiting us for long weekend breaks and next year a promised summer holiday.
Apparently they don't like staying on our beautiful yacht?
As much as we would like them to be staying with us, the next best thing is to have them staying near by, dont you think?
Your accommodation section is a great idea..Ta
25/10/2012 @ 11:19 am
Ben and crew
Came across Aquatogs on your website as we needed a few bits, we ended up getting a LOT of bits!!. Great shop with loads of great lines..Glad its not near to our marina though as I would be spending all my money in it!!
01/10/2012 @ 5:08 pm
Garry and Nicola
Found the Red Duster restaurant on your website and thought we would give it a go..WOW! We were very impressed. Will be trying out some more of your recommendations.
17/09/2011 @ 2:58 am
Lars Svenson and crew
Do Top Gear Rentals deliver bikes for hire to Cowes Marina,if not where is the pick-up point?
19/08/2011 @ 11:09 am
HG Crew
Well done to ALL the competitors in this years Cowes week.
22/03/2011 @ 9:16 am
Hi JAs
I have sent you an email with a link to the restaurants we have in that area.
22/03/2011 @ 9:04 am
Dear Harbour Guides
We are looking for a restaurant to cater for 100 people in near Shepard's Wharf Marina in Cowes in July. Do you have any suggestions of places that could cater for a sit down meal please
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Business Reviews (7)
08/01/2019 @ 5:08 pm
Island Harbour Marina by Michael Ankers
Mooring fees
28/06/2018 @ 10:56 am
Optimum Marine Surveys by John Heale
I recently used the services of Optimum Marine to carry out a survey of my vessel. Oli Byles carried out the survey and I found the service professional, informative and courteous. I would recommend this company. John Heale
09/12/2017 @ 10:01 pm
The Anchor Inn by Glenn and Andrea
Best place in Cowes, great food, great staff, great atmosphere. Love it 😍
15/11/2017 @ 11:34 am
Nigel R Harrison Yacht Surveys by Paul Davies
Highly recommended for Yacht surveys and pre-buying inspection. Nigel has a vast experience of boat building, rigging and all types of sailing vessels and yachts.
02/11/2017 @ 10:41 pm
Clare Lallow by Steve and Richard
Fantastic boatyard offering a great service in Cowes. Long established business with a wealth of experience. No hesitation in recommending to fellow yachtsmen.
02/11/2017 @ 10:39 pm
Made 2 Measure Fenders by Steve and Richard
When we visited here we thought we were going to see normal fenders and fender socks etc. well we did, but more importantly we saw much more. Made2Measure Fenders offer a bespoke service to superyachts, designing complex unique fender designs for any boat out there. It seems they will take on any challenge.
26/03/2016 @ 2:20 pm
Cowes Dry Sailing by Paul
I have my 6.5m RIB dry sailed with Tristan and he always goes the extra mile and his engine servicing is one of the best and most thoroughly detailed I have had on any of my boats. Highly recommended
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