- Portland truly providesa one-stop base for your powerboat or RIB.
- Portland Marina’s comprehensive offer is definitely worth very careful consideration.
- At Portland, all our requests and questions were handled immediately and well.
- When we went outside, the staff member who helped us out on the water was utterly first rate.
Alex Whittaker explores this relatively new, fully featured marina in Dorset …
Portland Marina punctuates the renowned Jurassic Coast. It lies right alongside
atmospheric Chesil Beach. The marina’s situation in the vast Portland Harbour feels airy, with big skies and good views of the Jurassic cliffs. The marina feels fresh and new, and has recently added even more features. Its market offer has been expressly designed to minimise those inevitable hassles that accompany many aspects of modern boating life. The buildings are ambitious and attractive, and the high glass atrium to the marina office is particularly impressive. However, as we know, facilities alone do not a good marina make. The good news is that we found the staff at Portland to be among the most approachable, helpful and knowledgeable we have met thus far. Trust us, we have suffered more than a few crusty marina operatives over the years, both here and abroad (the sort of surly staff who, in another life, could easily have been doctor’s receptionists). Portland Marina takes a different tack. At Portland, all our requests and questions were handled immediately and well. When we went outside, the staff member who helped us out on the water was utterly first rate. Clearly a very experienced sailor. All very confidence inducing. Especially so if you are planning to hand over quite a few grand each year to the marina to look after your pride and joy.
Portland has 400 annual and visitors’ berths. All the floating pontoon berths are fully serviced with water and metered electricity. The marina is open 24/7, all year round.
Parking is free, and berth holders have their own designated area. At this point we should record that we have never seen wider and safer marina pontoons. You could get your Mini down them with both doors open and still leave enough room for the marina’s takeaway delivery person to slip past.
Approach by boat
Historic Portland Harbour is famous for its long and distinctive stone breakwater. It is pierced by three entrances. At challenging states of the tide, these gaps can run with a current of between 6 and 12 knots. Mind you, leisure craft such as yours and ours will studiously avoid such conditions. Only one gap is designated for leisure craft. This is the one at the end of the northern arm of the breakwater. There is a white lighthouse on the southern end of the north-east breakwater. It flashes every 10 seconds, and was restored in 2016. Note that this light marks the gap in the breakwater only to be used by seagoing commercial vessels. From the sea, taking the correct gap at the end of the northern arm of the breakwater took us through the appropriate ‘North Ship Channel’. Passing through, we noted weird and wonderful naval and military installations populating the end of the breakwater. One was festooned in a motley collection of radio antennae, others were just crumbling away. Fascinating historical objects to see from the deck of a small boat, they varied between sturdy Victorian stone buildings and quickly thrown-up 20th-century concrete blocks. The latter now have the appearance of weathered cardboard. One appeared to be a three-storey shanty, complete with a lookout or gun port on top. The breakwater’s tough stone walls were each marked with stern warnings about not landing on this private property. Some signs also had earnest injunctions for us to pay our harbour fees.
Once through the gap, we simply followed the inner harbour fairway towards the marina. Mind you, the inner harbour is vast. In settled weather, inside the breakwater amounts to a huge playground for all manner of pleasure vessels. We saw fishing craft, dinghies, yachts, powerboats and RIBs all enjoying these sheltered inshore waters.
Entry to Portland Marina is utterly straightforward. There are no shoals or drying grounds on the approach. Picking out the marina entrance from the busy background of the land is easy once you know the marks. A conspicuous tall light-grey metal post (slightly to starboard of the marina) is the leading mark to steer by. Steer this way until the distinctive dark beacon on the marina’s rocky breakwater is fine on the port bow. We were delighted to meet a very convenient and welcoming visitors’ quay, complete with visitors’ office. Such welcome quays are pretty common in the Med, but less so in the UK. Full marks to Portland Marina for making our summer landfall so easy.
Portland Marina also has a large and wonderfully unencumbered floating fuel berth close by. The berth can be hailed on VHF Channel 80, or telephoned on 01305 866190. As owners of a thirsty V8 we were especially delighted to see that petrol was available, as well as diesel. We were also interested to note that there were discounts for berth holders.
In August 2018, the fuel prices and discounts were as follows:
- Petrol: £1.70 per litre
- Petrol (berth holders): £1.52 per litre
- Diesel 60:40: £1.18 per litre
- Diesel 60:40 (berth holders): £1.07 per litre
Chesil Beach and the Fleet
Just across the causeway from the marina is the famous Fleet Lagoon, retained by the even more renowned Chesil Beach. These two significant geographic entities mean that so-called Portland Island, rising behind the marina, is not an island at all, but rather a tombolo. A tombolo is an island attached to the mainland by a narrow spit or bar. Chesil Beach is the bar, and Fleet Lagoon lies within. The waters of the Fleet are connected to Portland Harbour just down the causeway from the marina, at Ferrybridge. Currents of 6 knots can prevail here and towards the marina at certain states of the tide.
Due to Portland’s superb position, Poole, Bridport, Lyme Regis, Exmouth, Torquay, Paignton, Brixham, Dartmouth, Studland Bay, Swanage, Salcombe, Brittany and the Channel Islands are common cruising destinations for local boats.
Portland is conceived as a modern and purpose-built marina. It does not feel like an adapted ex-industrial site. It is designed to provide a complete solution for boaters’ varied needs, all contained within one convenient location. On the concourse, we noted a Portland stone obelisk containing a plaque commemorating the role played by Portland Marina in hosting the sailing events of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The significance of this became more apparent when we inspected the palatial ablutions, more of which later. Everything at Portland Marina is built on an expansive scale.
Washrooms and laundry
Washing facilities can easily make or break one’s choice of ‘long-term’ marina. In our experience, a choosy crew will not tolerate substandard ablutions beyond a single night. At Portland this is never an issue. The washrooms in the main building are conceived on grander assumptions than those at most marinas of our acquaintance, both here and abroad. One can imagine these spacious and well-specified facilities easily swallowing a whole fleet of Olympic yacht crews. To add to these top-notch conveniences, there is also a coin-operated laundry in the main building.
Most conveniently, Apollo Marine have a well-stocked chandlery on-site. To our mind, this is really important. We also noted that Apollo also offer a full range of marine services.
There is a wide slipway immediately adjacent to the marina. It is owned by the next-door RYA Sailing Academy, to whom a fee is payable. Marina trailer boaters use it, before putting their boats on a marina berth.
Note that there is no trailer storage on-site at Portland Marina. However, we were told that there are local third-party storage solutions on Portland.
Good security is always an issue these days. Access to the gates is by berth holders’ electronic key fobs. The whole site has 24/7 staff presence, and security cameras.
Wi-Fi access is a fact of modern life for many, so the marina offers free Wi-Fi for browsing and emails. The (very amusing) password is available from the marina office. You can’t use the Wi-Fi for movie downloads or for box set bingeing, but when we tried it for basic tasks it worked well.
The marina has a 50-tonne hoist for the big boys. It also has a large forklift capable of safely handling craft up to 9.9m long, so most eventualities are covered.
Gas bottle exchange is available at the Apollo Marine chandlery on-site.
Sadly for our crew, there was no cash dispenser on-site. However, helpful marina staff told us there was one at the local Co-op store, about 15 minutes’ stroll away. Of course, you do not need cash to pay for your marina fees, and we bought our meals and drinks using our cards.
Divers’ air station
Unusually, the marina sports a divers’ outdoor shower and a divers’ air station. Since many RIBs are bought by divers, this struck us as a canny feature.
Boatyard and Boat Care
The marina has an extensive and fully serviced traditional boatyard, equipped for both DIY and professional maintenance. However, the marina also boasts Dean & Reddyhoff Boat Care. Essentially, this amounts to a one-stop shop for boating services, delivered from a substantial facility on-site. It offers boat owners the full range of boat support, including antifouling, topsides respray, GRP repairs, gelcoat matching, rewiring, electrical systems support, engine refit and replacement, propulsion and thruster systems, upholstery, replacement windows and hatch seacocks. Quite a list, we thought, but since this is a bespoke service, Boat Care also claim to tackle anything else that ails your boat. Being able to access such facilities is very comforting, even if you never need them – especially so if you live away and plan on keeping your boat at Portland for the whole season. Using Boat Care has a number of other benefits, including daily boat checks and six weeks’ free storage ashore. As canny boat owners, we reckoned that the deal offered was worth considering as a ‘total package’.
Portland dry stack
Although we currently remain marina berth holders at home, we are also recent converts to the advantages of dry stacking. Luckily, Portland has its own version. The service offered means that you may book in advance and Portland will take care of all the details. This dry stack lift and launch service is available seven days a week. You may book lifts in advance or give Portland two hours’ notice (subject to availability).
Your boat will be launched and ready alongside a pontoon. When you’re finished for the day, just leave the boat tied to the pontoon. Portland will lift your boat out, give it a freshwater washdown and return it to the dry stack. The stack is inside their 24/7 secure area. There is also a valet fuel service available from Tuesday to Thursday. Ring ahead and your boat will be fuelled up and awaiting you. The fuel is sold at cost. This means that you don’t actually need to keep your trailer at Portland, and you never need to antifoul your hull. As throttle benders, we could immediately appreciate that this meant a clean, fast hull each time we went out to sea. A 12-month contract in 2018 cost £37.50 per metre, per month.
We were delighted to discover that local ferries to Weymouth leave directly from the marina quay at regular intervals. This is hugely attractive if you have arrived at Portland Marina on your own boat, and thus without your car. This handy ferry is very convenient when you need to go shopping, or have a thirsty crew who can’t wait to hit the town.
There is an interesting sign on the marina that warns that this whole area (and of course not just the marina) could be liable to local flooding. When we visited in high summer this seemed a very distant prospect. However, this honest, ‘no-nonsense’ Dean & Reddyhoff marina sign appealed to our sense of fair play and full disclosure. In the event of any threat, local broadcasts will warn boaters of rising tides and flood conditions. The marina restaurant was named as the muster area. We could think of much worse places to await rescue.
Cafes and restaurants
Portland Marina boasts two places to eat and drink. As we have noted before, it is very much better when one has two such choices at any marina. The Boat That Rocks is the larger establishment and billed as a cafe/bar/restaurant. It has a pleasant terrace with good views. We ate our pub grub-style/finger-food lunch on the terrace on a hot sunny day. Currently, the TripAdvisor score for this establishment is 3 out of 5. We did not get a chance to try the restaurant. However, we did note the bookable food takeaway service, which looked a very good idea – ideal for those times when you already have a party going full swing on your back deck, but the crew want to eat, not cook. We were told by other boat owners that there is often good live music at the weekends. The marina also has the handy and reasonably priced Taylor’s Messdeck Cafe Gallery. It is much smaller and simpler than the other eatery, and close to the chandlery. It offers breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, and is open from 8am to 4pm. This had a very good reputation with all the boaters to whom we spoke. They told us breakfasts were excellent and also ‘cheap’. This compact cafe has been awarded five stars on TripAdvisor.
Approach by road
If towing your boat to Portland Marina, simply punch DT5 1DX into your satnav. Road access to Portland Marina is a doddle, with good signage and no tricky, restricted or awkward ‘final stages’. Like the approach from the sea, access is very straightforward, since the main road arrives on the long, straight, elevated causeway flanking Chesil Beach. Just note the comments made above about trailer storage at the marina.
Approach by rail
Weymouth station is 5 miles distant.
- The marina may be hailed on VHF Channel 80.
- The Portland harbour master may be hailed on VHF Channel 74.
Marina contact data
Dean & Reddyhoff Portland Marina
Dorset DT5 1DX
Telephone: 01305 866190
If you are looking to go boating in this versatile location next year, Portland truly providesa one-stop base for your powerboat or RIB. It was hard to think of any powerboating necessity not already covered. Additionally, having two eateries, the Dean & Reddyhoff Boat Care facility and the Apollo chandlery all on-site struck us as worthy advantages. The ferry into Weymouth was an appealing bonus. True, there is no cash dispenser, no trailer storage on-site and (technically) no marina slipway, but these factors can easily be set aside against the big picture. Portland Marina’s comprehensive offer is definitely worth very careful consideration.
Admiralty charts: 2610, 2268
Imray charts: C4, C5
Electronic charts: We used our normal Navionics app on our iPhone 4 and iPad 2. Navionics is available on other platforms too.
Cruising guide app:www.navily.com
Although not immediately adjacent to the marina, you can clearly see the large vessels in the commercial Portland Port from the marina. Glass in hand, inspecting the shipping with your boat’s binocs, is an interesting diversion from the terrace ofThe Boat That Rocked.
Portland has a long maritime history, but it was the coming of the age of steam that saw its first principal development. In July 1849, Prince Albert set the first Portland stone in the huge new breakwaters. The breakwaters were built to an amazing scale and became the largest man-made harbour in the Victorian world. Note that Portland Harbour has defined Precautionary and Restricted Areas. The Portland Port website – www.portland-port.co.uk – contains the free, downloadable Admiralty chart BA2268.
One of the wonders of Britain, and part of the Jurassic Coast, mysterious Chesil Beach (or Chesil Bank) is a bar of graded pebbles that extends for about 18 miles. It is 200 metres wide and reaches 15 metres in height. Curiously, and by a mechanism that is still not perfectly understood, the pebbles get bigger towards the Portland end.
Chesil Beach encloses the Fleet Lagoon. This can be a silent and other-worldly place on a hot, still day – a bayou-like sandy backwater with anchored boats, and aluminium skiffs drawn up onto the shore; an elemental setting of fixed nets, duck traps and oyster beds under big skies, framed only by the low Chesil Bank. The Fleet Lagoon of brackish water gives way to seawater as it runs from Abbotsbury to Ferrybridge, where it meets Portland Harbour. The current at this juncture can reach 6 knots in certain states of the tide. This is definitely a satisfyingly odd locale for any boat owner to visit at least once in a boating lifetime.
VSV Mary Slim
Owned by Richard Reddyhoff of Dean & Reddyhoff marinas, the Mary Slim is a striking 72ft wave-piercing vessel of unorthodox design. She is powered by twin 1750hp V12 turbocharged Caterpillar diesel engines, mated to a Rolls-Royce Kamewa water jet propulsion system. In 2014, she astounded everyone in the powerboat community by making the passage from Portland to Rockall in just 53 hours, 29 minutes and 52 seconds! That represents a dizzying average speed of 26.6 knots, held for two days. She is based at Portland Marina.
Although famously based in Poole Harbour, Sunseeker International boatbuilders also have an important facility right next door to Portland Marina. Indeed, the first boat that rolled off the new production line at Sunseeker’s Portland base was the sleek Predator 108. The £5m boat was built in 10 weeks after Sunseeker moved into the former Luhrs Marine site at Osprey Quay.
Up until 1985, Royal Naval Air Station Portland was based in this general area, and, in traditional Admiralty fashion, named HMS[u1] Osprey. To celebrate this connection there is a preserved Royal Navy Westland Lynx on display on the Portland Marina concourse. This example was in operational service for 32 years, and amassed a total of precisely 7,667 hours and 10 minutes flying time.
Ten fun facts about Portland
- The Sunseeker featured in the Bond movie Casino Royale was built at Portland.
- Portland was the base for the sailing events of the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.
- Portland Island is not an island but a tombolo. Honest.
- The Jurassic Coast was the first natural site in England to be recognised on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
- Chesil Beach heats up the local area, producing its own microclimate.
- Fleet was the model for the imaginary village in the novel Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner.
- The Cenotaph, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace are all built from Portland Stone.
- Portland has a pirates’ graveyard. Some of the graves have skulls and crossbones.
- Portland Bill, with its famous lighthouse, is the southernmost point in Dorset.
- Canadian band Martha and the Muffins used a map of Chesil Beach on the cover of their hit single ‘Echo Beach’.