- …we reckoned that compact Weymouth was easily the easiest-to-like marina we encountered in the whole of 2018.
- It was the one marina and location that appealed to us all as a family crew.
Alex Whittaker explores the marina in this historic old port and seaside town.
Weymouth lies about halfway along the famous Jurassic Coast, safely inside the extremely wide Portland Harbour. This puts this historic port at the centre of a rich cruising ground, equally suited to coast hopping or day cruising. Famous coves such as Lulworth and Bowleaze, and the romantic seamark of Durdle Door, lie a quick blast beyond the shelter of Portland Harbour. Midway between the Solent and the West Country, Weymouth is a superb staging post on any West Country cruise. Since it has been a commercial Channel port as well as a fishing harbour for centuries, Weymouth possesses boating infrastructure in depth. Powerboats routinely make passage between here and France and the Channel Isles, so Weymouth is an exciting international port too. In fact, Weymouth provides the shortest crossing to France west of Folkstone.
Approach from seaward
Weymouth Marina lies on the River Wey, behind the extensive breakwaters of Portland Harbour. We entered via the ‘North Ship Channel’. In settled weather, this is straightforward, but under challenging conditions, note that the tide can run between these breakwaters at 6 and 12 knots. We passed the white lighthouse, which flashes every 10 seconds, and then made straight for the handy and conspicuous 55m-high Sea Life Tower on the shore ahead. It has a doughnut-shaped gondola that carries visitors up and down the tower. Keeping this useful holidaymakers’ seamark fine on the starboard bow, we soon saw the town promenade. This lies to starboard of the tower, punctuated by a sharp church spire, with a bright sandy beach below. We instantly noticed the long row of distinctive bathing huts – a useful navigational confirmation. Spotting the entrance to the River Wey is easy in most conditions, since it lies clearly between the aforementioned tall Sea Life Tower to starboard and the massive bulk of Nothe Fort to port. This Victorian edifice is protected by its own sea wall and lies on its own compact peninsula.
There is a traffic light scheme in operation on the pier head at the entrance to the river. Visiting vessels should call ahead to the harbour master on VHF Channel 12 to request entry to the river. We entered on a fine, hot, sunny day, with holidaymakers enjoying the views on either hand.
There is a cheery and very busy cafe on a terrace under the ramparts of Nothe Fort, and this set the scene for what was to unfold. People were eating, drinking and gongoozling in the sun. It was all so relaxed and appealing, and felt more like the commodious non-tidal Thames rather than a saltwater river. It does not feel like an estuary – it is too intimate. Even at its mouth, with its handy clearance gauge for the famous town bridge upriver, the Wey is not very wide. Here at the entrance, one immediately feels safely enveloped by the banks.
Harbour entrance signage shouts down at you from the sea walls: ‘Dead Slow’ and ‘No Wash’ – very sound advice considering the delightful motley mix of river traffic you are about to encounter, some of it much larger than you, and some of it tiny, hand-sculled and travelling much slower than you. If the enthusiastic flotilla of Weymouth Sailing Club craft are about, you need to keep your eyes peeled too. It was life-affirming to see these small craft enjoying the river in the sun. And of course, they have the whole of sheltered Portland Harbour in which to frolic, shout ‘Lee-oh’ [FB1] and cut their racing buoys. Generally speaking, the river was completely unencumbered, with a high ‘chill factor’ at 4 knots. There is no buoyage to bother about, nor did we see any movements of large commercial vessels. Sadly, the Channel ferry trade here ceased some years ago.
Trickling slowly upriver on tickover into Weymouth proved to be a delight. We could take in all the people and vessels enjoying this hot afternoon, just messing about on the river. We were soon gawping at the pubs and imagining ourselves having a glass of wine on a riverside terrace and maybe tackling a tasty steak at sunset. We were wending our way along a ribbon of bright water, bordered by mellow old buildings. The striking and rather grand harbour master’s office came up to starboard, and a diesel fuel berth to port. This is a busy, compact waterway, with lots going on. There are commercial and leisure vessels busily passing up and down the river. There is even a hand-oared ferry plying its trade between the banks. One soon notes old fishing quays with mock-fierce ‘No Mooring’ notices. Then there is Weymouth Sailing Club to port, and close by, the lifeboat station. Weybridge Lifeboat lies afloat to two piles, protected by two enormous floating doughnuts. At high tide, with the water well up the banks, we felt we were almost on a canal. This made all the appealing pubs, bars and restaurants conveniently placed on each bank even more tantalising. In high summer the mood was busy, but friendly, and a bit festive – lots of kids and dads crabbing from the harbour walls, and families booking their sea angling trips. There were day trippers everywhere eating ice creams, and larcenous seagulls lounging on posts – winged muggers ready to snaffle the kids’ fish and chips. We passed the renovated Brewers Quay to port, and squinting against the daylight we could see the top of the Brewers Quay building up a side street. Overall, Weymouth struck us as a superb powerboat landfall.
Bridge over the River Wey
Soon we came to the bridge over the Wey, a fine twin-leaf bascule bridge, similar in operation to Tower Bridge in London. The bridge opens at set intervals for vessels with a tall air draught. There is a waiting berth on the starboard hand, just to seaward of the bridge. Published opening times are: 08.00, 10.00, 12.00, 14.00, 16.00, 18.00 and 20.00. Also 21.00 from 5th April to 15th September inclusive.
Inner harbour basin
Just beyond the town bridge, the inner harbour basin is shared between harbour master-provided berths and facilities, and the Dean & Reddyhoff Weymouth Marina. As keen trailer boaters, we spent a good while admiring the enormously wide municipal slipway, and clocking the convenient trailer and car parking area. Local fishing, angling and charter boats leave from the extensive pontoons here. As always, it was good to see working boats from the back deck of your own vessel. It is encouraging to see a river with a bit of commercial life in it, even if compromises have to be made between leisure and professional boaters. If nothing else, local working skippers reassert rugged individuality, and it all stops Britain becoming a faceless heritage theme park. So whenever possible at new ports of call, I like to chat to professional skippers, whose experience can often inform, educate and entertain. I chatted to one hearty old fishing skipper in the inner harbour, tanned to the colour of saddle leather, and complete with a gold-looking chain around his sturdy neck. He was terrific company, with a lovely West Country drawl. He proved to be a fountain of maritime truth. His boat was well maintained, with that indefinable touch of pride that only comes from owner operators. I noticed the fine name painted on her stern had been done with an appropriate flourish. While we were chatting, a visiting trailer boater needed a water hose. The old fisherman instantly leapt down into the bowels of his commercial boat and fished out the longest unpatched hose I have ever seen. He even connected it up for the visitor. An absolute hoot to talk to, this fishing gent was a very kind man, confirming the camaraderie of all true boating folk. This chance little episode made me love Weymouth even more.
Our actual destination was a bit deeper into the harbour. Weymouth Marina (50° 36.580′ N, 002° 27.465′ W) is a compact marina that offers complete protection. In all reasonable conditions, access is available at any state of the tide. Indeed the marina is dredged to around 2 metres below chart datum. Weymouth Marina has over 250 fully serviced berths in a pleasant basin. First of all, the marina building is not large – rather, like me, it is small but perfectly formed! It had all we needed, and frankly it was immaculate inside. It did not have that slightly careworn look that even the best-kept larger marinas sometimes suffer from. We instantly felt at home with all the knowledgeable staff to whom we talked. Things were easy, laid-back and friendly – huge selling points missed by a surprising number of marinas in the UK. The basin was clearly an old dock, but any rough edges had been finessed. It seems a bit incongruous at first for an utterly safe and secure marina to be bordered on one side by the tidy backs of aDebenhams, a low-rise multi-storey car park and a Cineworld. Of course, as any skipper who has ever made a landfall with a fractious family crew will tell you, such convenient modern diversions have their value.
Given its close proximity to the town, the marina is surprisingly quiet and peaceful (even after dark in a holiday town). Most interestingly, there is an RSPB Nature Reserve at Radipole Lake immediately upriver of the marina – a good place to wander with the ship’s binocs in,the early morning or at sunset, clearing the lungs and the head.
The marina car park is adequate rather than large, and only open to annual berth holders. There is a larger public car park immediately adjacent. If you wished to arrive with your boat on its trailer you would have to discuss possible options beforehand with the marina and/or the harbour master. Having said that, we felt that Weymouth was one of those special locations that was best arrived at by sea.
- All marina berths have electricity.
- VHF: Channel 80
- Tel: 01305 767576
- email: email@example.com
There is no petrol berth in Weymouth, so you would be reduced to cans at this location. The nearest petrol station is in King Street. Diesel fuel is available downriver at Mechanical Services (Marine Engineers) fuel pontoon (Tel: 01305 342 012). This is open
6.00am – 6.00pm, seven days a week. It is situated near the RNLI lifeboat berth.
For petrol, we would have to scoot over to nearby Portland Marina, which is still inside the shelter of Portland Harbour. Portland Marina fuel berth can be hailed on VHF Channel 80, or telephoned on 01305 866190. We were also interested to note that since Dean & Reddyhoff own both marinas, there were discounts for Weymouth berth holders at Portland Marina. In August 2018, these fuel prices and their berth holders’ discounts were:
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
There is no pump-out at Weymouth Marina. You can use the one at Portland Marina.
Family crews will be delighted to note that there is a coin-operated laundry in the marina building.
The marina has security code access to the pontoons, and full 24/7 CCTV surveillance. Incidentally, the berth holders I spoke to did not mention security as an issue in this town setting.
Toilets and showers
These are situated upstairs in the marina building and were very good, and immaculately maintained. Always a good omen for a family crew.
The marina does not have a chandlery but there is Bussells chandlers in Hope Street in Weymouth. They have been there since 1760, so they should have what you want. Note that sister marina Portland has Apollo Marine chandlers.
This is available every day from the marina staff. We normally triangulate all our Internet and BBC radio forecasts with those available from the marina office.
The marina has free Wi-Fi. Oddly enough, if you set your phone to seek Wi-Fi in the marina, it may also punch up the neighbouring harbour master’s Wi-Fi. Of course, both would need that all-important free code!
There is no Calor Gas or Campingaz gas store at the marina. However, marina staff can point you in the direction of a local gas bottle exchange. With so many eateries within a short step of the marina, though, crew are highly unlikely to be doing much cooking or eating aboard.
Weymouth Marina does not have its own slipway, but the harbour master’s encouragingly broad and sheltered ramp is immediately adjacent. Our family dog could happily reverse our boat and trailer down this luxuriously wide slip.
Weymouth harbour master
Visiting vessels should call ahead to the harbour master on VHF Channel 12 to request safe entry to the river.
Telephone: 01305 838423
VHF: Channel 12
Bigger than the county town of Dorchester, high-season Weymouth was full of shoppers and holidaymakers when we were there. This historic town has two distinct aspects: the Georgian seaside resort with an excellent beach and prom, and the characterful, well-preserved maritime area around the harbour. The beach and promenade are an undoubted draw, but the town itself offers much to interest a shoreside crew. Big town shops and a bevy of small, interesting, privately owned shops vie for the attention of your crew. Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Spar and Aldi are close by. The vast array of pubs, restaurants, watering holes and eateries mean that you could survive here quite nicely ‘on holiday’ aboard your boat for quite some while.
Weymouth is also a great place to buy and eat freshly landed fish, as well as the excellent fish and chips we sampled. True, there are parts of Weymouth that could do with a bit of an update – cars seemed to be parked everywhere, and at the end of a long hot day, many of the litter bins were full past the brim. However, the harbour area is the location that will hold the attention of all visiting boaters, and it remains very attractive.
All visiting crews need cash. We found cash dispensers liberally dotted around the town, including ones close to the marina. Mrs Whittaker’s favourite iPhone app listed no less than 65 cashpoints in Weymouth (see link below). All the businesses we used accepted our credit and charge cards. None applied surcharges.
There are no chandlery or boatyard facilities on the compact Weymouth Marina site. The marina can put you in touch with local marine businesses. Also, comprehensive boatyard and servicing facilities lie just across Portland Harbour, at Dean & Reddyhoff’s sister marina at Portland.
Yacht club and sailing club
Yacht clubs and sailing clubs are a great but sometimes overlooked resource for the cruising powerboater. Even as throttle benders, Mrs Whittaker and I greatly value the local advice and alcoholic solace available from many such clubs. We spotted two interesting such options in Weymouth: the Royal Dorset Yacht Club and Weymouth Sailing Club. They were very different institutions, but we would have been happy with either. As I may have remarked before, we have never been turned away when visiting yacht clubs or sailing clubs, here or abroad. Both examples in Weymouth have proper clubhouses with fine views over the river, and most significantly, both have professionally run bars. They also offer free Wi-Fi. Showing your valid RYA card is usually the open sesame for access to yacht clubs, sailing clubs and the accumulated wisdom of their members. However, we always make a contribution. Most thoughtfully – and generously – both offered a welcome to visitors, as well as visitors’ membership options, a service of which we would definitely avail ourselves if we were staying in Weymouth for a week or more. You can’t beat local knowledge, and taking out temporary membership makes an appropriate contribution to the continued running of the club.
We used our trusty Navionics app on our ancient iPhone 4 and base model iPad 2018. We have to tether this cheapest non-cellular iPad to the iPhone 4 for positional updates, but the charts are always accessible without a cellular connection or Wi-Fi. Note that Navionics is available on other platforms too.
Cruising guide app
Weymouth, as well as being a convenient staging point along the Jurassic Coast, is an excellent cruising base in its own right. Any powerboat putting into Weymouth should take time to potter over sheltered Portland Harbour and explore astounding Chesil Beach. While there, do not miss the strange but oddly alluring Fleet Lagoon. Looking further, local boats can make for the Solent or points west. Poole, Bridport, Lyme Regis, Exmouth, Torquay, Paignton, Brixham, Dartmouth, Studland Bay, Swanage and Salcombe are popular destinations. Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove are more or less on the doorstep. If crossing the Channel to the Continent, then Brittany and the Channel Islands are superb cruising destinations for local boats. Remember: Weymouth provides the shortest crossing to France west of Folkstone.
Approach by road
Use the A354. Parking in Weymouth can be interesting in high season. If arriving by car for a recce before bringing your boat by road, our advice would be to ring the marina for their local knowledge. Mind you, a triumphal procession up the River Wey in your own boat is our preferred approach option!
Rail and bus links
British Rail: Weymouth Station is about a 10-minute walk away – handy for crew changes.
Crew changes by air are not straightforward. Hurn Airport is approximately 30 miles away, so would need an expensive taxi ride for a crew change. Taxi, 50 minutes: £120 – £150. The train takes an hour: £30 – £40. Line 737 bus/train option: £10 – £16.
Despite the incongruity of the bordering shopping area, the lack of a petrol berth, no waste pump-out or on-site boatyard services and chandlery, we reckoned that compact Weymouth was easily the easiest-to-like marina we encountered in the whole of 2018. It was the one marina and location that appealed to us all as a family crew. Also, its sister marina at Portland has all the required facilities, and is only a short trip away over the harbour. You also get the fuel discount. Moored up to a pontoon in Weymouth Marina, you have the facilities of a town within anchor-chucking distance, a fine river alive with vessels to your stern and a great seaside resort within walking distance. A nature reserve is just upriver, and most things you want are within strolling distance. It is no surprise that others agreed with our positive verdict – Dean & Reddyhoff’s Weymouth Marina was awarded Winner of the British Yachting Awards in 2018. Great minds think alike …
Weymouth lies approximately halfway down the famous Jurassic Coast. In fact, the Jurassic Coast extends for 95 miles from Orcombe Point in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks in Dorset. The layers of sedimentary rock can be read like a geological textbook, and thus take the reader back in time. Fossils found all along this coast are the remnants of living creatures that thrived in this area many thousands of years ago. In fact, the range of life found in the Jurassic Coast fossil records extends to 185 million years. The remains of dinosaurs, pterosaurs and even petrified forests have all been discovered along this coast. Charmouth Beach is a popular fossil-hunting spot for families.
Nothe Fort at Weymouth is a Victorian military installation. It lies on its own short peninsula, which projects into Weymouth Bay. Nothe Gardens are nearby. Situated right on the Weymouth Harbour entrance, it is an impressive but rather austere sight when arriving from seaward. Started in 1869, it was built by the Royal Engineers to protect Portland and Weymouth harbours. It was completed in 1872. Nothe remains one of the best-preserved examples of British military fortification. It has bombproof casemates, and magazines buried deep underground. It was purchased by the local authority in 1961 and is a Grade II listed building. These days it is a very popular museum and tourist attraction. It is said to be haunted.
Ten fun facts about Weymouth
1. The Romans sailed up the Wey to found their town of Durnovaria (Dorchester).
2. Weymouth was first mentioned as a port in 1100.
3. Weymouth used to be two towns on either bank of the Wey: Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.
4. The Black Death was thought to have been brought to Britain, via Weymouth, by a Gascon sailor in 1348.
5. King George III came to Weymouth for his holidays, popularising sea bathing in the process.
6. Weymouth’s famous painted statue to King George III was erected in 1810.
7. In 1872, the River Wey was dammed to improve the harbour, thereby making Radipole Lake.
8. In 1940, Guernsey residents were evacuated to Weymouth, fleeing the German occupation.
9. In WWII, half a million soldiers left from Weymouth for the invasion and liberation of Europe.
10. The harbour scenes in the 2016 film Dunkirk were shot in Weymouth