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Poole Harbour - Whitley Lake

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General details:

Whitley Lake is the most popular of all the Poole Harbour locations - its shallow waters make for safe effortless sailing for those learning to water start or getting to grips with the harness or the footstraps. Unfortunately this shallow water is also responsible for the evolution of the lazy man's "Poole Harbour Gybe", where you simply step off, turn the board round and beach start again. Effortless, some may say more graceful than landing in a big splash, but completely useless for learning anything about board control or sailing at almost every other venue in the UK/World!

Whitley Lake actually covers a large area of water, and about 1 1/2 miles of adjacent roadside - all of which can be parked on at a significant price (in the summer). There's a small harbour wall all the way round here, except for the far ENE corner (I think). Unfortunately, there are very few access points (steps) through the wall.

Parking is against the wall, all round the harbour, allowing you to just put your kit straight over the wall and start sailing. Whitley Lake can be sailed in the majority of wind directions with different courses sailed in each of the different directions. Parking costs £1.80 for 3 hours (Apr 2003). Be warned - the ticket machines don't give change and the traffic wardens are keen.

This whole area is hugely popular, and not just with windsurfers. The traffic can be appalling along the Sandbanks road, with parking at a premium. Much of the traffic is heading down to/from the Sandbanks-Studland chain ferry. You really do need to get down here early - especially on holidays, when the weather's fine, and/or when it's windy.

The harbour is not just for "pleasure" sailing. It also contains the port from which the ferries ply their trade between here & Cherbourg. Shortly after the ferries come into harbour, the wash reaches the windsurfing area. There then follows a frantic few minutes as windsurfers scramble madly to try and catch the 2ft wave for some impromptu jumping or wave riding practice.

On a low spring tide, much of Whitley Lake dries out, the least dry area being that furthest W, just where the road starts to go uphill away from the water. Don't bother try sailing here in these conditions, instead drive 35 miles west to Portland or Overcombe where the tides are almost anti-phase so you'll have plenty of water. Alternatively - if the wind's right & you fancy sailing on the sea - head to Sandbanks or Branksome Chine.

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Directions to the right place:

Take the A350 towards Poole, turning east on the A35 as you approach. Drive straight through Poole following the signs for "beaches" and Sandbanks and keep going along the edge of the harbour until you see the harbour itself immediately on your right hand side. For Whitley Lake, park on the right and rig up.

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How the winds work:

A little difficult to describe since the whole area is a "bay" with the road/lauch area going round 90 degrees.

N & NE are about the only wind directions we can't fully recommend, but only because it's gusty.

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Tidal conditions:

HW springs tend to be 09:30 - 10:00 and again 14:00. HW neaps are 14:30 - 18:30.

It's easier to go by LW times here, though: LW springs are around 17:00; LW neaps around 09:00 - 13:00 (yes - the neap tides really rush by!). All times are GMT.

Like the rest of Poole Harbour, there is a double high tide around springs. ie: The tide comes in, goes out a little, then comes back in a little before disappearing as if down a drain.

Poole spring tide curve

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Hazards:

This is one of the UK's safest marine windsurfing spots. However, if you do venture further afield, the deep water channel is very busy with traffic - most of it of the gin palace variety, with the occasional Sea Cat or car ferry thrown in for good measure. If you get in their way, they won't see you or feel a thing when they run over you. Don't try to assert your right of sail having priority over power!

The deep water channel gets very choppy, & the currents are stronger here.

Keep well away from the harbour entrance & the chain ferry.

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Facilities:

Parking along the harbour wall - at a price (£1.80 for 3 hrs in April 2003). The parking meters don't give change.

French Connection Water sports opposite the Sandbank car park and Poole Harbour Board Sailing are both close to Whitley Lake with equipment for sale, hire and demo.

There is an ice-cream shop on the short road between Whitley Lake and Sandbanks.

Other than that, surprisingly little. I think the nearest toilets are in the Sandbanks car park.

Cafes and beach shops along the promenade, near the Sandbanks car park.

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B&B's / campsites

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Pubs and eateries

Untested cafes on promenade near Sandbanks car park.

Mr Chips (Ian) says:

Poole is blessed with some amazing fish and chip shops, my favourite three shops in the country are all in the Poole Harbour area and I really wish the rest of our seaside towns would take note.

One of the very best fish and chip shops in the country (it was actually runner up in a country wide competition - I haven't found the winner yet) is on the roundabout in Poole that has the civic centre in the middle of it. This fish and chip shop (and its sister shop a couple of miles down the road towards Bournmouth) are almost worth a trip on their own right. Not stopping to get your supper here on the way home should be considered a crime because these two shops are truly excellent and provide a fantastic range of fish together with a variety of cooking methods.

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