Margate Feb 2024: A Shipping Forecast Micro-Adventure

An early start on Saturday meant that we were able to get the shipping forecast for the area that we planned to paddle today. The North coast of Kent is the location of North Foreland, one of the boundaries for the shipping forecast and in particular we were interested in the Inshore Forecast for our trip:

“The Inshore Forecast issued by the Met Office at 2300, Friday 16 February…Gibraltar Point to North Foreland, Westerly 3 or 4, backing Southerly, South-Westerly, 5 or 6, fog patches, rain later, moderate or good occasionally very poor.”

Our departure point was at St Mildred’s Bay, West of Margate. There is a right carry-on as everyone tries to get into their dry suits for the first time this year. It is suggested that Phil, as a new training officer, might want to organise a training course for speedily getting into and out of dry suits!

As we were launching at low water, there was about 500m carry to the sea over a wide sandy beach. As part of the planning we had organised to have three trolleys to make it easier but it was still a long way with six boats.

Getting ready to launch on the wide sandy beach at low water

Before the safety briefing, Liza evaluated the wind. The forecast still said F4 but it was very light (F2-3) wind, so it is a ‘go’ and we were ready to depart at 12:30 pm.

Once on the water, with the tidal assist and the wind slightly behind us, we get pushed quickly to Margate. Once at the harbour wall we start looking for the Antony Gormley statue ‘Another Time’ near the Margate Turner Contemporary art gallery. We’re nearly passed the gallery when Yossi spots the statue on the shoreline. We took a minor detour and paddled over to take some pictures of the man standing on the rocks all covered in barnacles.

He gets covered and completely submerged by the sea from three hours after low water. He’s been there for 6 years and planned to remain until at least 2030, so likely to be even more barnacley by then. This is one of 100 figures that have been installed globally and is identical to Another Place 2007 permanently sited on Crosby Beach in Liverpool (which has many more statues).

Sir Antony Gormley’s cast-iron sculpture Another Time on Fulsam Rock
Paddler pleased to have found the ‘Another Time’ statue

Afterwards we continued along the coast Eastwards. In the distance Liza spotted Rob Davies from South East Kayaking, who was on the way back from a group trip, West Gate Bay to Botany Bay. After a VHF conversation, we paddled out to sea further, going out a long way to get around White Nose Spit at Foreness Point. This is a pumping station with a long pipe that is exposed at low water. It was quite turbulent at the cardinal marker at the end of the pipe, but we all made it around safely.

Around the corner we can see the long beach of Botany Bay and the chalk stacks but these were on the beach due to low water.

Botany Bay

We continued on to Kingsgate Bay where the Captain Digby pub, Whiteness Tower were visible, as well as the Arch. But again it was not paddable because of low water.

Another time maybe

We decided to cut the trip short paddling into Joss Bay where we saw the iconic North Foreland lighthouse, from the shipping forecast. A lighthouse has been located on North Foreland since 1636, and the present one was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be automated in the UK. The boats were pulled onto the beach and we walked up to have lunch on the sand under the white cliffs.

Joss Bay with North Foreland lighthouse in the distance
North Foreland lighthouse

Leaving after 3pm when the tide had turned, we paddled back the way we came but hugging the coast more to stay out of the South-West wind, still F3 with slightly stronger occasional gusts. It seemed like we had made the right call as the wind throughout the day was much less than forecasted. Looking at the actual winds afterwards we could see all of the 10 forecasting models had over-estimated the wind speed at this location.

10 forecast models and actual wind (in white)

As part of the trip research we had seen that for Southerly or South Westerly winds over the last 2 weeks, the forecasts were consistently over estimating the winds when we looked at the actual winds experienced. Comparing the forecast with the actual winds is a relatively new capability offered in some of the weather forecasting apps, and this was the first time we had used it in our decision making. As we had some local knowledge of the coast and had previously paddled in this area, we had confidence that the winds would be lighter than forecasted on this day.

Sunset was at 5:15pm, so it was a race to get back to the launch point before sunset. Weary bodies made the final push back, and it was clear we need to do some more paddles to get paddle fit for the season.

After packing the kit and boats there is only just time to reflect on the day. It’d been great to get back on the sea after a long winter break. We saw statues, stacks, arches and wide sandy beaches, as well as the iconic North Foreland lighthouse from the shipping forecast. It was just what we needed: a shipping forecast micro-adventure!

Arriving back at high water so no carry needed
Some successful North Foreland paddlers
Happy paddlers!

You can watch the Turner Contemporary video of Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Time’ statue here:

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