Southeast winds and south coast swell prove the perfect ingredients to fire up Dorset’s finest wave, Kimmeridge, for some rare port tack down the line action. On scene to score it with the lucky locals were Timo Mullen, Andy Chambers and Paul Hunt. They tell us just why it was a day to remember.
Words Timo Mullen, Andy Chambers and Paul Hunt. // Photos John Carter
Since moving to Poole in Dorset nearly 24 years ago, I have had the pleasure of calling Kimmeridge Bay my home spot. Kimmeridge or K-Bay is well known for its amazing windsurfing conditions, epic surf and stunning scenery. Kimmeridge lies within a World Heritage Site and with its far reaching views along the spectacular Jurassic Coast, it’s easy to see why Kimmeridge ranks as one of the UK’s most beautiful windsurfing spots.
Kimmeridge faces SW, meaning a SE wind is pretty much side shore port tack, and so can randomly produce epic wave sailing when most other places on the south coast are bolt onshore. Now SE wind is not exactly rare, but a combination of SE wind and a ground swell is! In fact, I reckon in 24 years of sailing at Kimmeridge, I have probably only scored this combination a handful of times, but have been skunked a lot more times than that!
This forecast had been brewing for a while, there had been a really solid few days of swell on the south coast as a stubborn low pressure had parked itself in the Bay of Biscay and wasn’t moving thanks to an equally stubborn high pressure sitting over the UK, providing offshore light easterly winds. The surfing had been pretty epic with some locals calling it the best week of surf they could remember. As the high and low pressure systems began to try and squeeze each other out, the isobars began to tighten just enough to give a glimmer of hope of some stronger wind. Unfortunately the margin for error in the wind direction for Kimmeridge is minimal, it has to be bang on SE, too much east and it is too offshore as the wind bends away from the land due to the cliffs, too much south and it is basically onshore!
I gave the heads up to the boys the night before, they were pretty dubious, I think when you have been skunked so many times it is hard to justify driving a long way on a ‘maybe’. I think that is one of the reasons that living close by helps a lot at Kimmeridge, it really is one of those spots you have to just go to on the off chance of scoring something epic. Kimmeridge rewards perseverance, I know many a seasoned travelling windsurfer who has yet to score a good day at Kimmeridge, but the key is to keep trying!
I arrived pretty early as I knew the surf would be good, so I was keen to score a few waves before the wind filled in, but luckily as I pulled up a few of the local surfers were just coming in and complaining that the wind was messing up the clean swell, music to my ears!! However, it was by no means howling, maybe 10-12 knots, but the direction was perfect and there was some solid sets, logo high at least. As the rest of the boys started to arrive they were not as convinced as I was, in fairness the wind was very light, but I knew in this direction the wind always seems a little bit stronger at the break than on land. The surfers call it the ‘devil wind’, as it looks perfect from the beach, but when you actually get out in the surf it is pretty windy!
I opted for my faithful Severne Mako 91 and my 5.3 Blade, it was pretty wobbly to get out, but with a few pumps of my sail I was soon gliding into the first of many epic rides. I could almost see the clouds of dust from the rest of the boys running back to rig up as quickly as possible once they saw how good it was! I on the other hand was not as keen for them to get out on the water as it meant I only had another 15-20 minutes of the break to myself!
There are 3 breaks that we sail on a SE wind. If it is really big then the break furthest east handles the swell best, it is called ‘Supertubes’, it is pretty gnarly and as the name suggests hollow and takes no prisoners. Then there is ‘Yellow Ledges’, a mellow looking wave, but can lull you into a false sense of security as it packs a punch on the inside section. It also prefers hardly any wind as it sits quite offshore and can get choppy quickly and turn into a bit of a mess, but on the flip side the surfers don’t hang around for long! Lastly there is the ‘Ledges’, which is the most popular surfing wave at Kimmeridge; for windsurfing it provides plenty of bowls to launch aerials and is the easiest to access as it is straight in front of the launch site.
My first session was at ‘Yellow Ledges’ as the wind was so light; it was really good as the swell pulsed to mast high just as I launched. The rides were very long, 6-7 full speed bottom turns with plenty of carve and aerial sections; and with the sun shining it felt more like Western Australia than the West Country! As the wind picked up a bit more and the surfers thinned out, we all started to drift down to the ‘Ledges’ where the waves were now a lot punchier than ‘Yellow’s’. After a few solid aerials I started to wonder should we have been here earlier; the tide plays such an important part in shaping the wave at Kimmeridge, meaning an hour can make all the difference to any of the spots. All the boys were ripping, I think the knowledge that we might not see a day like this for a long while made everyone step up their game! Kimmeridge remains one of my favourite places to windsurf in the world, not only is it my home break, but I think the unpredictability of the spot also adds to the allure. When the weather forecaster mentions SE winds it definitely gets my pulse racing!
I’m always secretly on the lookout for the lesser spotted SE wind with SW swell forecast! It is rarer than rocking horse poo! It is so nice to get breaks like ‘Yellows’ and the ‘Ledges’ with a solid swell and some wind because it is usually pretty quiet crowd wise and you get super long rides from quite far out on a solid wall all the way to the inside for the aerial section. It was super glassy on the wave and you could just hack away at the lip for 5 or 6 turns. It was amazing, one of the best pure wave riding sessions I have ever had. It felt like somewhere else in the world, but the fact that it was at home added to what was a unique and special session.
“I’m always secretly on the lookout for the lesser spotted SE wind with SW swell forecast!.”
Kimmeridge Bay forms part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. The coast is also part of a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’, and the whole area is part of the Dorset ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. The Kimmeridge Oil Field is northwest of Kimmeridge Bay. On the cliff west of the village is a “nodding donkey” oil pump which has been pumping continually since the late 1950s, making it the oldest working oil pump in the UK.
The Clavell Tower, a historic landmark in Kimmeridge Bay built in 1830, has been successfully restored and relocated 25 metres from its original position to stop it falling into the sea. The tower dates back to 1830 when it was built as an observatory and folly by Reverend John Richards Clavell of Smedmore. Famous Dorset writer Thomas Hardy often visited and it was also the inspiration for PD James’s novel, ‘The Black Tower’.
Timo always seems to snag those rare sessions while the rest of us are totally out of sync with the weather. This time round he had sent me a warning the night before that K-Bay might be working but I couldn’t go due to work commitments. Sure enough the next day, the message came through that it was firing. I just could not resist, threw down my tools and jumped in the van and drove full speed down to K-Bay. I quickly rigged a 5.3 Blade and plugged it into my 88 Fanatic Stubby and clambered over the rocks to snag a few waves. I could only be less than an hour on the water as I had to be at school to pick up my son and if I missed that rendezvous my wife would most likely kill me. Even with the three hours of driving factored into the equation, that 45 minutes of water time was more than worth it. It was a beautiful sunny day, the waves were firing and I managed to snag one or two peeling waves at the ‘Ledges’ that made the journey more than worth it. Next time Timo sends out the warning signal for SE at K-Bay I will make my excuses early.
“The waves were firing.”
Kimmeridge Bay faces SW, so the usual conditions that are best are any wind with a bit more west in it – WSW, W, WNW and NW are all pretty epic for starboard tack wave sailing. The infamous ‘Broad Bench’ is the jewel in the crown of wave sailing at Kimmeridge, a right hand point break/reef that works with a big SW swell and NW wind; on its day it can rival the likes of Ponta Preta and Ho’okipa. Access is via a toll road and there are toilets on site. Closest town and petrol station is Wareham.
Clavells Café in Kimmeridge village is open all year round and serves excellent food. Kimmeridge is a private estate, obey the rules as they have been known to ban surfers and windsurfers for flouting them! Kimmeridge sits within an MOD firing range, the red flags mean they are firing and they usually fire some pretty big rounds and shells, so obey everything the range warden tells you!