Coastal Passages, Part 2—Rounding Headlands

Tide at Raz De Sein © C. Speedie/Wave Action

Experienced sailors know that rounding tidal headlands must be taken seriously—there are many issues that need to be factored in to see us safely and successfully around them.

Tide Races

Tide races are not uniformly alike. Some occur over large areas, others are very localised. At some sites conditions may (in general) not be too bad, except for around small shoal patches or reefs where conditions will likely be significantly worse.

Some races run close to headlands, whereas others have a calm patch close inshore, especially in settled conditions and offshore winds—a so-called inshore passage—sometimes (even) with a back eddy to assist us when the tide is against us further out.

In many cases a race will move during the tidal cycle to either side of the headland, so knowledge of how this will pan out will enable us to plan our course to avoid the worst of the overfalls generated by strong tidal streams and shallow water.

Tidal sets in the vicinity of headlands may change direction dramatically over the course of a tidal cycle, making it important to be aware of our position at all times, and so avoid being set on to dangers.

Therefore, studying the tidal charts in Reeds (or your preferred pilot book) along this passage is a necessity—with care and attention at the planning stage and good timekeeping we’ll make our own luck and some fast passages.

Whatever the variables, one thing does not change: the need to be in the right place at the right time. Don’t be complacent about this—double check your calculations, always!

How To Manage Them

Let's dig into the details of how to round tidal headlands safely and efficiently:

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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