Kent Coast Sea Fishing Compendium


The Tides

Tidal Abbreviations
High Water Spring HWS
High Water Neap HWN
Low Water Spring LWS
Low Water Neap LWN
British Summer Time BST
Greenwich Mean Time GMT

Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the rotation of the earth and the gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun. At full and new moon the pull is strongest, and thus we get the highest and lowest tides of the month (Springs) and at the first and third (last) quarters of the moon the pull is weakest producing the least difference between high and low tides (Neaps).

The tides occur within a period of approximately 12½ hours and are influenced by the shape of the near-shore sea bed. The time of H.W. increases by approximately 30 minutes every twelve hours. A tide flows for approximately six hours and 10 minutes and then ebbs for about 6 hours 10 minutes, but does not ebb and flow over the ground at a uniform speed. For Deal the average high water (H.W.) is 20 feet 1 inch (6.12 metres) and the average low water (L.W.) is 4 feet 7½ inches (1.41 metres), giving an average tidal range of  15 feet 5½ inches (4.71 metres, rounded up to 4.8 metres - 15ft 6in) which will rise (or fall) in the usual 1 2 3 3 2 1 ("rule of twelfths") pattern as follows:

Hour Rise\Fall (m) Aggregate (m)
1st hour 1 ft 3¾ in (0.4) 1 ft 3¾ in (0.4)
2nd hour 2 ft 7½ in (0.8) 3 ft 11¼ in (1.2)
3rd hour 3 ft 11¼ in (1.2) 7 ft 10½ in (2.4)
4th hour 3 ft 11¼ in (1.2) 11 ft 9¾ in (3.6)
5th hour 2 ft 7½ in (0.8) 14 ft 5¼ in (4.4)
6th hour 1 ft 3¾ in (0.4) 15ft 9in (4.8)

It will be seen that the maximum rate of rise or fall occurs at half tide - half flood and half ebb.

The rate of rise or fall of the tide will not be uniform, and the extent of the rise or fall every hour will depend on the interval between low and high water. The "rule of twelfths" is a rough guide to the rise or fall of a six hour tide but this method of estimating the approximate height of the tide at any particular time should not be used if tide tables are available as the results are not accurate.

The tidal direction ("set") of the current is a true direction toward which the current is flowing. Accordingly, a current that flows from north to south is called a southerly current and has a set of 180°. This is just the opposite terminology of wind direction which is always referenced regarding the wind's origin e.g. a wind blowing from north to south is called a north wind or northerly.

The strength of ebb and flood of a tidal current is its speed, normally measured in knots and is called "drift". A tidal current is said to flood when it flows in from the sea, resulting in higher tidal stages. Conversely, a tidal current ebbs when the flow is seaward and the water level falls.

Note that "flowing tide", "flood tide" and "rising tide" are synonymous terms for the general expression "tide is coming in"; conversely, an ebb tide or "falling tide" is one that is "going out". For the most part, the ebb is usually stronger and lasts longer than the flood.

As these currents reverse direction, there are periods of no flow, called slack, or slack water. The time of slack water is not the same as the time of stand, which is when the rise or fall of the tidal height has stopped. Also the time of H.W. or L.W. will not necessarily correspond with the change of tidal current direction.

Tides are published in many places, be sure to check if the time of the tide is BST or GMT. You might also have to add time or deduct time. There is generally a table so you can adjust the local time of your tide against the published time. Have a good look at your local tide tables and check you are reading them correctly.

To increase your chances of catching from the sea you need to be there when the fish are hunting on that mark. Tide is a huge factor in this.

Generally larger tides induce more fish in to feed, because stronger currents scour food from the sea bed and higher tides flood beaches and rock dragging food sources into the sea. Also higher tides are often when other sea creatures mate and give birth hence a lot of planktonic food stuffs in the water column. For example mysis shrimp are found in greater numbers when there is a full moon i.e. at spring tide.

As a rule of thumb, the last hour of a rising tide and the first two hours down are the prime fishing times. This said, some marks fish best at low water, or just on the flood so you will need to try and see what fishes best.

Another factor is daylight. The bigger predators generally hunt closer to the shore as it gets dark, so a spring tide in the evening or early morning would be you best option for a first attempt at a new mark.

Tidal Effects

As the tide flows to cover more and more of the beach, the water covered area becomes the sea bed and many small forms of marine life emerge from refuge. Many species of fish are aware of this behaviour and follow the tide in to seek and devour anything tasty that may appear.

Larger tides induce more fish inshore to feed because

The best fishing occurs when the main run of flood and ebb tide is rushing past - feeding then drops away towards slack water. When the tide runs fast, bottom and sight feeding fish are more eager to seize and eat food before it passes out of reach.

Generally speaking, sight feeders react aggressively to something that looks and moves like prey and are unlikely to be attracted to odd-shaped lumps of bait and may even be wary of large non-food objects such as lead weights.

Tidal Streams: South Sand Head

Table showing the approximate direction and rate of tidal streams at South Sand Head, close to south-west Goodwin Buoy (51° 09' 0N and 1° 27' 7E), being the closest of five marine chart datum points to Deal (speeds in knots)

  Hours before H.W.   Hours after H.W.
  6 5 4 3 2 1 H.W. 1 2 3 4 5 6
Direction 212 213 216 228 Slack 032 038 039 034 031 Slack 203 210
Springs 2.2 2.2 1.9 1.3 Slack 1.2 2.0 2.3 2.2 1.5 Slack 1.0 1.8
Neaps 1.2 1.2 1.1 0.8 Slack 0.7 1.2 1.3 1.2 0.8 Slack 0.6 1.0

Accordingly, the prevailing tidal directions for Deal are:

Tidal Streams: The Downs

Tidal Streams: The streams in the fairway of the English channel, off the northern coast of France, and off the southern coast of England, have, up to the present, been called "east-going" and "west-going". Off the coast between South Foreland and North Foreland, in the Downs and round the Goodwin Sands, the Channel east-going stream is more nearly north-going, and the Channel west-going stream is more nearly south-going; the designations of the streams have been changed accordingly. This alteration is specially required because the north- and south-going streams of the Downs meet with and separate from the east- and west-going streams of the Thames estuary off the coast between North Foreland and Foreness.

The streams run northward and southward through the Downs, usually in about the direction of the Channel, but the times at which they begin to run become appreciably later from south to north. At a position 5.4 miles 082° from South Foreland lighthouse, south-westward of South Sand Head, the southern extremity of Goodwin Sands, the north-going stream, spring rate 2.3 knots, neap rate 1.3 knots, mean direction 035°, begins -0200 Dover; the south-going stream, spring rate 2.2 knots, neap rate 1.2 knots, mean direction 214°, begins +0400 Dover. The north-going stream when strongest runs in a direction 039°, just clear westward of South Sand Head (see "Caution" below).

At a position 159°, 3.5 miles from the entrance to Ramsgate harbour, the north-going stream, spring rate 3.2 knots, neap rate 1.7 knots, mean direction 020°, begins -0135 Dover; the south-going stream, spring rate 2.8 knots, neap rate 1.5 knots, mean direction 197°, begins +0435 Dover (Lat. 51° 08' N., Long. 1° 19' E.).

At a position on the north-western side of Gull Stream about one mile west-north-westward of N. Goodwin light-buoy, the north-going stream, spring rate 2.8 knots, neap rate 1.6 knots, mean direction 030°, begins -0120 Dover; the south-going stream, spring rate 2.6 knots, neap rate 1.4 knots, mean direction 215°, begins +0440 Dover.

At a position about 3.2 miles 141° from North Foreland lighthouse, the north-going stream, spring rate 2.5 knots, neap rate 1.3 knots, mean direction 019°, begins -0120 Dover; the south-going stream, spring rate 2.2 knots, neap rate 1.3 knots, mean direction 200°, begins +0440 Dover. The stream at this position is more or less rotatory; the north-going stream begins in a direction about 340°, when strong runs in directions between about 005° and 025°, and ends in a direction about 060°; the south-going stream begins in a direction about 135°, when strong runs in directions between about 190° and 205°, and ends in a direction about 230°.

At a position, about 2½ miles northward of Goodwin Knoll, the north-going stream, which is slightly rotatory, begins, in a direction about 357°, -0120 Dover, runs when strong (over 2 knots at springs) in directions between 010° and 045° attaining its greatest rate, 3.2 knots at springs 1.8 knots at neaps, in a direction 023°, +0100 Dover, and ends, in a direction about 060°. The south-going stream, which is more nearly rectilinear, begins, in a direction about 180°, +0500 Dover, attains its greatest rate, 3.1 knots at springs 1.7 knots at neaps, in a direction 208°, -0400 Dover, and ends in a direction about 230°.

The streams in the neighbourhood of the Downs and Goodwin sands are more or less rotatory in a clockwise direction but the degree of rotation varies in different parts; at all positions, however, though at the beginning of the stream, either north-going or south-going, its direction may be considerably to the left, and at its end considerably to the right, of its mean direction, the direction changes quickly near the beginning and end of the stream, which, when at all strong, always runs within a few degrees of its mean direction. As a rough general rule it may be assumed that, except off the northern side of Goodwin Knoll and the sand westward of it, half an hour after the stream begins it is running in a direction about 5° to the left of its mean direction, and that this direction changes gradually to the right till, half an hour before the stream ends (or before the stream in the opposite direction begins), when its direction is about 5° to the right of its mean direction.

Northward of Goodwin Knoll and the sand westward of it, the streams are more rotatory, and about one hour after the stream in either direction begins its direction is about 10° to the left, and about one hour before it ends about 10° to the right, of its mean direction.

Between South and North Forelands the streams run strongly along the coast between South Foreland and Deal; the north-going stream begins about -0150 Dover, the south-going stream begins about +0415 Dover (Lat. 51° 08' North, Long. 1° 19' East) (N51.133333, E001.316666).

In the bay formed by the coast between Deal and Ramsgate the streams are weak. Definite information regarding the streams in the River Stour is not available; the in-going (flood) stream probably begins about -0450 Dover and runs at first in the channel through the flats; later, as the flats cover, it runs inwards towards Shellness from all directions. The ebb stream probably begins about +0020 Dover and runs at first across the flats towards Ramsgate; later, as the flats dry, it runs in the channel.

Off Ramsgate pier heads the north-going stream, direction north-eastward, begins about -0210 Dover; the south-going stream, direction south-westward, begins about +0400 Dover; spring rate in both directions about 3 knots.

Between Ramsgate and North Foreland the north-going stream begins about -0140 Dover, the south-going stream begins about +0420 Dover; the streams are strong off the southern part of this coast, but lose strength and become irregular as North Foreland is approached (see below).

Caution: At certain positions, and at certain times, the streams set strongly towards and across the Goodwin sands, as follows:

Detailed study of shifting sands in a bid to save lives

KentOnline 11 October 2021

A full survey of the Goodwin Sands has begun. The notorious shifting sands off Deal are completely charted every 12 years to help save lives by preventing vessels running aground. Strong currents and tides constantly move them, changing the edges of the sandbank.

The month-long examination is being carried out by contractors A-2-Sea Solutions Ltd from Romsey in Hampshire using their 20-metre survey vessel FPV Morven. The detailed high resolution multibeam echosounder maps the shifting seabed and identifies potential navigational hazards such as obstacles.

The work is required by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). It is because the Goodwin Sands were completely unmarked and uncharted for centuries that they were a constant navigational threat to sailors.

The Survey Area

Data collected by the echosounder is processed on board and sent to both the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and the UK Hydrographic Office. Following completion of validating and analysis, the data will then be incorporated into a new edition of the Admiralty chart, probably published early next year.

The survey team also recorded seal sightings noting locations and numbers. One of the shipwrecks they came across was the SS Luray victory. This was an American cargo ship that had to been abandoned after it ran aground on the Goodwin Sands in January 1946. It had first been launched just 20 months before.

The lives of mariners depend on this survey

As well as updating the Admiralty chart, the data collected will be used to produce a report comparing the changes in water depths since the last full study in 2009. Significant discoveries are sent straight to the Hydrographic Office who will in turn issue a Notice to Mariners with immediate effect. Paula English, the MCA's hydrography programme lead, said:

"The areas of highest navigational safety risk within UK waters have to be and are surveyed systematically. The lives of mariners can and do depend on it. This work is to make sure our nation's nautical charts and publications are current, accurate and fit for purpose. It means that mariners can make informed and safe decisions about their choice of vessel route to make sure they avoid potential hazards, protecting themselves, their crew, shipping and marine environment."

The Landing-Place of Julius Cæsar in Britain

"The Landing-Place of Julius Cæsar in Britain" Archæologia Cantiana (1860) volume 3, pages 1 to 17

By the Reverend E. Cardwell, D.D. Principal of St. Alban Hall, Oxford

Click here to read online.

"The landing-place of Julius Cæsar on the coast of Britain has lately become a subject of considerable interest, owing to some nautical observations recently made on the currents of the British Channel. From these observations it appears to follow that Cæsar, when he quitted his anchorage off Dover and sailed with the wind and tide in his favour, was not carried up the Channel, as hitherto has been the faith of archaeologists, but westward toward the coast of Sussex. An honour which had previously been given unanimously to the coast at Deal has thus become without an owner and has been thrown among the southern Cinque-ports as an object for their competition."

Spoiler alert … "On the day in question the transports, if started with the tide in their favour at 3 p.m., with a 7.31 a.m. tide, must have gone up Channel on the first of the flood, and proceeded to the eastward … the evidence preponderates in favour of the coast of Deal as the landing-place of Julius Cæsar."

The following (translated) extracts taken from Books IV and V of De Bello Gallico by Gaius Julius Cæsar contain references of relevance to the Reverend E. Cardwell's analysis which are emphasised by underlining.

Map of Gaul showing all the tribes and cities mentioned in De Bello Gallico

De Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book IV, paragraphs 20 to 29 (first invasion of Britain in 55 B.C.):

  1. During the short part of summer which remained, Cæsar, although in these countries, as all Gaul lies toward the north, the winters are early, nevertheless resolved to proceed into Britain, because he discovered that in almost all the wars with the Gauls succours had been furnished to our enemy from that country; and even if the time of year should be insufficient for carrying on the war, yet he thought it would be of great service to him if he only entered the island, and saw into the character of the people, and got knowledge of their localities, harbours, and landing-places, all which were for the most part unknown to the Gauls. For neither does any one except merchants generally go thither, nor even to them was any portion of it known, except the sea-coast and those parts which are opposite to Gaul. Therefore, after having called up to him the merchants from all parts, he could learn neither what was the size of the island, nor what or how numerous were the nations which inhabited it, nor what system of war they followed, nor what customs they used, nor what harbours were convenient for a great number of large ships.
  2. He sends before him Caius Volusenus with a ship of war, to acquire a knowledge of these particulars before he in person should make a descent into the island, as he was convinced that this was a judicious measure. He commissioned him to thoroughly examine into all matters, and then return to him as soon as possible. He himself proceeds to the Morini with all his forces. He orders ships from all parts of the neighbouring countries, and the fleet which the preceding summer he had built for the war with the Veneti, to assemble in this place. In the mean time, his purpose having been discovered, and reported to the Britons by merchants, ambassadors come to him from several states of the island, to promise that they will give hostages, and submit to the government of the Roman people. Having given them an audience, he after promising liberally, and exhorting them to continue in that purpose, sends them back to their own country, and dispatches with them Commius, whom, upon subduing the Atrebates, he had created king there, a man whose courage and conduct he esteemed, and who he thought would be faithful to him, and whose influence ranked highly in those countries. He orders him to visit as many states as he could, and persuade them to embrace the protection of the Roman people, and apprize them that he would shortly come thither. Volusenus, having viewed the localities as far as means could be afforded one who dared not leave his ship and trust himself to barbarians, returns to Cæsar on the fifth day, and reports what he had there observed.
  3. While Cæsar remains in these parts for the purpose of procuring ships, ambassadors come to him from a great portion of the Morini, to plead their excuse respecting their conduct on the late occasion; alleging that it was as men uncivilized, and as those who were unacquainted with our custom, that they had made war upon the Roman people, and promising to perform what he should command. Cæsar, thinking that this had happened fortunately enough for him, because he neither wished to leave an enemy behind him, nor had an opportunity for carrying on a war, by reason of the time of year, nor considered that employment in such trifling matters was to be preferred to his enterprise on Britain, imposes a large number of hostages; and when these were brought, he received them to his protection. Having collected together, and provided about eighty transport ships, as many as he thought necessary for conveying over two legions, he assigned such ships of war as he had besides to the quaestor, his lieutenants, and officers of cavalry. There were in addition to these eighteen ships of burden which were prevented, eight miles from that place, by winds, from being able to reach the same port. These he distributed among the horse; the rest of the army, he delivered to Q. Titurius Sabinus and L. Aurunculeius Cotta, his lieutenants, to lead into the territories of the Menapii and those cantons of the Morini from which ambassadors had not come to him. He ordered P. Sulpicius Rufus, his lieutenant, to hold possession of the harbour, with such a garrison as he thought sufficient.
  4. These matters being arranged, finding the weather favourable for his voyage, he set sail about the third watch, and ordered the horse to march forward to the further port, and there embark and follow him. As this was performed rather tardily by them, he himself reached Britain with the first squadron of ships, about the fourth hour of the day, and there saw the forces of the enemy drawn up in arms on all the hills. The nature of the place was this: the sea was confined by mountains so close to it that a dart could be thrown from their summit upon the shore. Considering this by no means a fit place for disembarking, he remained at anchor till the ninth hour, for the other ships to arrive there. Having in the mean time assembled the lieutenants and military tribunes, he told them both what he had learned from Volusenus, and what he wished to be done; and enjoined them (as the principle of military matters, and especially as maritime affairs, which have a precipitate and uncertain action, required) that all things should be performed by them at a nod and at the instant. Having dismissed them, meeting both with wind and tide favourable at the same time, the signal being given and the anchor weighed, he advanced about seven miles from that place, and stationed his fleet over against an open and level shore.

  5. De Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book IV, at paragraph 23 (first invasion of Britain in 55 B.C.):

    "… he set sail about the third watch … he himself reached Britain … about the fourth hour of the day …"

    The Romans divided the night into four watches consisting of three hours each:

    1. the first (evening) commenced at six and continued until nine;
    2. the second (midnight) from nine to twelve;
    3. the third (cock-crowing) from twelve to three; and
    4. the fourth (morning) from three to six.

    The four watches are named in Mark 13:35: "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning."

    It is probable that the term watch was given to each of these divisions from the practice of placing sentinels around the camp in time of war, or in cities, to watch or guard the camp or city; and that they were at first relieved three times in the night, but under the Romans four times.

  6. But the barbarians, upon perceiving the design of the Romans, sent forward their cavalry and charioteers, a class of warriors of whom it is their practice to make great use in their battles, and following with the rest of their forces, endeavoured to prevent our men landing. In this was the greatest difficulty, for the following reasons, namely, because our ships, on account of their great size, could be stationed only in deep water; and our soldiers, in places unknown to them, with their hands embarrassed, oppressed with a large and heavy weight of armour, had at the same time to leap from the ships, stand amid the waves, and encounter the enemy; whereas they, either on dry ground, or advancing a little way into the water, free in all their limbs in places thoroughly known to them, could confidently throw their weapons and spur on their horses, which were accustomed to this kind of service. Dismayed by these circumstances and altogether untrained in this mode of battle, our men did not all exert the same vigour and eagerness which they had been wont to exert in engagements on dry ground.
  7. When Cæsar observed this, he ordered the ships of war, the appearance of which was somewhat strange to the barbarians and the motion more ready for service, to be withdrawn a little from the transport vessels, and to be propelled by their oars, and be stationed toward the open flank of the enemy, and the enemy to be beaten off and driven away, with slings, arrows, and engines: which plan was of great service to our men; for the barbarians being startled by the form of our ships and the motions of our oars and the nature of our engines, which was strange to them, stopped, and shortly after retreated a little. And while our men were hesitating whether they should advance to the shore, chiefly on account of the depth of the sea, he who carried the eagle of the tenth legion, after supplicating the gods that the matter might turn out favourably to the legion, exclaimed, "Leap, fellow soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. I, for my part, will perform my duty to the commonwealth and my general." When he had said this with a loud voice, he leaped from the ship and proceeded to bear the eagle toward the enemy. Then our men, exhorting one another that so great a disgrace should not be incurred, all leaped from the ship. When those in the nearest vessels saw them, they speedily followed and approached the enemy.
  8. The battle was maintained vigorously on both sides. Our men, however, as they could neither keep their ranks, nor get firm footing, nor follow their standards, and as one from one ship and another from another assembled around whatever standards they met, were thrown into great confusion. But the enemy, who were acquainted with all the shallows, when from the shore they saw any coming from a ship one by one, spurred on their horses, and attacked them while embarrassed; many surrounded a few, others threw their weapons upon our collected forces on their exposed flank. When Cæsar observed this, he ordered the boats of the ships of war and the spy sloops to be filled with soldiers, and sent them up to the succour of those whom he had observed in distress. Our men, as soon as they made good their footing on dry ground, and all their comrades had joined them, made an attack upon the enemy, and put them to flight, but could not pursue them very far, because the horse had not been able to maintain their course at sea and reach the island. This alone was wanting to Cæsar's accustomed success.
  9. The enemy being thus vanquished in battle, as soon as they recovered after their flight, instantly sent ambassadors to Cæsar to negotiate about peace. They promised to give hostages and perform what he should command. Together with these ambassadors came Commius the Altrebatian, who, as I have above said, had been sent by Cæsar into Britain. Him they had seized upon when leaving his ship, although in the character of ambassador he bore the general's commission to them, and thrown into chains: then after the battle was fought, they sent him back, and in suing for peace cast the blame of that act upon the common people, and entreated that it might be pardoned on account of their indiscretion. Cæsar, complaining, that after they had sued for peace, and had voluntarily sent ambassadors into the continent for that purpose, they had made war without a reason, said that he would pardon their indiscretion, and imposed hostages, a part of whom they gave immediately; the rest they said they would give in a few days, since they were sent for from remote places. In the mean time they ordered their people to return to the country parts, and the chiefs assembled from all quarter, and proceeded to surrender themselves and their states to Cæsar.
  10. A peace being established by these proceedings four days after we had come into Britain, the eighteen ships, to which reference has been made above, and which conveyed the cavalry, set sail from the upper port with a gentle gale, when, however, they were approaching Britain and were seen from the camp, so great a storm suddenly arose that none of them could maintain their course at sea; and some were taken back to the same port from which they had started; others, to their great danger, were driven to the lower part of the island, nearer to the west; which, however, after having cast anchor, as they were getting filled with water, put out to sea through necessity in a stormy night, and made for the continent.
  11. It happened that night to be full moon, which usually occasions very high tides in that ocean; and that circumstance was unknown to our men. Thus, at the same time, the tide began to fill the ships of war which Cæsar had provided to convey over his army, and which he had drawn up on the strand; and the storm began to dash the ships of burden which were riding at anchor against each other; nor was any means afforded our men of either managing them or of rendering any service. A great many ships having been wrecked, inasmuch as the rest, having lost their cables, anchors, and other tackling, were unfit for sailing, a great confusion, as would necessarily happen, arose throughout the army; for there were no other ships in which they could be conveyed back, and all things which are of service in repairing vessels were wanting, and, corn for the winter had not been provided in those places, because it was understood by all that they would certainly winter in Gaul.

De Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book V, paragraphs 7 to 11 (second invasion of Britain in 54 B.C.):

  1. Having learned this fact, Cæsar, because he had conferred so much honour upon the Aeduan state, determined that Dumnorix should be restrained and deterred by whatever means he could; and that, because he perceived his insane designs to be proceeding further and further, care should be taken lest he might be able to injure him and the commonwealth. Therefore, having stayed about twenty-five days in that place, because the north wind, which usually blows a great part of every season, prevented the voyage, he exerted himself to keep Dumnorix in his allegiance and nevertheless learn all his measures: having at length met with favourable weather, he orders the foot soldiers and the horse to embark in the ships. But, while the minds of all were occupied, Dumnorix began to take his departure from the camp homeward with the cavalry of the Aedui, Cæsar being ignorant of it. Cæsar, on this matter being reported to him, ceasing from his expedition and deferring all other affairs, sends a great part of the cavalry to pursue him, and commands that he be brought back; he orders that if he use violence and do not submit, that he be slain; considering that Dumnorix would do nothing as a rational man while he himself was absent, since he had disregarded his command even when present. He, however, when recalled, began to resist and defend himself with his hand, and implore the support of his people, often exclaiming that "he was free and the subject of a free state." They surround and kill the man as they had been commanded; but the Aeduan horsemen all return to Cæsar.
  2. When these things were done and Labienus left on the continent with three legions and 2,000 horse, to defend the harbours and provide corn, and discover what was going on in Gaul, and take measures according to the occasion and according to the circumstance; he himself, with five legions and a number of horse, equal to that which he was leaving on the continent, set sail at sun-set, and though for a time borne forward by a gentle south-west wind, he did not maintain his course, in consequence of the wind dying away about midnight, and being carried on too far by the tide, when the sun rose, espied Britain passed on his left. Then, again, following the change of tide, he urged on with the oars that he might make that part of the island in which he had discovered the preceding summer, that there was the best landing-place, and in this affair the spirit of our soldiers was very much to be extolled; for they with the transports and heavy ships, the labour of rowing not being for a moment discontinued, equalled the speed of the ships of war. All the ships reached Britain nearly at mid-day; nor was there seen a single enemy in that place, but, as Cæsar afterward found from some prisoners, though large bodies of troops had assembled there, yet being alarmed by the great number of our ships, more than eight hundred of which, including the ships of the preceding year, and those private vessels which each had built for his own convenience, had appeared at one time, they had quitted the coast and concealed themselves among the higher points.
  3. Cæsar, having disembarked his army and chosen a convenient place for the camp, when he discovered from the prisoners in what part the forces of the enemy had lodged themselves, having left ten cohorts and 300 horse at the sea, to be a guard to the ships, hastens to the enemy, at the third watch, fearing the less for the ships, for this reason because he was leaving them fastened at anchor upon an even and open shore; and he placed Q. Atrius over the guard of the ships. He himself, having advanced by night about twelve miles, espied the forces of the enemy. They, advancing to the river with their cavalry and chariots from the higher ground, began to annoy our men and give battle. Being repulsed by our cavalry, they concealed themselves in woods, as they had secured a place admirably fortified by nature and by art, which, as it seemed, they had before prepared on account of a civil war; for all entrances to it were shut up by a great number of felled trees. They themselves rushed out of the woods to fight here and there, and prevented our men from entering their fortifications. But the soldiers of the seventh legion, having formed a testudo and thrown up a rampart against the fortification, took the place and drove them out of the woods, receiving only a few wounds. But Cæsar forbade his men to pursue them in their flight any great distance; both because he was ignorant of the nature of the ground, and because, as a great part of the day was spent, he wished time to be left for the fortification of the camp.
  4. The next day, early in the morning, he sent both foot-soldiers and horse in three divisions on an expedition to pursue those who had fled. These having advanced a little way, when already the rear of the enemy was in sight, some horse came to Cæsar from Quintus Atrius, to report that the preceding night, a very great storm having arisen, almost all the ships were dashed to pieces and cast upon the shore, because neither the anchors and cables could resist, nor could the sailors and pilots sustain the violence of the storm; and thus great damage was received by that collision of the ships.
  5. These things being known to him, Cæsar orders the legions and cavalry to be recalled and to cease from their march; he himself returns to the ships: he sees clearly before him almost the same things which he had heard of from the messengers and by letter, so that, about forty ships being lost, the remainder seemed capable of being repaired with much labour. Therefore he selects workmen from the legions, and orders others to be sent for from the continent; he writes to Labienus to build as many ships as he could with those legions which were with him. He himself, though the matter was one of great difficulty and labour, yet thought it to be most expedient for all the ships to be brought up on shore and joined with the camp by one fortification. In these matters he employed about ten days, the labour of the soldiers being unremitting even during the hours of night. The ships having been brought up on shore and the camp strongly fortified, he left the same forces as he did before as a guard for the ships; he sets out in person for the same place that he had returned from. When he had come thither, greater forces of the Britons had already assembled at that place, the chief command and management of the war having been entrusted to Cassivellaunus, whose territories a river, which is called the Thames, separates, from the maritime states at about eighty miles from the sea. At an earlier period perpetual wars had taken place between him and the other states; but, greatly alarmed by our arrival, the Britons had placed him over the whole war and the conduct of it.

De Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book V, paragraph 14:

"The most civilized of all these nations are they who inhabit Kent, which is entirely a maritime district, nor do they differ much from the Gallic customs. Most of the inland inhabitants do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins. All the Britons, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which occasions a bluish colour, and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight. They wear their hair long, and have every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip. Ten and even twelve have wives common to them, and particularly brothers among brothers, and parents among their children; but if there be any issue by these wives, they are reputed to be the children of those by whom respectively each was first espoused when a virgin."

Eastern Kent AD 43 showing old and new coastline
adapted from "The Cantiaci" by Alec Detsicas (page 34, figure 7)

Gaius Julius Cæsar's two invasions of Britain are referred to in just 3 paragraphs of De vita Cæsarum (The Lives of the Twelve Cæsars) (A.D. 121) by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. Paragraphs 25, 47 and 58 taken from Robert Graves' 1965 translation are set out below:

25. Briefly, his nine years' governorship produced the following results. He reduced to the form of a province the whole of Gaul enclosed by the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Cevennes, the Rhine, and the Rhone - about 640,000 square miles - except for certain allied states which had given him useful support; and exacted an annual tribute of 400,000 gold pieces. Cæsar was the first Roman to build a military bridge across the Rhine and cause the Germans on the farther bank heavy losses. He also invaded Britain, a hitherto unknown country, and defeated the natives, from whom he exacted a large sum of money as well a hostages for future good behaviour. He met with only three serious reverses: in Britain, when his fleet was all but destroyed by a gale; in Gaul, when one of his legions was routed at Gergovia among the Auvergne mountains; and on the German frontier, when his generals Titurius and Aurunculeius were ambushed and killed.

47. Fresh-water pearls seem to have been the lure that prompted his invasion of Britain; he would sometimes weigh them in the palm of his hand to judge their value, and was also a keen collector of gems, carvings, statues, and Old Masters. So high were the prices he paid for slaves of good character and attainments that he became ashamed of his extravagance and would not allow the sums to be entered in his accounts.

58. It is a disputable point which was the more remarkable when he went to war: his caution or his daring. He never exposed his army to ambushes, but made careful reconnaissances; and refrained from crossing over into Britain until he had collected reliable information (from Gaius Volusenus) about the harbours there, the best course to steer, and the navigational risks. On the other hand, when news reached him that his camp in Germany was being besieged, he disguised himself as a Gaul and picked his way through the enemy outposts to take command on the spot. He ferried his troops across the Adriatic from Brindisi to Dyrrhachium in the winter season, running the blockade of Pompey's fleet. And one night, when Mark Antony had delayed the supply of reinforcements, despite repeated pleas, Cæsar muffled his head with a cloak and secretly put to sea in a small boat, alone and incognito; forced the helmsman to steer into the teeth of a gale, and narrowly escaped shipwreck.

Tide Glossary

Chart Datum: is the plane below which all depths are published on a navigational chart. It is also the plane to which all tidal heights are referred, so by adding the tidal height to the charted depth, the true depth of water is determined. By international agreement, Chart Datum is defined as a level so low that the tide will not frequently fall below it. In the United Kingdom, this level is normally approximately the level of Lowest Astronomical Tide. Chart Datum is shown on charts as the zero metre contour

Current: horizontal movement of water

Drift: the speed of a tidal current, which is normally expressed in knots and measured to the nearest 10th of a knot. River cur

Ebb: tidal current moving away from land or down a tidal stream

Flood: tidal current moving toward land or up a tidal stream

HAT (Highest Astronomical Tide) & LAT (Lowest Astronomical Tide): the highest and lowest levels respectively which can be predicted to occur under average meteorological conditions and under any combination of astronomical conditions. These levels will not be reached every year. HAT and LAT are not the extreme levels which can be reached as storm surges and other meteorological conditions may cause considerably higher and lower levels to occur

MHWN (Mean High Water Neaps) & MLWN (Mean Low Water Neaps): the height of mean high water neaps is the average, throughout a year as defined above, of the heights of two successive high waters during those periods (approximately once a fortnight) when the range of the tide is least. The height of mean low water neaps is the average height obtained from the two successive low waters during the same periods:

MHWN: the average HEIGHT of the HIGH WATERS of NEAP TIDES above Chart Datum

MLWN: the average HEIGHT of the LOW WATERS of NEAP TIDES above Chart Datum

MHWS (Mean High Water Springs) & MLWS (Mean Low Water Springs): the height of mean high water springs is the average of the heights of two successive high waters during those periods of 24 hrs (approximately once a fortnight) when the range of the tide is greatest. The height of mean low water springs is the average height obtained by the two successive low waters during the same period:

MHWS: the average HEIGHT of the HIGH WATERS of SPRING TIDES above Chart Datum

MLWS: the average HEIGHT of all LOW WATERS of SPRING TIDES above Chart Datum

The values of MHWS, MHWN, MLWN and MLWS vary from year to year in a cycle of approximately 18.6 years. In general the levels are computed from at least a year's predictions and are adjusted for the long period variations to give values which are the average over the whole cycle. The values of Lowest Astronomical Tide (LAT) and Highest Astronomical Tide (HAT) are determined by inspection over a span of years.

MSL (Mean Sea Level): is the average level of the sea surface over a long period, normally 19 years, or the average level which would exist in the absence of tides, i.e. the average HEIGHT of the surface of the SEA at a TIDE STATION for all stages of the TIDE over a 19 year period, usually determined from hourly height readings measured from a fixed predetermined reference level (Chart Datum)

Set: the direction toward which a tidal current flows

Slack or Slack Water: the state of a tidal current when its speed is near zero, prior to reversing direction. The term is also applied to the entire period of low speed prior to and after the turning of the current when it is too weak to be of any practical importance in navigation. Not to be confused with stand

Stand: the point when vertical movement stops at both high or low tide

Tidal current: horizontal movement of water caused by gravitational interaction between the sun, moon, and earth. Tidal currents are a part of the vertical rise and fall of the sea which we refer to as tide

"The turn of the tide" (Davidson Knowles)
The Illustrated London News (1881)

"Sea-Fishing on the English Coast" (1891) Frederick George Aflalo at pages 55 & 56

Time and Tide

In all cases of sea-fishing, tide is the ruling power. It is of little use to decide on fishing early in the morning or late in the evening, until you have learnt the state of the tide … The two hours before and the hour after high-water are the best for fishing, the latter being known as "slack tide," owing to the water remaining almost stationary at high-water mark for some time before returning.

The rising tide is called the "flood", and it is during this flood that the fish are hungriest. Still, in places where the falling tide is not too strong for your leads, plenty of fish may be caught at all times from boats. Piers, however, are, as a rule, too shallow at low-water; but exceptionally long ones (e.g., Deal and Southend) are good at all times of the tide.

To the general rule that a rising tide is best for fishing, I have found an exception in all small fish, e.g,. smelts, pout, and chad. Perhaps they find it safer to wait till their enemies have gorged themselves throughout the flood.

Early morning and late evening are the best times for fishing, providing the tide suits; but for ground-fishing for bass, I believe midday to be the best time.

Fly-fishing for pollack and mullet may be practised from half-an-hour before sunset.

Night-fishing is almost a distinct sport; but it is usually too cold to angle, hand-lines being resorted to. Many fish change their locality during the night. Pollack, and even gurnards, are taken on the sand near a reef of rocks; and mackerel and mullet, that during the day remain within a few feet of the top, may be caught within a foot of the bottom.

"The Sea and the Rod" (1892) Deputy Surgeon-General Charles Thomas Paske & Frederick George Aflalo at page 23

Chapter I

On Sea Fishing in Particular

Time is of especial importance in sea-fishing, in the affairs of which there is a tide, which, "taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." The fish recede with the ebb, not, as many believe, on account of the diminution in depth - for there are but few species of shore-fish that cannot live in half a dozen feet of water - but in pursuit of the food that moves with the tide. The "flood" is consequently the best time for fishing, which may, however, be continued during slack-water, before the high tide has begun its backward course. Many small fish, it is true, feed best on a falling tide, presumably because if they ventured abroad during the "feeding-time" of their seniors, they would themselves come under the category of food - an unpleasant emergency !

"The Badminton Library: Modern Sea Fishing" (1895) John Bickerdyke at pages 14, 15, 16, 165 & 166


The water in the sea flows for a certain number of hours in one direction; then comes almost to a standstill, and begins to flow for a certain number of hours in the opposite direction … Sailors say the tide is flowing, which is practically equivalent to saying the water is rising [1]. When it has risen to its full height the term flood tide or high water, is used. When the tide turns and the water begins to run in the opposite direction, it is said to be not flowing, but ebbing, and the period during which the water ebbs is termed the ebb tide. Just between the end of the flood and the beginning of the ebb, or, in other words, at the turn of the tide, the speed of the tidal current gradually falls off, or eases (in nautical language), until there is no perceptible current whatever. Then the water starts ebbing in the opposite direction, slowly at first, and quickening until it reaches its full speed, falling off or slackening again as we get to the end of the ebb. In many places the tidal current is so strong that it is impossible to let down a line and keep the lead on the bottom except during the hour or so immediately before and immediately after the turn of the tide - that is to say, when the tide is slack.

… Every fortnight we have almost the greatest variation in the rise of the water - that is to say, the highest water at the flood and the lowest water at the ebb: these are called spring tides (the term has nothing whatever to do with the spring of the year), and occur at the times of the new and full moon. The spring tide of the full moon, when the best fishing is usually obtained, is somewhat greater than the spring tide which occurs when the moon is new. Between the periods of full and new moon occur the neap tides. The tide in most places rises or flows for seven hours, then ebbs or falls for five hours; and it is not difficult to understand that if a given quantity of water has to rise twenty feet in seven hours, it will flow with much greater speed than the same quantity of water when it has only to rise fifteen feet in the same time. Therefore the currents of the spring tides are very much more rapid than those of the neap tides.

River fishermen are well aware that the incoming of fresh water caused by rain, or the rising of springs, or the melting of a glacier, as a rule brings the fish on the feed. Doubtless it stirs up their food, and, perhaps, also sharpens their appetite, as a good blow from a nor'-easter does ours. The increased current in the sea during spring tides may, therefore, account for the fact that the fish feed better then than at other times … At some places the tidal currents may be so strong during spring tides that it is almost impossible to fish at all except with drift lines near the surface … Even in the less strong currents of the neaps, the only fishing carried on is during the two hours immediately before and after the turn of the tide. Not only are the tidal currents overwhelmingly powerful, but they bring with them at times immense quantities of floating seaweed which load the lines and offer such resistance to the water that very heavy leads are lifted off the bottom … It is always desirable to use as light leads as possible, and as the tide is at one time not running at all and a few hours later may be racing four or five knots, the sea angler should provide himself with leads of different weights which he can change from time to time.

Now I propose to deal with the slightly lower branch of fishing near or on the bottom of the sea, as it may be carried on from rocks and piers, from flat sandy shores, and in harbours and estuaries. Generally speaking, fishing of this kind is most successful during spring tides. I have never been able to make up my mind whether the reason is that the increased current acts like a spate coming down a freshwater river, stirring up the food and setting all the fish a-feeding, besides reinvigorating them by the freshness of the water, as we are brisked up by a good blow from a north-east wind; or whether the powerful stream outside simply forces the fish to seek that shelter which they find in the slacker water close along the coast. Perhaps both reasons may be correct; but, whatever the cause, the fact remains that in many places the fishing is extremely indifferent from the shore except at the periods when the moon is either at its full or new.

[1] In some places - e.g. in the Downs - owing to the configuration of the bottom, trend of the coast, &c., curious tidal currents are formed, with the result that water continues to flow some time after it has begun to fall.

"Sea Fishing" (1911) Charles Owen Minchin at page 296

Chapter XX

Some Practical Hints and a Few Words on Nature-Study

… A great point for success is, while very respectful to the tides, to pay no attention to the clock or to mealtimes. The best hours, in summer at all events, are generally in the early morning or the late evening. A good basket may be secured by making a start soon after midnight and fishing till the sun is high, by which time in hot, bright weather the fish will generally have left off feeding; whereas if the fishing is postponed till after a late breakfast, the time for good sport will be over before one gets on the marks. For coalfish and pollack the good time is during the hours of twilight, either morning or evening, but during the pilchard season in Cornwall the evening hours are not available because the drift-nets are then being shot.

"Sea-Fishing from the Shore" (1940) A. R. Harris Cass M.B.E. at pages 71 to 74

Chapter VII

When to Fish

Now for the best time to fish. Undoubtedly when the tide is running in. I have compiled many records of my experiences with the sea-rod: date, weather, time of day, tide hour and height of tide. The readings show that while I have caught fish at all stages of the flowing tide, my best achievements have been at approximately half tide, and this irrespective of all other elements. Hence whether sport has been poor or variable, enthusiasm grips me after the tide has been making for a couple of hours. Of course there is always the prospect of catching a fish when the tide is running out, if your position is at the mouth of an estuary where the fish move in and out with the tide, but the deterrent is that, with an ebbing tide the water is continually receding from you, and you have to be constantly recasting.

Repeatedly I am asked if spring or neap tides offer the better facilities for shore angling. Experience has taught me that the question cannot be answered dogmatically, as so much depends on other circumstances, and what may apply in one case is negatived in another.

"Competition Sea Angling" (1970) Bruce McMillen at page 48

4. Methods

The best period of the tide

It is surprising to note that many anglers seem to be under the quite mistaken impression that fishing is productive only on the incoming tide and therefore they finish as soon as the ebb commences. When fishing in areas unfamiliar to me, I have often noted this, what is to me, strange attaitude. Local anglers have invariably told me that 'nobody troubles to fish the ebb, you will only catch fish as the tide comes in', or words to that effect. Despite this 'advice', and taking into account my general experience, I have continued to fish the ebb right down to low water and have found that the best fishing sometimes actually occurred during that period. This is a point well worth noting; the periods covering an hour or so before high water to an hour or so after as well as the corresponding period either side of low water can be most productive.

It is, of course, impossible to generalise for much depends upon local conditions but the above are my findings when related to the most favourable fishing periods of the tide.

"Sea Angling in Kent" (1973) Hugh Stoker at page 33


High Water: -2 hours 32 minutes H.W. London Bridge. Rise: 17 feet at Springs; 14½ feet at Neaps. Tidal Streams: In the open sea off Deal the tides run hard at times, and for the most part follow the general north to south trend of the coast, although in places the streams are deflected by the Goodwin Sands, and may then follow more closely the deep-water channels between or around the sandbanks.

However, this trend cannot be relied upon around H.W., because there are then certain areas where the tide sets strongly across the Goodwins, creating at the same time an upsurging mass of water which is liable to result in turbulent conditions.

The tidal streams are too complex to give full details here, but as a general guide it is worth noting that between the inner (west) side of the south-west Goodwin Buoy and Trinity Bay the flood tide (direction north north-east going) begins -2 hours local H.W. and attains a rate of 2½ knots at springs, and 1½ knots at neaps. The ebb (direction south south-west going) begins +4 hours local H.W. and attains a rate of 2¼ knots at springs and 1¼ knots at neaps. Elsewhere in the vicinity of the Goodwins one is liable to encounter tides with a springs rate of 3½ knots or more. The slackest tides, on the other hand, are to be found in the bay formed by the coast between North Deal and Ramsgate.

There are many variables that affect coastal erosion of which the main controlling factor is that of wave approach which set up onshore and alongshore currents. There are various secondary factors such as the Goodwin Sands and inshore currents but essentially the dominant wind direction over the year together with the orientation of the shore relative to this result in waves approaching the shore at an angle. Consequently, sediment is moved along the coast corresponding to wave direction.

In Kent the predominant direction of offshore wave approach is from the south-west. This is then refracted through the Straights of Dover creating onshore waves from the south-east causing a net movement of material to the north. However the most severe direction for storm activity is from the north-east which can cause occasional reversal of the general trend resulting in significant shingle movements from north to south.

High energy waves are able to transport larger amounts of sediment. With the Kent coast predominantly made up of shingle, high wave energy is required and is provided by the long fetch from the south-west and north-east.

Editor's Note: So, for the tidal streams inside the Goodwin Sands off Deal, the flood tidal stream (running north-east by north) starts about 2 hours before H.W. and ceases about 4 hours after H.W. The ebb runs from 4 hours after H.W. to 2 hours before the next H.W. The flood tide does not stop at H.W. because of the tides meeting in the North Sea. Although high tide has passed at Deal, the North Sea is still filling with water, hence the tide continuing to flow north. Conversely, the North Sea is still emptying out when the next high tide is approaching so the tidal streams are shifted by about 4 hours.

"The Bait Book" (1979) Ted Lamb at pages 131 & 132

24 Seasons, Weather and Tides


Bear in mind that tides are going to affect shore bait gathering as much as they will affect fishing; if you intend to gather bait first and then fish, it is best to arrive at your venue at the end of a falling tide so that you have plenty of time to collect sufficient bait. When the tide is up, there will be precious little to find in the way of bait.

All marks, shore or deep water, fish well or badly at particular states of the tide. It is not possible to generalize too greatly on this subject, since there is a vast range of sea fish species and not all of them conform to one set of rules. However, rising tides are more often good than bad, especially for shore fishing from beaches, rocks and piers and in harbours and estuaries. Here, in weed, sand, rock, mud and among stanchions and sea wall stones, there lies a vast number of bait species ready to emerge when the tide comes in, making a rich larder for the fish. The rising tide is followed by a slack period, during which species like conger eels and ling come out of their holes in deep-sea wrecks and rocks in search of food - action time for deep-sea fishing. On dropping tides, deep-sea fishing can be moderate to good, but shore fishing is sometimes poor - the receding water is a signal to leave shallow grounds to avoid stranding, and in estuaries the salt water starts to become too dilute for many species. At low tide there is a slack, corresponding to the high water slack. This is all right for deep-sea fishing, but poor for shore fishing because fish are disinterestedly waiting for the tide to turn and start to re-cover the bait grounds.

"Sea Angling: Kent to Cornwall" (1990) Mel Russ & Alan Yates at page 11

Tides are generally strong in the English Channel and flow west to east during the flood and east to west during the ebb. The south coast offers better shore and boat fishing during the stronger flood tide, although around Deal and Thanet the shoreline responds better on the ebb flow. Along the north coast the shoreline is much shallower and tides are not so strong until you reach the Thames estuary, where the ebb flow is particularly powerful. Tides washing the North Kent coast are reversed, with the flood going east to west and the ebb west to east.

By far the most productive weather conditions along the shore follow a westerly or south-westerly gale, although the North Kent coast responds to a north-westerly on occasions. South-west is the predominant wind direction, and whilst this suits the shore-based angler, when the wind is blowing hard, it restricts boat movement from ports like Dover, Folkestone and Dungeness. A light north-westerly wind favours the boat angler from these venues.

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