The Fleet Observer...
The Fleet Observer is a boat with a difference. For a start, it’s the only boat licensed to give tours on the Fleet Lagoon - and as starts go, that’s a good one.
The Fleet is a unique habitat and natural feature that extends for about 8 miles from Ferry Bridge and Portland Harbour in the East to the Abbotsbury Swannery in the West.
Chances to get on the Fleet in a boat are few are far between, not least because of its importance as a protected wildlife habitat. So a licensed tour boat with a knowledgeable guide at the helm is an opportunity not to be missed.
For a modest fee (£7 per adult and £4 per child) you can take an hour-long tour of the Eastern end of the Fleet Lagoon. Starting with a short foray into Portland Harbour, you’ll be given an excellent overview of the Harbour, the Fleet and their history before heading back onto the lagoon to learn about its unique ecology and its dependence on the equally unique Chesil Bank.
Your expert skipper will talk you through points of interest within the Fleet and further afield at the same time as guiding you through any wildlife you may happen upon, including the Fleet’s impressive array of seabirds and waterfowl.
Not least amongst these is the struggling colony of Little Terns that nest along one small section of the 18 miles of the Chesil Bank each spring. Having flown all the way from South Africa these dogged little seabirds come back to the Fleet each year to do battle with local predators in a fight for survival, which, at first glance they seem destined to lose.
Despite the best efforts of the Fleet Wardens and the Chesil Centre, foxes, crows and other predators take a terrible toll on the Fleet Little Tern population each year. Their loss would be a sad one for such a special and beautiful ecosystem.
In addition to wildlife in the air and on the beach, if you are lucky, you may also be able to get a sneaky peek at wildlife under the water.
Another difference of the Fleet Observer is her glass bottom. On a good day this allows passengers of this 12-seater aquatic, open-topped tour boat, to see a little of what’s going on underneath the waters of the Harbour and the Lagoon. This is by no means guaranteed as it depends greatly on the conditions and clarity of the water, which being tidal are hugely variable. But if the water’s good, there’s lots to see on the bottom of the lagoon which is key to much of what happens with the wildlife on top of it.
You’re not going to see coral reefs and tropical fish, even if the Fleet waters are at their tip-top best. This is, after all, the temperate waters of the UK, not the waters of the tropics. But you do stand a chance of seeing plants and animals that you wouldn’t normally see, and the fact that you have someone to explain what they are how they fit into this unique environment adds hugely to what would be, in any event, a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing boat trip.
Stripped of expert commentary and wildlife, this would be a very pleasant way to while away an hour. But add in all that you will see and learn and you’ll find your 60 minutes whizzes by and leaves you wanting more. Which you can get, either by visiting the Chesil Centre just up the road from Ferry Bridge in the car park on the right as you head towards Portland. Or by booking yourself onto one of the Fleet Observer’s more specialist tours.
This is not a high-octane power ride. There’s no spray or white-water, nonetheless, there’s the risk of the odd splash and you will be exposed to whatever the weather has to offer for the hour that you are aboard. Dress appropriately and enjoy this unique Dorset boat ride.
The Fleet Observer is a boat with a difference. For a start, it’s the only boat licensed to give tours on the Fleet Lagoon - and as starts go, that’s a good one......"