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King James II was king of England & Ireland from 1633 until he was deposed in 1688, by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange). William's successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascending of the English throne as William III of England jointly with his wife Mary II of England.

In 1690 William was fighting in James II and his French allies in Ireland and had left England poorly defended, when during the Nine Years War King Louis XIV of France decided with William in Ireland, to take control of the English Channel with a French fleet of 73 ships of the line and 23 fireships under the command of Torville.

The Royal Navy (with most of its strength diverted to protect commerce from Privateers) had only 35 English ships commanded by The Earl of Torrington onboard his flagship The Royal Sovereign, this was joined at the Isle of Wight by 22 allied Dutch ships and 4 fireships.

The French force was engaged of Beachy Head on 10th July 1690, and an 8 hour battle left the French complete victors, however Tourville did not pursue the allied force, allowing them to take refuge in the River Thames.

With the French failing to exploit their success, Tourville was soon after relieved of command by King Louis XIV.

This naval engagement came known as “The Battle of Beachy Head” and to this day remains one of the biggest defeats of the British navy.

The name of the Torringtons flagship “The Royal Sovereign” gave its name to the shallow shoals located off Eastbourne’s coast.

History at its best

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The Battle of Beachy Head
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In 1875 these shallows were marked by a variety of lightships which stayed anchored in position and had a large flashing light high up to warn other vessels of the surrounding reefs.

The final lightship was replaced in 1971 with a concrete light tower that sat on the sea bed. This amazing structure was built on Newhaven beach and used the local sand and gravel in its construction.

The reinforced concrete base and hollow pillar were floated out to its location in 1970, sunk and allowed to be flooded.

The following year the platform and cabin section were floated out and held over the pillar section by tugs while the tide dropped it into its final position 5.9 nautical miles from Eastbourne.

The pillar incorporated an inner telescopic section that was then jacked up by twelve 150 ton jacks to its final height 14 metres above high water sea level.

The cabin was designed to home 3 crew comfortably and the roof of this also acted as a helicopter landing pad.

The light in its light tower is 28 metres above sea level, and was automated in 1994 and is now power by banks of solar panels mounted at 65 degrees due south.

The optic was reduced to a 35 watt lamp, that is visible to 12 miles, the air fog horn was also replaced with an electric fog signal.

The tower (as are most other lights) is now monitored and controlled by Trinity House operations base in Harwich.

The life span of the tower was supposed to be 20 years, which has now passed, and over the last few years remedial work has been done around the pillar / platform join were the steel re-enforcing has “blown” damaging the concrete. (See picture on right)

Lightships & the Unique Tower

William of Orange

James II

The Battle of Beachy Head