Our contributors reveal their favourite summer cruising grounds, from West Sweden and North Brittany to the Isles of Scilly
We asked some of our most travelled contributors where they would pick to sail to for a world-class epic sailing adventure within striking distance of their home ports. These were their picks – and they explain why, where you should go, and what to take (or leave behind).
The West Country
Former editor David Glenn grew up sailing in the UK’s West Country and argues it’s still among the world’s finest cruising grounds…
Although Poole might be regarded as the gateway to the West Country, most yachtsmen will want to press on beyond Berry Head. There, I would suggest, cruising proper begins.
Weymouth has a lot to offer, but when that freeing wind sets in, time your run to five nautical miles off Portland Bill to catch the first of the westgoing ebb and before you know it you’ll have Berry Head on the nose. There, the fishing port of Brixham has done much to improve its once lowly status with an excellent marina and seafood restaurants to die for, thanks to the burgeoning fishing co-operative.
Further west, considerably more beckons. Three spectacular rivers, the Dart, Tamar and Fal, not only divide the West Country into manageable cruising areas, providing staging posts from which smaller harbours and anchorages can be explored, but also offer self-contained pocket cruising grounds in their own right.
They are blessed with everything from safe access and shelter in all weather, picture postcard towns and the sort of tranquillity and unspoilt beauty in their upper reaches which, on a still summer’s evening, epitomise part of what cruising in the West Country is all about.
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As soon as the sun began to disperse the fog that had settled at night over Pubnico Harbour we weighed…
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On the Dart, don’t be content with staying in Dartmouth or Dittisham, but take the tide up to the lowest bridging point at Totnes, nine miles from the entrance, returning on the following ebb. The totally unspoilt, steep, oak-lined banks and the twisting course of the river make for a classic West Country adventure.
Alternatively, pick up a mooring off Stoke Gabriel, dinghy up to Sharpham Point, sample some of the excellent Sharpham Vineyard products including cheeses, and then walk to Totnes on the restored pathway.
I have to admit to being put off by Salcombe in peak season as it is packed with its overly fashion-conscious clientele, but the estuary’s beaches dotted along the East Portlemouth side are among the finest on the south coast and an irresistible family attraction. If you’re anchored off, they are literally within a stone’s throw. Rowing ashore in the evening when the crowds have returned to Salcombe is one of the great delights on offer.
To be fair, Salcombe has done well to maintain its sanity under the pressure of well-heeled tourism and Island Street has evolved into an attractive artisan-style shopping experience.
The relatively new Salcombe Gin Distillery shouldn’t be missed with its excellent balcony bar and tasting opportunities. If you’re completely weatherbound – and I don’t mean that metaphorically – you can even sign up for a Gin School Lesson.
Sail and walk
As with every anchorage and harbour you visit in the West Country, the South West Coast Path will be close at hand. This magnificent National Trust asset offers the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs. On the East Portlemouth side, your targets should include the traditional and quirky Pig’s Nose pub at East Prawle and the much more modern Gara Rock restaurant which you’ll come across en route. Both are excellent.
But the more spectacular walking can be found on Salcombe’s west side. The coast path takes you through remarkable rocky outcrops over Bolt Head en route to Hope Cove offering constant unmatched views.
If, or should I say when, you’re struggling west against that prevailing wind, think Cawsand and Kingsand, the twin villages on the Rame peninsula, as alternatives to Plymouth itself or the tight entrance at Newton Ferrers.
If you’re waiting for a westerly to clear through, the crystal clear waters off Cawsand tucked under the wooded shore offer great shelter and the pubs by the beach are welcoming. Even in a westerly gale it’s like a millpond and you’ll be perfectly poised when the wind direction changes.
A trip up the Tamar takes you past the Devonport Naval Dockyard with its fascinating four-mile river frontage under the two suspension bridges, the railway bridge being one of Brunel’s masterpieces. Then up to Cargreen, well worth a diversion that will deliver you from a harsh urban landscape to unspoiled, soft countryside in a matter of minutes.
Fowey – a convenient place from which to take a taxi to the Eden Project – and Polruan, opposite, are quintessential West Country stops and shouldn’t be missed before visiting Falmouth and the outstanding River Fal.
With its burgeoning university, commercial docks, Pendennis Shipyard, the Maritime Museum and a very colourful high street, Falmouth bustles like no other West Country destination. You can pick up a Falmouth Harbour Commission mooring and hang out off the town and the famous Chain Locker pub (recently redeveloped but with the bar reassembled as original) watching the world go by, including the Falmouth working boats sailing on and off their moorings.
Away from it all
But for a bit more peace, head up river and either anchor in the mouth of Channal Creek beneath the National Trust’s Trelissick Garden or on one of the excellent municipal pontoons further upstream below and above the King Harry Ferry. These are special places on a warm moonlit night – totally unspoilt with only the rising fish disturbing the glassy calm.
Further west, the River Helford is fiendishly crowded with moorings, but there’s plenty of good anchoring space off Durgan, although it can become uncomfortable in an easterly. It’s a great launch pad for an assault on The Lizard and beyond to the Isles of Scilly. In the right conditions – settled with no threat of fog – this mesmeric archipelago is bound to seduce you. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of the pilotage and seek out the more remote anchorages.
For some the Isles of Scilly are considered the Holy Grail of a West Country cruise, but in reality it’s just part of one of the most remarkable cruising grounds in Europe and, arguably, far beyond.
Leave your boat or change crew: Plymouth and Falmouth, both with good rail connections. Falmouth Harbour Commission moorings here are excellent, sheltered, very reasonable and security checked regularly.
Don’t miss: The excellent National Maritime Museum in Falmouth.
Don’t forget: Prawning net, stout mackerel trolling line with planing board, large saucepan for boiling crab/lobster, good pushpit barbecue, fender board for drying out alongside, lead line for use in dinghy, small dinghy anchor, wetsuit, body or surf board, walking boots…
Best adventure: Hire a bike in Plymouth and cycle to Dartmoor. Inter-island pilotage in the Isles of Scilly. Go right to the navigable head of the Tamar.
Top navigator Mike Broughton loves this micro adventure
In summer I live in Dartmouth (Kingswear, to be exact) and my favourite adventurous home waters cruising ground is upriver on the River Dart. It’s the most amazing, picturesque river, hardly spoiled by time or tourists.
In an anchorages three miles up the river at Dittisham you can still find a depth of 16m at low water, thatched ‘smugglers’ cottages’ only accessible by boat, top dining and the ‘proper pub’ Ferry Boat Inn.
Head another two miles up river, you find Bow Creek and now you have to work the tides. Here you can glide along the wooded creek to Tuckenhay, usually not passing another boat, and enjoy more hostelries. It is a magical scene, over half a mile wide in places and is still great for Swallows and Amazons-style camping. Any boat, stand-up paddleboard, or kayak will do.
Isles of Scilly
This other-worldly, miniature archipelago sits out on the edge of the North Atlantic yet, warmed by the Gulf Stream, boasts sub-tropical gardens and turquoise bays over white sand. It is one of columnist and weather expert Chris Tibbs’s favourite cruising grounds.
I love the Scilly Islands. It can be tricky getting there and may involve moving anchorages as the weather changes, but on a good day it is beautiful.
There are beaches that rival the Caribbean and quiet, unspoilt islands with few (if any) cars. Add great sea food and long summer days and it has everything.
Tides are large so it does make for tricky navigation but a different anchorage can be found each night, so it’s well worth the effort. Interestingly, there are often more French boats there than British!
Don’t miss: Tresco Abbey Gardens, a 19th century creation around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey that has sub-tropical plants from around the world.
Don’t forget: A good, seaworthy tender for exploring the bays and shore expeditions. Good anchor and ground tackle – don’t rely on getting a mooring buoy.