Ken Endean visits Babbacombe Bay, a peaceful anchorage away from the hustle and bustle of Torquay
On Devon’s eastern flank there is a degree of protection from the prevailing winds and Tor Bay served as an excellent anchorage for the Channel Fleet during the Napoleonic wars. Modern yachts will find the best shelter close inshore but there are a few modern drawbacks. A water skiing area disturbs the south-west part and nocturnal excursion vessels – floating discos – charge along past the beaches, where anchor lights may be invisible against shore illuminations.
Crews who prefer peace and quiet should find it a couple of miles further up the coast, off Babbacombe. Sailing past the jagged limestone outcrops of Anstey’s Cove opens up a placid bay overhung by wooded cliffs, with a group of houses clinging to the slope in the corner. The holding ground is good, with deep water fairly close inshore, and the high cliffs deflect westerly winds well above mast height, although gusts may drop into the anchorage and swing boats around through 360o. If swell is subdued, you can land by dinghy on the western side at Oddicombe Beach, where Babbacombe Corinthian Sailing Club has a clubhouse behind the commercial buildings and there is a fresh water tap.
‘At the southern end of Babbacombe bay, Babbacombe village winds down the hillside to a small concrete pier’
In 2014, the northern end of the beach had been closed by a heavy cliff fall but the main area was unaffected. This spot represents a well-preserved piece of the pre-war English Riviera, little changed since my mother bathed here as a girl. Torquay’s urban sprawl is hidden behind the rim of the cliffs and a fine vista of red Devon rocks curves north towards the River Exe. A delightful funicular railway, carefully restored and now operated by a community interest company, lifts visitors to the top of the cliffs where they encounter the 21st Century.
At the southern end of Babbacombe bay, Babbacombe village winds down the hillside to a small concrete pier. The pier dries and in 2014 much of the adjacent beach area was stony, with little sand or shingle, so getting ashore was tricky at low tide. However, if swell is swinging around Hope’s Nose from the south-west this will be the calmest part of the bay. Once upon a time, a group of fishing families worked from cottages by the beach, but they are long gone. The Cary Arms overlooks the landing and has installed several mooring buoys, which are priced at £40 per night with a £10 discount for diners. When we rowed ashore, an obviously-local man with a soft Devon burr enquired about our passage and then remarked: ‘I don’t reckon you’ll be using one of those moorings, will you.’ I later realised I was wearing a particularly scruffy pair of trousers. There is plenty of space for anchoring outside the buoys, albeit in a slightly more exposed position.
Babbacombe makes a convenient departure point for a Lyme Bay crossing: 40 miles to Portland Bill, from Devon Riviera to Jurassic Coast.