South west sailing takes cruisers to some of the most beautiful harbours and anchorages in the UK. Miranda Delmar-Morgan shares her favourite spots

South West sailing: a cruising itinerary for the West Country

It is quite a long way to the West Country if you start from Weymouth, which always means negotiating Portland Bill and the 40 miles across Lyme Bay.

Those who want to do that need to get to The Bill at Portland HW+3 when the tide has just slackened and starts running west.

There is little slack time. It is 8 miles from Weymouth Harbour and you should allow an hour to get down there.

The passage close inshore can be taken in calm weather with wind and tide going west together. Beware the Shambles Bank.

Starting from Brixham, Torquay or Dartmouth gives you more immediate access to the lovely stops along the coast.

Working boats can still be seen sailing all around our coast, including at the Falmouth Classics regatta which attracts Bristol Pilot Cutter, Marguerite. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Working boats are a common sight in Falmouth Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

All have 24hr access and shelter. Exmouth is best approached on a rising tide from the west, with sand bars to consider.

Dartmouth is a hive of activity with the various ferries crossing the river, the boat handling of the little Hauley car ferry tugs is always admirable.

The town provides endless interest with nice shopping and a good chandlery at Kingswear. The steam train from Kingswear connects with trains from Paignton and is useful for crew changes.

A chart showing places to stop when south west sailing

Credit: Maxine Heath

Salcombe has a useful bend in the river providing calm waters inshore; beware the bar in the approaches.

There is one mid-river pontoon in the more sheltered waters of The Bag, or you can anchor south of Salt Stone.

The moorings off the town are bouncy in south westerlies. It is highly fashionable with boutique shops and a lovely setting.

The Yealm has a useful anchorage, just beyond the bar, the river itself is quite full and manoeuvring constrained, but a lovely spot.

Plymouth Sound has many nooks and crannies, anchorages on both sides of the harbour and up the Tamar River.

Plymouth has a lovely aquarium and a main train station.

A woman on a stand up paddleboard paddling down a river while south west sailing

The Percuil River above St Mawes is well worth exploring by dinghy or paddleboard. Credit: Theo Stocker

Fowey is picturesque with local dinghies racing about. Falmouth is a wonderful natural harbour with a charming town.

A fleet of Falmouth work boats also race regularly, superyachts are built at Pendennis Shipyard and naval repairs keep the yard busy, so there is an interesting mix of vessels afloat.

Mylor has an excellent boatyard with skilled staff including riggers and marine electricians, but little in the way of shops.

Up the Fal River you can find excellent shelter and visit Trelissick Garden at Feock.

Continues below…

The Helford River is much loved and has the gardens of Glendurgan and Trebah to visit.

If you have time to get to the Scilly Isles you can break the passage by anchoring beneath St Michael’s Mount, or else by going to Newlyn, space permitting.

From Newlyn it is an easy sail to St Mary’s or St Agnes.

Yachts alongside a harbour wall in Polperro

Polperro sits in a dramatic cleft in the cliffs, with fore and aft moorings for a handful of yachts. Credit: Theo Stocker

The Isles of Scilly have to be treated with care but hazards and passages are well marked.

If westerlies arrive you will have to move to Porth Cressa, or else New Grimsby Sound.

The islands are low lying and you need to be prepared to clear out at short notice.

Tresco Abbey Gardens are breathtaking and shouldn’t be missed.

Moorings are robust and you can go alongside the quay at St Mary’s for fresh water at the right state of tide.

A street in the town of Darmouth with bunting over the street

Dartmouth is a bustling town and good base to restock mid cruise. Credit: Mike McEnnerney/Alamy Stock Photo

You can spend several happy days pottering around the islands, which have beautiful beaches and exotic plants.

Most of the major headlands have numerous lobster pots. Few, if any, have flag markers, and their buoys get towed beneath the surface by the tides.

They are a major hazard and frequent cause of RNLI rescues. It is unwise to go close inshore around these headlands in the dark.

South West sailing

Time taken: 2 weeks +

Needles to St Alban’s Head – 18M
St Alban’s Head to Weymouth – 15M
Needles to Weymouth – 33M
Weymouth to Portland Bill – 8M
Weymouth to Brixham/Torquay – 51M
Weymouth to Dartmouth – 55M
Dartmouth to Salcombe – 17M
Salcombe to Plymouth – 19M
Salcombe to Yealm River – 17M
Salcombe to Fowey – 36M
Fowey to Falmouth – 22M
Falmouth to Newlyn – 33M
Newlyn to St Mary’s – 37M

Trains: Steam train from Kingswear – Paignton – main line,  Plymouth main line

South west sailing: hazards

Shambles Bank off Portland,  Skerries Bank off Start Point,  Tidal gate at St Alban’s Head,  Tidal gate at Portland Bill,  Lobster pots , Longships TSS,  Wolf Rock.

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