Naomi from the VentureSail booking team discovers the delights of sailing in Devon .
Growing up in Cornwall I thought coastlines couldn’t get any better. I’ve travelled a lot internationally and always came home to the Cornish Coast with a sigh of relief. Then I went sailing along the Devon coast and realised, perhaps, just quite how bias I had been! I am not saying they are “better” (loyally Cornish!) but I would say a happy extension of the Cornish coastline and more dramatic. Higher cliff lines loom, with a lot more greenery, gently giving way to quaint inlets and harbour towns, with crystal blue waters – almost like the Scillies. There are many more coastal features here than in Cornwall with arches and stacks forming fascinating headlands.
Brixham itself is such a dear little harbour town. With its colourful houses and quaint cottages, it’s definitely a scene for a postcard! I had a wander here before I boarded and all the locals are really friendly. There is a sense of “lost-in-time’ here, a relaxed atmosphere that seems to be getting lost in this increasingly modern world.
Sailing alongside Berry Head near Brixham sees a dramatic limestone headland which has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty. With my binoculars at the ready, I couldn’t believe the birdlife that called these sheer cliffs home! Colonies of kittiwakes are something I’d been dying to see and I was certainly not disappointed. I had read that the Lighthouse on Berry Head was on one of the highest points on the British Isles; I was not prepared for the size and scale of this cliff line – totally breathtaking.
Sailing into Dartmouth and Kingsbridge you are greeted with the silhouettes of their Castles marking each side of the river mouth. Totally picturesque on both sides of the river, each town spills down onto the waterfront, dotted with colourful houses. We stopped in Dartmouth for the night and what a lovely town it is. We walked through with the skipper and had a drink at the yacht club, before going onto have a cream tea in a 16th-century building now cafe – The Sloping Deck.
Next we were headed for Salcombe. Dolphins swam with us for a good hour or so as we continued our sailing down the coast and we were lucky with good weather so it made for perfect sailing! Arriving into Salcombe was really stunning. The town is tucked in and around the inlet, with local fishing boats lining the shore. This little inlet was a paradise for “life on the water” from SUP’s to children practising in dingy, kayaking to classic boats. Everyone’s waves and sails by beaming from ear to ear – a really great atmosphere. We stayed here for another night before heading back up the coast the next day. There wasn’t as much wind on this day but it made for the perfect opportunity to learn how to read charts and plot positions. Andy the Skipper is a great guide who has a lot of experience!
With a tiny taste of what the Devon coast has to offer from the sea, I will be sure to return for a longer sailing passage with hope to stop at more the beautifulanchorages. My trip was aboard Escape, but Our Daddy and Pilgrim of Brixham also sail around these waters.
It is with a flutter of nervous excitement that I walk from Oban train station to Zuza, a double-hulled purpose built adventure vessel that is to be my home for the next week. Having never sailed before I am not too sure what to expect but skipper Helen and her all female crew greet me with a warm welcome, helping me on board and showing me to my very comfortable cabin before introducing me to my fellow passengers.
Making the most of the warm light, we set sail mid afternoon, down past Easdale Island and through the spectacular Cuan Sound, which reminds me of a narrow street except the tall buildings are dramatically high cliffs and whirlpools swirl where a road would run. I am surprised to see seals lazily bobbing about in this ever-moving water but Helen explains that they are a frequent sight here.
After a spot of beachcombing on Seil Island, we climb back on board and I am surprised to find how hungry I am, my tummy grumbling as delicious smells entice me back below deck. As we all tuck into the freshly prepared meal I find that the food far surpasses my expectations and I make a mental note to let go of any preconceived notions I clearly have. The crew then take care of all the washing up, leaving us to sit back and relax, whiling away the evening with wine and good chat, getting to know each other a little more. Some were single travellers like me, and many were just pairs of friends seeking a unique adventure together. We bedded down for the night at a decent time, satisfied and excited for the week ahead.
The next morning we set sail for Gigha, stopping en route to visit some of the islands dotted along the way. On our return journey to the yacht we were incredibly fortunate to spot Minke whales, bottlenose dolphins and seals, Helen was also pleasantly taken aback at this sight and hopeful that we would be able to get a closer view once we were back at sea. I felt like a kid at Christmas at this prospect, my love of marine wildlife has been with me since I was little and I couldn’t believe I might be so lucky as to see a Minke in close quarters, and in the UK! Once back on board we set off towards Gigha where we were indeed treated to a closer viewing of these incredible mammals. A hushed silence fell as we marvelled at these huge giants effortlessly gliding through the water. This was a wonderful experience and is a moment that will stay with me forever.
Continuing on I decided to try my hand on the helm and see how it felt to ‘control’ this fast yacht. I had initially been nervous but under Helen’s capable tuition, I soon discovered it was in fact completely exhilarating and actually made me fall a little for Zuza. On she raced to Gigha where we were greeted with sweeping sandy bays, crystal clear waters and a lush botanical garden. We idled away the rest of the day beachcombing and meandering, soaking up the warm sun – we had been forewarned that the weather tomorrow may not be so summery – such is sailing in the Hebrides! Waking the next morning to thick fog we took our time over breakfast, enjoying the stillness that always arrives with such weather before setting off to Jura where the weather lifted, rewarding our efforts with a breath taking sunset which I enjoyed with a gin and tonic in hand.
From Jura we made for Oransay, through the incredibly narrow sound of Isla where we spotted stags silhouetted on the high mountains, to Nave Island. The plan had been to go ashore and stretch legs but on anchoring we noticed that the beach was completely covered in seals and Helen was itching to snorkel with them. We set off in the dinghy and watched her slip into the water and swim about with these sea dogs before making for land and exploring this now derelict island.
By now I had almost lost sense of what day it was, thoroughly enjoying the simplicity of boat life – waking, eating and then journeying where the weather allowed. Our next day was spent exploring Colonsay, which has a magic of it’s own. I learn that there are no cars on the island, bikes are the preferred form of transport, and that the local bookshop can be opened by anyone who visits the post office to request the key. They are then free to browse at leisure and pay honestly for anything they wish to keep. The remoteness and lack of humanisation in this part of the world makes it very easy to feel like you have stepped back in time, completely detached from the modern world when in fact, we were only ever a few hours way.
Departing Coronsay with a sigh, Zuza effortlessly sails through the Strait of Coryveckan, notorious we are told for its strong tidal currents, standing waves and the third largest whirlpool in the world. With my mind focused on the potentially precarious waters ahead, I am astounded to hear the crew cry Minke whales once again. Fizzing with excitement I remind myself I must move carefully around to the other side of the deck to watch these whales. When another crew member spies a basking shark, almost in disbelief, there is a hush that falls amongst us all as we sit quietly, admiring the sights on display. Even Helen is amazed at our luck but explains that this is one of the many reasons Scotland continues to lure her back year after year. As the whales move away we continue on for Croabh Haven marina, our mooring for the night and home to Princess Anne’s boat – well, if it’s good enough for royalty…
For our final evening Helen has organised a real treat for us all on Kerrera Island in a simple, no frills shed where we are treated to huge, freshly caught and prepared seafood platters which we eagerly tuck into whilst watching the sky fade to black over Oban.
As a busy individual, I had forgotten what it was like to be truly calm – but not in a ‘crashed out next to the pool’ kind of way. This was a different calm; a more mindful, tranquil calm. Our days were comprised of optional tasks like setting the sails and helming, mixed in with exploring little islands, and swimming off white sandy beaches. Each day held such rewards, and life outside of Zuza now seemed irrelevant. Feeling her race along the white-topped waves, doing what she was designed to is as peaceful as it is exhilarating. As we docked back in Oban I was filled with sadness. We all said our heartfelt goodbyes and emails were exchanged before going our separate ways. As the train wound its way through those spectacular views once more, I couldn’t help but wish I’d stayed longer. So, I turned my 3G on for the first time in a week and booked my next voyage, there and then. See you next year Helen and Zuza!