‘Coasting’ can have somewhat negative connotations; avoiding effort and taking the path of least resistance, but taking this attitude to a sailing adventure can throw up all sorts of unexpected delights. Whether on a voyage from A to B or a round-trip, crew must keep the itinerary spontaneous to make the most of the weather. If the wind suddenly picks up it might be time for some up-river exploration. When the sun breaks through the clouds the hunt is on for the next secluded anchorage, and swimming to beaches that could be impossible to reach by land.
Coasting by sail is slow travel at its finest, and whatever the sketched itinerary you must literally go with the flow. Holidaying this way is therefore surprising, refreshing and extremely relaxing as you’re forced to let go of the modern need to plan, plan, plan. After a day or two on board you’ll find the newfound mental space makes it much easier to notice and enjoy the little details. A seabird diving. The sound of the waves. A new vista opening out in front as you glide past a headland.
Many aspiring sailors lust for vast open oceans and the thrill of sailing through the night on a rolling sea. Such epic adventures are great for self-discovery, but you can’t beat coastal voyaging for getting to know a country intimately.
A New Perspective
You might think you know a place inside out, but when you experience it from the water the geography and geology starts to really sink in. Sailing into the lee of a natural breakwater, for instance, it’s suddenly clear why a harbour town sprang up where it did. You can watch the landscape evolve slowly before your eyes, from one stretch of coast to the next. You also become aware of all of the locals you’ve never met before: seals, cetaceans, birds, fish…all bustling along with their own lives just a stone’s throw from the shore.
There’s the added benefit of escaping the crowds. The seaside shouldn’t have to be synonymous with noise, queues, and traffic. There are plenty of out-of-the-way spots to be accessed by boat, and even when stopping in to lively ports and coastal villages, you’re straight into the heart of a place without the need to navigate hellish one-way systems or find change for the pay and display machine.
Some of the Best Coasts to Explore by Sea
Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly
There’s something special about the ‘pointy bits’ of any coastline, and Cornwall is no exception. Jutting out into the Atlantic the coast feels fresh, wild, and incredibly varied. There is so much more to explore here from the water than from the land: not least because there’s just so much shoreline for the size of the county. North and South Cornwall have their own distinctive characters, as do East and West.
From sedate and sparsely populated rivers, with woodland right down to the water’s edge, to jagged cliffs and exciting tidal races, Cornwall has it all, and you can sail past both the most Westerly and most Southerly points of the mainland in a day.
Its unique position as the gateway to both the English Channel and the Irish Sea make the Cornish coast a wildlife hotspot too. Pods of dolphins are a common sight, and basking sharks make fairly regular appearances (along with the occasional 800kg arctic walrus…). The chances are good of catching mackerel or seabass for dinner, perhaps wrapped in foil and cooked on the bonfire on a deserted beach…
This coast is also full of incredible maritime heritage, from its vital trades in pilchards, tin and china-clay to its prominence in naval history. Many of the traditional sailing vessels operating charter here are living museums in their own right, as registered ‘National Historic Ships’, each with their own fascinating working history.
When conditions allow, no coastal exploration of Cornwall is complete without a trip to the Scilly Isles, with their sandy beaches and famous gardens. Arriving here by sailing ship is a marked improvement on the Scillonian ferry (fondly dubbed the ‘vomit comet’ by some locals), and the possibilities are endless for lazy island hopping under canvas, taking your accommodation with you to the remote parts of this stunning archipelago.
The Breton coast of Northwest France has its own never-ending supply of loveliness. It’s position, sandwiched between the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay means that, like Cornwall, the coast here is ever-changing, rugged and wild.
Traditional seafaring is held in very high esteem here, and the maritime festivals of Brittany are among the best in the world, attracting huge armadas of ships from across Europe and beyond. Many UK vessels consider events such as Paimpol, Semaine de Golfe du Morbihan and Douarnenez Temps Fete as the absolute highlights of the sailing calendar. The opportunity to sail in company with hundreds of historic ships, combined with the stunning scenery, stiff breeze and incredibly welcoming local people are what make these events so popular.
However even outside of festival season Brittany is a glorious playground for meandering sailing adventures. There are a host of historic harbours (such as Saint-Malo and Concarneau) to explore, as well as countless beautiful fishing villages. Arriving under sail always makes a good impression, and there will be plenty of opportunities for the Breton toast of “Yec’hed mat!” (pronounced ‘yia-matt’: good health) with the local cider.
For cruising in more sheltered waters, the Baltic offers endless opportunities for exploration. Some of the best and most varied sailing grounds are in the Southwest, where the Baltic meets the Kattegat at the Danish Straits, and the coasts of Denmark, Sweden and Germany are within a day’s sail of each other.
Summer sailing here is sunny and sedate, with flat seas and literally thousands of islands, skerries and headlands to explore. The melting pot of centuries of trade between the surrounding countries and cultures has made the coastal towns and ports here vibrant and lively. This, combined with a landscape as varied as the languages means no two sailing holidays along these Baltic coasts will ever be the same.Come Coasting… Find your next trip here