Skippers Choice – Favourite West Country Ports

Debbie’s Favourite West Country Harbours

As a Classic Sailing skipper for 22 years, I have my favourite ports. They never fail to please me, so I guess they must look incredible to customers sailing in for the first time.

My choices are hardly secret spots, but I probably have a different spin on why they are winners for boats with bowsprits.

All of these ports are visited on a regular basis by vessels like – Agnes, Grayhound, Pilgrim, Provident, Golden Vanity, Leader, Moosk, Eda Frandsen, Pegasus, Irene and Johanna Lucretia. 


Favourite West Country Ports - Oak woods and creeks on the River Fowey
Oak woods and creeks on the River Fowey

Fowey River– Pirate Lair 

A narrow fjord like entrance created the perfect defence for a band of privateers called the Fowey Gallants in the 18th Century. You can imagine them pulling across the wooden boom at the narrow harbour entrance to stop fire ships or raids to gain back the hard won prize ships. Escape the real world here.

If you end up storm bound here there are some real gems to discover, apart from the great shops and restaurants in the ancient streets of Fowey Town.

Colourful clinker dinghies called Troy’s race between the moorings, and the sudden appearance of giant china clay bulk carriers emerging from loading bays up river always freaks out the guest crew.

If you want to feast on seafood, quality cheeses and butchers sausages this is the place to vital your vessel. 

Watching the Troy dinghies race from a mooring in the middle of Fowey
Watching the Troy dinghies race in Fowey

Cross to the Other Side

Bodinnick and Polruan sit on the quieter side of Fowey River if you want to escape the summer ‘hoorays’.

The watermill up the lush tree lined Pont Creek looks like a historic scene in rural France. Nearby Lantic Bay has wild surf, orchids and kestrels.

Boat building carries on here in waterside yards with no fuss and no road access. You might spot a wooden tall ship on the slip at Toms Yard, with its bowsprit virtually in someone’s kitchen window.

bluebell woods in the Helford countryside
coast path around the Helford

Helford River – Bluebell Woods & Waterside Pubs

Another famous river mouth for pouncing privateers, this time fictional. Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek was based on the Helford River. Ancient woodlands line the South bank and in spring these are full of primroses, bluebells and wild garlic. You can take a ships dinghy virtually to the pub door at the shipwrights or The Ferry Boat. In low season when the Atlantic depressions fling the swell at the West side of the Lizard, Helford is a welcome shelter, although gales can whistle West – East down the river. Tacking into Helford can take half an afternoon if you have enough fight in you not to reach for the motor.

Brixham Trawlers in outer harbour
Brixham Trawlers in outer harbour

Heritage Brixham and the Birmingham Navy

Brixham in Devon and Newlyn in Cornwall have been major fishing ports for centuries. Whilst North Sea ports have struggled and died, Brixham survives and thrives. The is a sometimes a combative mix of water users which makes for great theatre. The modern fishing fleet is always in a hurry, Big sailing trawlers with you as crew are putting on a show for the tourist and definitely not in a hurry….and the Birmingham Navy luckily just picnics in the marina and is mostly oblivous to the ports rich maritime history. Its our little secret. 

Most likely to hear:

“Pass the prosecco Damian, Whats that funny boat with the red sails?

Original Sailing Trawlers you can sail from Brixham

Dartmouth, West Country Port and mecca for sailors
Dartmouth is well fortified Royal Navy stronghold

Dartmouth Beats Salcombe

I love to stir up a bit of controversy. Currently I favour Dartmouth over Salcombe, but it was not always so. In the days before we had so many eye-catching charter boats sailing into Salcombe, I was a rarity sailing in on a pretty blue pilot cutter with an all-girl crew. The harbourmaster was so bowled over by Eve he came out and personally moved the reserve sign off the best mooring in town. 

Female skippers are fickle though and now Dartmouth harbour master is wooing us into port. A few years ago entering the Royal Navy’s home port was strictly a motoring affair….which is ridiculous considering what Nelson or Cochrane would have to do with a square rigged ship. Now there is quiet encouragement for stately sailing ships to cruise up river under sail.

Eve in The Cove St Agnes
Eve in The Cove St Agnes

The Cove, St Agnes Island

No moorings, no jetty, a submarine power cable down the middle of the anchorage and Atlantic Ocean swell for half the year. Don’t go there yachties – its awful. 

This is hardly a harbour in mainland terms but on the Isles of Scilly the locals make best use of what they have. A narrow sound between the islands of Gugh an St Agnes, the Cove becomes an enclosed bay when the tide drops and reveals a sandy natural causeway. I would love to keep to ourselves the cry of the arctic terns, the purple gorse in August, the sea pink in spring. I love the sparkly mica rich sand, crystal clear, freezing sea to swim in and the welcoming Turks Head Pub. St Agnes even has a harbour master and a primary school for about 6 kids.

More Stories

Sail on Tall Ship with Classic Sailing

25/10 Announcing New Voyages

Sail Scotland 2023

Explore Scotland’s wilderness and wildlife on a traditional sailing adventure! Join a traditional sailing vessel, no sailing experience required. Our skilled skippers will guide

Read More
faroe islands with classic sailing

12/02 Inspiration

Getting ready for a big adventure.

How to Prepare for a Long Voyage.  Getting ready for a big adventure is a lengthy process and we hope this article helps you

Read More

26/05 Top Voyages For...

Classic Sailing’s Top 5 Voyages for Photographers

The Classic Sailing Team’s top 5 choices for sailors who love to snap! Whether it’s for the ‘Gram, the family photo album or your

Read More
The late author and Explorer Kit Mayers with a globe. You can buy his book to help raise funds for Greenpeace.

20/04 Inspiration

‘The First English Explorer’… and a much more recent one

My grandfather, Kit Mayers, was a big influence on me. His stubborn adventurousness, stoicism and passion for the world was inspirational.

Read More
Trade Winds by Chris de Beukelaer

08/04 Educational

“Trade Winds” by Christiaan de Beukelaer

Adam here.Let me tell you about the book “Trade Winds” by Christiaan de Beukelaer. This book is a fascinating voyage through the difficult waters

Read More