A spectacular West Country RIB adventure in search of Tall Ships

A spectacular West Country RIB adventure in search of Tall Ships

When I heard that the Tall Ships would be heading to Falmouth for a week in August 2024, it gave me the perfect excuse to combine my passion for big sailing ships with my love of power boating. I decided to tow our RIB there to see these majestic craft in action before they set off on the Magellan-Elcano race to Spain.

One of the joys of keeping our BRIG Navigator 610 on a trailer is that we can tow it wherever we want to go and rent a property nearby. So I booked one of the rental apartments at Mylor Harbour, a short hop up the estuary from Falmouth, and a berth in the neighbouring marina for our boat.

The plan was for my wife and I to spend a week in Mylor commuting on Hurricane to look at the tall ships and explore the local area. But before going to Falmouth, we wanted to stop off at Brixham for a few days with the aim of charging back up the coast to have lunch at the famous River Exe Café. Located on a barge in the middle of the river, it’s a well known boating hotspot that I’ve wanted to visit for years.

Once again I searched for rental properties near Brixham and landed on a little B&B overlooking the quay, five minutes’ walk from the marina. So there we were, everything booked in advance and months to look forward to it. That just left the small matter of the weather but there was no booking that!

Launching from Brixham’s slipway. Photo: Phil Dargavel

Brixham bound

When the time finally came to hitch up and go, the forecast was for a mixture of sun and rain but light winds. Jules packed a couple of extra-lightweight raincoats and we headed west. Even though the journey from Christchurch to Brixham was straightforward enough, I was still pretty anxious about towing a chunky RIB through the narrow streets of Brixham.

A friend had advised me to use the slipway by the yacht club rather than the one in Brixham Marina, but I knew what I was doing, didn’t I?

As it happens, I got lucky. The drive through town went well with only a little wriggling to get past a car that wouldn’t budge. Despite a very full car park, we squeezed through, launched down the steep slip and even found a place to leave the trailer.

The slipway is really wide but with no holding pontoons to secure the boat to once afloat, Jules had to hold station while I went to the marina office to find out where our berth was.

Once done, we took Hurricane around to her berth then headed off to find our B&B.

I’d booked the Sampford Harbourside Guest House with its cosy apartment overlooking the old harbour. It was perfect and even had a highly prized parking space for us. After a walk around town and a few drinks, we dropped into Rockfish for their catch of the day, then had an early night.

Sun filtering through the curtains signalled the start of a new day. We were booked into the River Exe Café for midday so we had a lazy morning and a coffee before heading to the boat.

We’d left her summer covers on overnight, which was just as well judging from the state of the boat opposite that was listing under the weight of seagull guano! We took Hurricane’s covers off, got the engine purring, slipped our mooring and made our way east.

Lunch aboard the floating River Exe Café was a highlight. Photo: Phil Dargavel

Exe marks the spot

Sea conditions remained calm as we passed Torquay and then Orestone Rock with a grey sky to port and bright blue sky to starboard, separated by an eerily straight divide directly above our track. It kept with us as we passed Teignmouth before following the marks into the River Exe. We’ve been to various places along the Exe by car but really enjoyed our first entry by boat.

It’s a lively place with plenty of boats on moorings forming an orderly line along the route as we passed Exmouth Marina. You can hail a water taxi to the Café from here if you haven’t got a boat.

About 15 minutes in we spotted the restaurant on its custom-built barge with plenty of room to moor and seating both inside and out. Although its kitchen is pint-sized, its menu is quite the opposite, majoring on fish but with a nod to the carnivore and vegetarian too, all beautifully presented. The views are stunning and while the water taxi delivers and returns diners every two hours, we could go at our own pace.

Phil’s BRIG RIB is the perfect vessel in which to explore this tranquil coastline. Photo: Phil Dargavel

Once back aboard Hurricane, we ventured up river to Topsham to see how it looked, passing Powderham Castle on the way. All around us, local boats were cutting corners but I stuck religiously to the marks; it was a falling tide and I’ve got form!

We got as far as the Exeter Ship Canal and the iconic Turf pub standing sentry over the lock entrance. There’s a very small jetty and at the time of our visit the pub was refurbishing its bedrooms, another good excuse for a return visit, but for now we turned and started our journey back.

Balmy Babbacombe

Once out of the Exe, we took a slow run into Watcombe and then Babbacombe beach. There were a few boats at anchor there enjoying the peace as we watched a group of youngsters Coasteering along the cliffs on ropes and jumping into the water. Not for us but it clearly has an attraction to some!

The day was getting on so we headed back to Brixham, got the covers on quickly as the seagulls circled above us and took a leisurely stroll back to our B&B, grabbing an ice-cream on the way. As the evening crept in, we heard shanty songs echoing across the old harbour and wandered over to listen to a local group called Missin’ Tackle, enjoying a drink or two before heading back to the B&B.

The following day our plan was to head for Dartmouth but the wind and sea state didn’t agree so we headed to Torquay instead. A free mooring in the marina for a couple of hours gave us a chance to explore the town and grab a spot of lunch.

Enjoying a sense of freedom as they pootle up the River Fal. Photo: Phil Dargavel

When we headed back out, it was still too grim to try for Dartmouth so we went back to the marina and walked up to Berry Head. The sea looked irritatingly benign from up there but our decision not to venture out in the boat was vindicated as we watched an Axopar with a nice cosy cabin, pounding through the sort of stuff that would have soaked us.

Mylor mayhem

Day three and it was time to pack up and move on to Falmouth. We teed up the car and trailer on the slipway ready to retrieve Hurricane.

With the tide still low and the slipway looking steeper and more treacherous than ever, it felt like spectators were gathering to watch my clutch disintegrate.

I locked the car into four-wheel drive, backed the trailer into the water and then made sure the car was pointing about 20° away from it rather than dead ahead – an old trick I learnt years ago. That way, when you start pulling, you don’t have the full dead weight of the trailer behind you until you gather momentum.

It worked and once clear, we tied Hurricane down ready for the short hop to Falmouth.

Passing Orestone Rock, just outside Torbay. Photo: Phil Dargavel

It was a straightforward journey and we arrived in Mylor around 3pm. Again, narrow roads on the approach but a great slipway and plenty of parking for car and trailer once there. However, the slip was heaving with people going in and out so we waited our turn before dropping Hurricane back in, ready for a week of exploring. With so many visiting RIBs, we had to raft up four deep but we could live with that for the ease of being so close to our rental accommodation.

The apartment didn’t disappoint. It was ten years since we’d last been but they had kept them updated and clean. It was just a question of the weather holding and planning our trips for the week ahead – a task best done over a large G&T.

The following day we had our first close-up of a couple of tall ships anchored just outside the docks and took the opportunity to pass them both slowly. The Georg Stage from Denmark was just how a tall ship should look; a fully rigged three-masted square rigger looking absolutely gorgeous!

Brixham’s quaint old harbour. Photo: Phil Dargavel

Close by was the Capitan Miranda from Uruguay. Also built in the 1930s, she started life in the Uruguayan Navy as a survey ship and was saved from the breakers to be repurposed as a training ship in 1978.

A three masted schooner, she was completely different to the Georg Stage yet just as glorious in her own way.

It was then just a short hop to the docks where a couple of the bigger tall ships were moored.

The huge Dar Mlodziezy from Poland was launched in 1981 and is a regular at tall ship events. Alongside was the Mexican training ship, Cuauhtémoc, 30m shorter but flying a vast Mexican flag and banging out mariachi music from huge loudspeakers, bringing a real sense of fiesta to Falmouth.

Getting up close and personal with the dramatic Georg Stage. Photo: Phil Dargavel

Meandering upriver

Moored opposite were some of the smaller entries such as Jolie Brise from the UK, a gaff-rigged pilot cutter from 1913 that won the Fastnet and Tall Ships race across the Atlantic a lifetime ago. There were other ships, too, with similar stories to tell and all prepping themselves for the race to Spain.

Another sun-kissed day gave us the chance to explore upriver to Malpas. This took us past the colourful King Harry chain ferry plodding across the Fal with cars and lorries. Beyond that, the Fal becomes a winding rural river with trees cascading to the shoreline and boats coming and going along this wonderfully bucolic scene.

Malpas has its own marina and once moored, we strolled up to The Heron Inn for a late but very lovely lunch, enjoying the view. Dusk was approaching by the time we left so it was nav lights on for the journey back.

The Tall Ships preparing for the Magellan-Elcano race. Photo: Phil Dargavel

The following day, the weather remained calm and balmy as we aimed for the Shipwright Arms in Helford. I’d found the pub online some weeks back and the pictures suggested they might have their own jetty, but when I called them, it was no longer there.

They suggested a small pier around the corner, Potters Pontoon, but it was only really suitable for tenders so I put Hurricane onto a vacant buoy whilst we figured out our next move.

As luck would have it, a local water taxi pottered past, delivering punters to their boats, and said he’d pop back to help once he’d sorted out his passengers. On his return, he pointed out that we’d picked up a private mooring and redirected us to one of his own moorings and then ferried us back across the river to Helford. From there it was a short walk up to the Shipwright Arms for a delicious lunch overlooking Helford Creek.

Rafting up in Mylor. Photo: Phil Dargavel

When it was time to head back, we arrived at the steps and as directed opened a large yellow circular sign. Within a couple of minutes, the water taxi was heading our way – analogue at its very best! A short while later we were on our boat heading back to Mylor. It had been another great day out.

The next day we had tickets to walk over the tall ships and took great joy in being able to travel into Falmouth by boat rather than wrestle through hot, traffic-clogged roads by car. Mind you, I think we got the last berth in the marina! We wandered into town and enjoyed the spectacle of crew members marching to various bands and followed them into the docks before a short wait to board the ships.

Access was limited but you got a real sense of what life would be like for the trainees underway – climbing those towering masts was certainly not for the faint-hearted!

Jolie Brise shows off her full set of classic red sails. Photo: Phil Dargavel

Rain on the parade

The following day, the weather finally broke. In fact, it was so poor that they cancelled the parade of sail – a real shame as we had been so looking forward to seeing these ten ships in full sail, but sadly, it was not to be.

As we were due to leave Mylor anyway that afternoon, we elected to leave early in the hopes of beating the rush at the slipway. Not a chance but given the fabulous week we’d already had we certainly weren’t going to let it spoil an otherwise blissful adventure.

Whether you are trailboaters like us or have a larger, liveaboard vessel, I can’t recommend this area of the coast highly enough.

This article A spectacular West Country RIB adventure in search of Tall Ships appeared first on Motor Boat & Yachting.

Source: https://www.mby.com/blogs/a-spectacular-west-country-rib-adventure-in-search-of-tall-ships-131486

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