Sailing is not all about open seas. We asked sailors around the country to tell us about Britain’s loveliest waterways
A favourite cruising destination for many; for some, Devon’s River Yealm remains a hidden gem. Tucked away in the eastern corner of Wembury Bay, guarded by the at-times moody Great Mewstone, let alone the Slimers, the Ebb Rocks and a sand bar that dries on low spring tides, you could be forgiven for passing it by! But, entering the river is not as hard as it sounds and well worth it, for when Misery Point is rounded you reach the Pool and moor up alongside one of the visitor pontoons or pick up a mooring.
The Yealm, which means ‘peaceful’, is just that if you explore upstream on a rising tide in early morning or evening. Not suitable for yachts, a dinghy is the best way to experience the near total silence and tranquillity of the wooded banks and hidden inlets with rolling fields behind. Gill Taylor
The nicest approach to the Clyde is from Antrim, starting early on the flood. The strong easterly set carries you across the North Channel in about four hours, skirting any disturbed water close to the Mull of Kintyre, and offering the choice of turning into Campbeltown, or carrying onward to the south coast of Arran. Then it’s about eight miles to the harbour at Lamlash.
The Firth here is some 20 miles wide. Its eastern shore is the Ayrshire coast, with at least four top-class marinas. Holy Loch is to port, Lochs Long and Goil straight ahead, and the Inner Clyde to the east. Carrying on about 12nm northward you come to the Cloch Light, where the river running west from Glasgow makes a 90o turn south.Off this, after 5-6m, branches the Gareloch, with the naval base at Faslane; thereafter the river narrows to a well-dredged shipping channel, past the ancient capital of Dumbarton guarded by a castle on a rock, and on up to Glasgow.
There are anchorages to either side, a superb facility at Portavadie on the east, and on the west the traditional centre at Tarbert, then Ardrishaig and the Crinan Canal, and on for 20nm more to Inverary. You could take a more westerly course after leaving Lamlash, sailing fairly close under the mountains of Arran and into Loch Fyne.
Why sail the Thames? History and variety. Someone once described the river as “liquid history”; to paraphrase Dr Johnson, if you are tired of sailing the Thames, you are probably bored with sailing. Few other places offer such a mixture of pilotage challenge and scenery, plus the feeling which comes from knowing you are navigating a waterway that has influenced world history more than most.
In the outer estuary, although sheltered from the prevailing westerlies, there can be squalls and strong winds influence the tides, which mainly run longitudinally along the deep channels. Moving up Sea Reach, past the infamous Nore, the Kent coast remains relatively rural while the Essex side reveals substantial installations. By the time Gravesend heaves into view, you are definitely in the river.
There are mooring buoys and the presence of the Port of London Authority reminds us that the Thames is still a major commercial highway. The QEII bridge at Dartford, with its strong tides, is an unmissable waypoint and both mooring and anchoring are possible at Erith. Galleons Point Marina makes a convenient stop before tangling with the Thames Barrier and the inner river. Ian Stewart, Little Ship Club
River Medina, Isle of Wight
Cowes is visited annually by thousands of sailors yet many never venture upstream of the “floating bridge”, unaware of the delights of the River Medina’s upper reaches, navigable as far as Newport.
The Medina rises not far inland from St Catherine’s Point, flows north for about 6 miles to Newport where it becomes tidal, and thence 4 miles to the Solent. It remains the Isle of Wight’s main gateway for passengers, vehicles and cargoes.
Above the floating bridge, there is still evidence of the shipyards that made the Medina world famous in the great days of Edwardian yachting: Souters, Groves and Gutteridge, Marvins and others.
Once upstream of Kingston Power Station and the commercial wharves, the river opens out and woods and fields descend to the foreshore. The river here is busy with visiting yachts heading to the Folly Inn. Above the Folly, management of the Medina changes from Cowes Harbour Commission to Newport Harbour Authority. Commercial shipping is still encountered, with ships transporting huge wind turbine blades from Dodnor to Southampton. The river briefly opens out to a large lake on the eastern side, at the site of the old tide mill and now Island Harbour, another great cruising destination.
From here, the Medina is more like the Upper Thames. With access for cruisers dictated by the tides, it is home to rowing skiffs and kayaks. The channel to Newport Harbour is well marked, and the berth is convenient for shops, cinemas and other entertainment. Peter Jackson
The River Orwell
The River Orwell, one of the prettiest rivers on the east coast, can be sailed from Shotley Spit to Ipswich dock gates at any state of the tide.
To gain access follow the track for yachts through Harwich Harbour and the Port of Felixstowe, past some of the world’s biggest container ships. Shotley Marina is to port and can be entered via the lock gate.
After rounding Collimer buoy you head upriver to Buttermans Bay; to starboard is Suffolk Yacht Harbour. Again there are moorings both sides of the channel. Just to the seaward side of No 4 buoy there is an anchorage which was used by Thames Sailing Barges waiting for notice of cargo in bygone years.
At the top end of Buttermans Bay there is the pretty waterside village of Pin Mill. Here there are barges, Pin Mill Sailing Club and the famous Butt and Oyster Inn.
As you head to Potter Reach you will see Royal Harwich Yacht Club and Woolverstone Marina. Sailing further upriver via Downham Reach you will pass on your port side Stoke Sailing Club, and will now be able to see the high Orwell Bridge. After sailing through the bridge and past No 12 buoy you will see Ostrich Creek, the entrance to Fox’s Marina and the Orwell Yacht Club. Sail on through lock gates to Ipswich Haven Marina and Neptune Marina. Neale Fuller
Negotiating the occasional eddies and fluky winds between Dartmouth and Kingswear Castles is a pleasure on a sunny day with a prevailing southwesterly filling your sails from behind. Once past the Royal Dart YC to starboard, the river is a lively exercise in navigation between the car and passenger ferries, tourist boats large and small, trawlers offloading their catch and small tenders crisscrossing.
After the Higher car ferry, the river quietens, with densely-wooded slopes on either side, herons and egrets on the banks and hidden creeks meandering into the countryside inviting exploration by tender. There are many visitor’s buoys and safe anchorages off the main channels, with beaches and rocky outcrops for picnics and barbecues.
The further upstream you venture the more picturesque and rural the surroundings become. Dittisham and Stoke Gabriel have excellent pubs and cafés on offer for those who wish to alight for refreshment, a spot of crabbing or just a stroll. On a rising tide and with shallow draught, a trip up Bow Creek to the pub at Tuckenhay is a must. Swans, ducks and Canada geese will accompany you and, if lucky, the colourful flash of a kingfisher. Further upstream still, Sharpham vineyard can be visited. Jayne Rawlins