We left for Salcombe on Monday morning – this time with Pete’s mum Jacky on board N’Tiana for the first time in three years, coaxed by her son into honing her skills behind the helm.
There was a whisper of wind from the east which was just enough for us to gently bob along in the sun with the cruising chute up, gazing at the thin golden line that denoted Slapton Sands.
As we neared Start Point we were forced to put the engine on, only to switch it off again as the wind got up off Prawle Point enabling us to sail the final few miles to mouth of the estuary.
Like all Devon harbours, Salcombe presents a small challenge in the form of a sandbar that extends right across the entrance. It’s advisable to enter on a relatively high and rising tide, so if you do hit the bank you’ll be lifted off again shortly. There is a leading line which, if followed, guides vessels safely across the sand bank then it is easy to navigate the channel up to the town moorings.
Salcombe is not actually a river estuary, it is a flooded valley similar to the Rías of northern Spain. Like all south Devon’s natural harbours, it is surrounded by gorgeous countryside with great walks along the coast and around the inlet’s many creeks and headlands with inspired names like ‘Snapes Point’ and ‘Splatcove Point’.
The town of Salcombe cannot compete with Dartmouth’s beauty but the sheltered natural harbour it overlooks offers something else which has transformed it into a go-to destination for many second homers – a handful of golden sand beaches. Salcombe is very evidently a tourist trap. An upmarket stylish one, but a tourist trap all the same with the usual smattering of overpriced ‘nautical chic’ clothing shops.
We walked two miles towards the mouth of the harbour to a great beachside restaurant that would not look out of place in Florida Keys called The Winking Prawn – which, as the name suggests, serves up a wide selection of fabulous local seafood. There I feasted on roasted hake with crispy pancetta, aoli, pea shoots and salsa verde while Jacky and Pete tucked into a platter of fruits de mer, lobster included.
Our next stop was the quieter River Yealm, which we reached in just over three hours flying downwind with the cruising chute up and a good breeze behind us.
There we were met by Rupert, an old friend of Pete’s who, by chance, lives in Newton Ferrers just up the river and was whizzing about on his rib checking his lobster pots.
The River Yealm is a lovely narrow thickly wooded river, so narrow in fact, larger boats are pushed to find a mooring buoy by which they will not block the channel.
Again, the entrance requires avoidance of a sand bar which leaves just a tiny gap marked by a red channel buoy – but by this point we were getting used to navigating narrow river entrances.
The river itself is heaving with boats, with virtually every mooring buoy occupied yet with no town overlooking you, it retains a feeling of serene tranquillity.
Rupert was celebrating having collected eight large scallops when freediving earlier that day. Hoping to catch the remains of dinner, he and Pete headed off seaward to do some fishing while I got some work done.
They returned with a delicious catch and we headed ashore to cook up the seafood feast Rupert was kind enough to share with us.
Pete left the next day as duty called back in Bath, leaving me bobbing about on our mooring with just the dinghy for company – and transport.
The quiet evening was enlivened by arrival of a 108ft old-fashioned lugger which the harbour master apologetically explained would need to raft alongside me as there was no other mooring space big enough.
Against his expectations, I was delighted.
The ship had a professional crew so all I had to do was spectate as its owner and captain, Marcus, came alongside with such calm finesse I probably wouldn’t have even noticed had I been down below.
This amazing vessel, I found out after an invitation to come aboard and share in the delicious wine being poured out, had been built by Marcus and his wife Freya in 2011 in Millbrook, Cornwall as an exact replica of an 18th century Cornish privateer.
It is a licensed commercial ship and with their crew and paying guests they transport wine from France and Portugal, rum and coffee beans from the Caribbean and tea from the Azores, then beer from the UK back to these foreign climes.
Anyone wanting to learn about sailing or simply enjoy an amazing maritime adventure should look them up – grayhoudluggersailing.co.uk.
Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo both offer wonderful walks along the coast, with panoramic views of the hills rolling inland and the rugged rocky shoreline.
One particularly magical route follows the ‘Nine mile drive’ built as a carriageway by Lord Revelstoke – the banking tycoon Edward Baring – to provide an impressive visual feature on his extensive estate.
After a few days moored up in the River Yealm, heading ashore in the dinghy for walks, provisioning and trips to the pubs – the Ship Inn in Noss Mayo gets my vote – it began to feel quite like home.
So it was with sadness but excitement we set sail westwards once again, towards Cornwall – the final leg of our journey along the south coast.