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The strait between the South Coast and the Isle of Wight has long been renowned as a key spot for British naval and maritime activity. A battle was fought there between British and French ships in 1545, resulting in the sinking of the Mary Rose; it was one of the sites used in the 1908 Summer Olympics for sailing events; and it was the departure point for ill-fated maiden voyage of Titanic in 1912.
Sailing activities in the Solent are rather more sedate these days. Boats and yachts can be chartered and moored both at Cowes on the Isle of Wight and in marinas within and around the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth. As a well-sheltered and well-patrolled sailing ground, the likelihood of running into significant difficulties out on the water is low, so it’s suitable for those who might be learning the ropes or not particularly experienced as far as piloting their own vessel is concerned. There is truly no limit to the South Coast once you can negotiate it properly, so use it as a training ground or charter a boat and get someone else to do the hard work while you relax.
The Scilly Isles have always maintained a strong connection to sailing and the ocean out of necessity – as an archipelago off the south-western point of Cornwall, being able to traverse the sea was vital in order to reach the mainland and maintain a self-sustaining economy in the form of fishing. Today, it is the home of gig racing, where six-oared rowing boats made of Cornish wood race each other in the World Pilot Gig Racing Championships.
The clear water and relative tranquillity of the sea make the Scilly Isles the perfect location in which to sail – many people charter boats so they can island-hop, fish, picnic and relax during the summer months. Bennett Boatyard, for example, charters everything from 18-foot catamarans to single kayaks by the hour or even by the week. It’s a relatively safe area for the less experienced sailor to test their skills, and with abundant marine wildlife inhabiting the Isles, you never know what you might see and experience during your time in the Scilly Isles.
You don’t have to live by the sea to enjoy sailing. Lake Windermere, in the Lake District, is the UK’s largest lake and boasts a rich sailing heritage. It was here in 1930 that Sir Henry Segrave broke the world water speed record at 158.94 kilometres per hour, though he died in the attempt when his boat capsized. Today, there is a speed limit of 10 knots for all powered craft on the lake, though this is rather sketchily enforced.
With four boating clubs based around Lake Windermere, there is no shortage of opportunity for sailing enthusiasts to experience life on the lake. Motorboats and rowing boats can be rented from a various marinas, such as Windermere Lake Cruises, for couples or large groups. Alternatively, private charters and cruises are available to book so someone else does the sailing while you relax and enjoy the spectacular views of surrounding mountains and forests that Lake Windermere has to offer. For beginners and experts, Lake Windermere is a sailing location that is less unpredictable than the open ocean but still a challenging stretch of water to operate on.
Helensburgh is one of Scotland’s premier sailing towns, perhaps best known for its high property prices (as of 2006, it was one of the most expensive Scottish towns to live in) and its close proximity to Faslane naval base, which houses the fleet of Vanguard-class nuclear submarines. However, the seafront and harbour make the town a key sailing destination for enthusiasts across the UK.
The inshore waters of the Firth of Clyde are the perfect learning ground for amateur sailors – the Helensburgh Sailing Club specialises in dinghy and keelboat cruising and racing, teaching children and adults everything from first aid and safety boat handling to VHF radio and power. A newly refurbished concrete slipway makes it a simple task to get boats from land to sea, and the harbour now has over 70 moorings available. Any sailing excursion to Scotland should ensure that a visit to Helensburgh makes it onto the itinerary.
The main industry in Cornwall historically has been tin mining and fishing, with towns like Falmouth becoming key spots for sailing and other types of boating thanks to their sheltered inlets and close proximity to the open ocean. The town was the finishing point for solo yachtsman Robert Manry, who crossed the Atlantic from Falmouth in Massachusetts to its Cornish forebear in a thirteen-and-a-half foot boat in 1965, and has hosted the beginning of the Tall Ships’ Race three times (in 1966, 1982 and 1998).
Falmouth is home the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club and various sailing schools and charter businesses operate from the town’s harbour. The sea can be tricky for inexperienced sailors, so it is recommended to stick to the harbour or charter a boat with a skipper who can negotiate the open ocean for you while you relax. However, there are few better places in the UK to learn – these are the waters Sir Ben Ainslie learned to sail in, and three Olympic gold medals say everything that needs to be said.
County Cork in Ireland might not be the first area one thinks of when researching sailing hotspots around the British Isles, but it has a long seafaring history, as anywhere close to the ocean tends to have – for instance, it was the last harbour that Titanic docked at. Today, it is extremely popular as a place for people to charter boats, either under their own steam or with the help of a skipper (or full crew if the size of the boat demands it).
The sights around the Cork coast make the chartering of a boat a fascinating experience – sightseeing tours can take in Spike Island, “the Irish Alcatraz”; St. Colman’s cathedral and the old offices of White Star Line among other attractions. Fishing is also a popular boating pastime in Ireland with the waters around Cork teeming with trout, pike, bass and bream. Whether you’re in a group or with a partner, boating in Cork can be an extremely rewarding experience.