Cornwall LivingIssue #88

Setting sail

Whether you are a budding yachtsman or already an experienced ‘salty seadog’, Cornwall’s sailing waters are a nautical paradise just waiting to be explored.

Surrounded as we are, on almost all sides, by the sea it’s not surprising that sailing is an inherent part of life in Cornwall – especially on the south coast with the port of Falmouth at its epicentre. Sailing, and in fact boats in all their forms, have always played a big part in my own life. Many a happy childhood day was spent with friends messing about in our little rowing boats off the beach at Cadgwith or joining my dad on one his many fishing trips, bringing home a haul of pollack for our tea. If we were really lucky, we would be able to grab a ride out on one of the bigger crabbers, and watch the pots come in filled with juicy crabs and lobsters. Those formative days on the water gave us a taste for adventure and independence, but also a healthy respect for the sea.

When we progressed from rowing boats to sail boats, there was no such thing as ‘proper’ sailing tuition. In those days, we adopted a very ‘Heath Robinson’ approach to our first taste of sail, pretty much teaching ourselves by trial, error and a lot of capsizing! As my own children reach the same age, they are now afforded the most fantastic opportunity to learn to sail, being taught the essential techniques by experienced instructors…and all for no cost.

The Helford River Children’s Sailing Trust (, an RYA training centre and a member of RYA OnBoard, was set up in 2005. With an experienced team of adult volunteers, Senior Instructor, Martin Fenton and his team provided lessons for more than 850 local children last year aged between 8 and 14. These children came from local primary schools, special schools, children excluded from education and, for the first time, a group of home educated children. The trust’s ethos is that there should be no financial barrier to any of their activities and by giving children and young adults in Cornwall access to sailing and other water activities, they can develop confidence, competence and resilience.

We head to the Helford every Wednesday evening where Martin is a familiar, smiling face at each of the sailing sessions: “Our aim is to grow not only the sailor but the person. We tailor our sessions to the individual sailor, matching a small group of children to a particular instructor who will get to know each school child and young adult’s needs.” I have experienced this first-hand, watching my son go from being a complete novice, not knowing a stern from a bow, a tiller from a mainsheet, to excitedly volunteering to helm a Pico during a brisk easterly out on the Helford and taking part in the fantastic annual school’s regatta.

It’s not always plain sailing though as Mike Comyn, Chief Instructor, explains:

“The environment we work in can be challenging in itself. We go out in all types of weather and sea states, varying the lesson to the conditions and finding a sheltered cove to operate from. By listening to instruction, within the safety net we create, a child is able to overcome basic fears. By doing so, he or she is given a belief in instruction. This belief and trust can then be transferred to the classroom, home and future work environment.”

“The Helford River is for all. If you are from a poor background in Cornwall you are very unlikely ever to experience the beauty of this wonderful place. We who work the estuary everyday, have no doubt about its impact on our lives and we love to share. We meet children who live less than 10 miles from the coast and yet have never been to the beach! They have no concept of its beauty or how to interact with the sea safely. Our job is to remove these barriers.”

To help remove these barriers further the trust was delighted to announce earlier this year that it had been awarded a grant in excess of £1.6m that meant they could start work on an inland water sports centre at Trevassack Lake. This disused quarry will enable year-round watersports for all as well incorporating adapted holiday lodge accommodation for children with severe disabilities. There will even be a floating classroom allowing young people of all abilities to get out on the water and view marine life through underwater cameras and onboard screens.

You don’t have to be resident in Cornwall to take advantage of this amazing opportunity as the trust also offers holiday sailing courses for visiting children. It is grass-roots opportunities such as this that are helping to grow our budding sailors here in Cornwall. From here, children have gone on to captain super yachts in the Med, race in some of the world’s most prestigious yachting events or become sailing instructors themselves.

It’s clear that discovering a love of the water at an early age in Cornwall opens many doors, and for some young people it has been the driving force to study marine related subjects at Falmouth Marine School (

With a school on the site dating back as far as 1825, tutors now combine industry experience with academic expertise to offer courses that include boatbuilding, marine engineering and science and alumni regularly secure prestigious jobs within the industry, both across the UK and beyond.

Falmouth local, Ben Davis, secured the position of Wing Manager for Ben Ainslie’s America Cup team, thanks to his expertise in boat technology gained at Falmouth Marine School, while Tom Jackman, who is now working as a Chief Engineer on super yachts, is enjoying the career he always dreamed of while travelling the world. The marine science course has helped students progress to some of the most prestigious marine-based academic institutions, but also includes a range of non-academic practical skills that are often considered to be essential for progression. These range from diving, snorkeling and powerboat handling through to aquatic husbandry, photography and marine mammal observation.

Former student, Clare Marshall, completed an FdSC in Marine Science at Falmouth Marine School and is now a Plankton Analyst for the Marine Biological Association: “Falmouth is the perfect location to study marine biology. With the River Fal and several beaches a stone’s throw away, it makes for the perfect outdoor classroom.”

So, what does all this mean for getting out on the water in Cornwall? For me, it’s essential that the next generation of budding sailors, water sports enthusiasts and marine students are inspired at a young age so that they can continue Cornwall’s sailing heritage and keep Falmouth and its world-renowned sailing waters firmly pinned on the chart. Without this infrastructure we wouldn’t retain the top-class boat builders, marine companies, marinas and yacht clubs that we see today.

If you’ve not had the opportunity to learn to sail at a young age then are many other ways you can become involved. The Cornish Maritime Trust ( is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of Cornwall’s maritime heritage, operating three historic working boats – Barnabas, Soft Wing and Ellen – and training people in the associated skills of sailing, restoration and maintenance. Non-members are welcome to sail as a guest but the best way to experience these incredible boats and support the trust is to become a member. Whether you are an individual or an organisation, you can immerse yourself in days gone by in these historic 19th century sailing vessels.

For a modern introduction to sail, or if you’re a novice seeking tuition, then Cornish Cruising, ( based at Falmouth’s Yacht Marina, offers a complete charter, cruising and training centre, with RYA courses available in sail, powerboat and motorboat. You can spend even more time aboard by booking a yacht charter holiday that will see you discovering Falmouth’s world-class sailing waters as well as the unspoilt creeks of the Helford. However, if hoisting a mainsail fills you with fear and an easy life is calling, then Gweek Classic Boatyard’s ( 50ft Victorian launch, Constance, affords 19th century luxury on the water. You can cruise the Helford in style while sipping on a glass of bubbles or taking afternoon tea, watching the water, bird and marine life pass by.

Cornwall affords everyone the ability to get out on the water and celebrating sail is something we do very well here – if you’re a Cornish sailor or a visiting yachtsman then Cornwall’s annual sailing regattas and events are sure to be already in your diary. Falmouth Week ( has grown from

a race series into a full-on week of activities both on and off the water. The sailing side of the event includes a race programme, which runs from 10th to 17th August, that is packed full of exciting, top-level competitive racing, while shore side events include markets, music and much, much more. And it doesn’t stop there; once Falmouth Week has finished much of the fleet will go on to compete in the Fowey Regatta, setting sail out of Falmouth Harbour and heading up past the stunning waters off the Roseland.

Whatever ‘floats your boat’ then I can highly recommend getting out on the water this season. Seeing Cornwall from the sea puts a whole new perspective on its already stunning scenery, and having the wind in your sails, and your hair, as you scud across the bay is a feeling like no other. I look forward to seeing you out on the water soon!


Buying a boat
If you’ve got the sailing bug and want to invest in your own boat then speak to the team at Ancasta International Boat Sales ( who have offices in Mylor and Falmouth.


HRCST fundraises 80% of the cost its schools’ sailing lessons. If you’d support its work you can donate here.


Nautical Summer Events

Charlestown Regatta Week: 27th July-2nd August 2019

Falmouth Week: 9th-18th August 2019

Fowey Regatta: 18th-24th August 2019

If you’re visiting Falmouth this year be sure to turn to click here for some of our Falmouth Favourites