Plymouth has a long and exciting history with the sea and has played major roles in many seafaring adventures be it the Mayflower departing for America in 1620 or the more modern and dramatic spectacle of the America’s Cup in 2010. There is something for everyone!
Our ‘City of the Sea’ also has a major role with Devonport Naval base an important staging post for ships departing for battles in Napoleonic times to 1st & 2nd World Wars and Plymouth being nearly destroyed in the Blitz of 1941. More recent times have seen a sad decline in the fleet but Plymouth still holds its important place in the world.
The Barbican area is one of the few remaining historic parts of Plymouth and has great character; you can see the embarkation point for the Mayflower and visit the oldest working gin distillery in the world as well as enjoy some good pubs and restaurants. Plymouth Hoe just up the hill from the Barbican offers stunning views across Plymouth Sound to Devon and Cornwall.
Our great port is one of the largest natural harbours in the world and is a great natural playground, even in a good blow! There are two marina’s (Sutton Harbour and Queen Anne’s Battery) which allow direct walking access to the Barbican and a further two outlying marinas (Yacht Haven and Mayflower) also a short water taxi ride away.
Although a busy naval and commercial port there are miles of navigable water in the rivers that flow into the main harbour, (with a multitude of anchoring opportunities), which gives an area that even deeper draft seagoing yachts could spend a good week exploring.
The harbour, known locally as ‘the Sound’ is demarked by Penlee Point (50° 19’. 03N | 004° 11’.27W ) in Cornwall to Wembury Point (50° 18’.85N | 004° 06’.31W) in Devon. Approaching from the sea you will have the choice of two entrances divided by the breakwater. The breakwater is a manmade barrier completed in 1814; built to shelter ships of the line from poor weather and being 1560mtrs long it creates a fantastic safe environment for yachts, dinghy’s and other water sports to take place in shelter.
Approach (Western entrance)
Approaching from the West you will pass Rame Head and then Penlee Point, which has the Draystone Rocks extending for about a quarter of a mile to the SE. These are marked by the red lateral mark, Draystone Buoy. (Fl(2)R.5s).
This should be left to port, passing the Draystone Buoy it should be possible to see the conspicuous 23 m white lighthouse (Iso.4s10M) that marks the western end of the breakwater. At night the light is visible from 031 degrees to 039 degrees True, and points the way for shipping from the Draystone Buoy, to the western entrance.
From the Draystone Buoy a Northerly course, with a touch of East, will bring you towards the entrance and clear of shipping. At night the white sector of the Maker lighthouse ((Fl(2)WRG 10s11-6M) acts as a good guide in. You will then see the red lateral mark, Queens Ground (Fl(2)R.10s), which you can leave on the starboard side, aloowing you to keep out of the main shipping channel. You are now in Plymouth Sound!
Approach (Eastern Entrance)
When approaching from the East you will pass on your starboard side the Great Mewstone and the Shag Stone, (the latter being marked by an unlit white beacon). The channel is bounded on the Western side by a shoal patch, marked on the eastern side by the East Tinker Cardinal buoy (Q(3)10s), and on the Western side by the West Tinker Cardinal buoy (VQ(9) 10s). Although this has 3.5 m at Chart Datum, in strong southerlies seas can break heavily in this area, making the western entrance to Plymouth Sound a better option for small craft.
The eastern end of the breakwater is marked with a conical daymark topped by a beacon with the sectored light (L Fl WR 10s9m8/6M). The narrow white sector from 353 degrees 001 degrees is used by shipping to help clear the Tinker shoal, and the Shagstone.
The next point to make for is the Westerly Cardinal beacon off Staddon Point (Q(9) 15s), leaving this to starboard. Ahead and slightly to the West, you will see a westerly Cardinal buoy, Duke Rock (VQ(9)10s). You are now in Plymouth Sound!
Communication and monitoring
As has been mentioned Plymouth harbour is a large commercial port and it’s important to note that the port is controlled by the Queens Harbourmaster, all shipping movements are controlled by Longroom Port Control, who monitor VHF channel 16 and 14.
Warships and most commercial shipping has the right of way and should not be approached within 200 m when underway, and when crossing astern of them you must leave a gap of 800 m. Military ships are normally accompanied by launches or RIBs of the MOD police who will quickly let you know if you get in the way.
It is wise to monitor VHF channel 14/16 while underway to keep aware of forthcoming shipping movements. In actual practice there is plenty of water in most areas for small craft to keep well out of the way of big ship movements, by staying out of the deeper buoyed channels altogether.
To get to Sutton Harbour and QAB (Queen Anne’s Battery) marinas
Aim for the Mount Batten breakwater end (2FG (vert)), and pass between it and the southerly Cardinal buoy South Mallard (VQ(6)+LFl 10s) and the conical green lateral mark West Mallard (Q.G) lying a little to the NNW. There are minimum depths over the Mallard shoal of 3.6 m, and in anything other than exceptional conditions this passage is preferable to Smeaton Pass and its associated shipping.
Once through this passage be aware that you will be in the vicinity of ships moving from or into the Cattewater using narrow buoyed channels, you will be expected not to impede their progress.
As you continue you will pass the Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht Club on your portside, follow the coastline further round and you will open up into Fisher’s Nose and Elphinstone car park on your port with the QAB’s wave screen on your starboard. The entrances to Sutton harbour and Queen Anne’s Battery are now in front of you.
Sutton Harbour Marina, VHF Ch 12
Sutton Harbour is located in the heart of the barbican and a very short stroll from the city centre. The marina staff are friendly and helpful and go the extra mile to help visiting yachtsman. Their facilities have been recently awarded the coveted 5 gold anchor award from the Yacht Harbour association. The rating is the highest which can be achieved, and is a reflection of the consistently high standard of facilities and customer service at the marina.
Surrounded by boutique waterfront bars and restaurants and shops there is something for everyone, offering 490 berths with a minimum depth of 3.5m throughout and excellent protection from the weather means you will have a great stay.
The Jetty, Sutton Harbour, Plymouth PL4 0DW – +44(0)1752 204702
24 hour access via a lock Water, electricity, toilets, showers, laundry, Wi-Fi, fuel, pump out, gas
Queen Anne’s Battery, VHF Ch 80
Queen Anne’s Battery comprises a 280 berth marina and a visitors basin with alongside pontoon berthing, protected by a breakwater and double wave screen means you are well protected throughout your stay. QAB is often crowded with racers during the height of the season which gives it a vibrant atmosphere which can resemble a mini ‘Cowes’.
There are restaurants and excellent facilities in the marina as well as well stocked chandlery. The Royal Western Yacht Club is also within the marina and they provide the starting point for many prestigious international yacht races.
Plymouth PL4 0LP – +44(0)1752 671142
Maximum LOA: 18m or 42m for visitors
Water, electricity, toilets, showers, laundry, Wi-Fi, fuel, chandlery, lift out, storage ashore, boatyard services, bar, restaurant, convenience store.
This sailing feature was written by Matthew Barraud from the Morvargh Sailing project. The project offers young people a quality Youth Development, Leadership & Adventure programme which is delivered on a Sail Training Yacht.