Take to the Water in Plymouth, South Devon

Trudy Turrell discovers fun and affordable ways to explore on, in, and under the waters of Plymouth Sound


If the programme of water-based youth activities offered at the Mountbatten Centre makes you wish you were a child – fear not. For while this inspiring centre, with 180� views from Cattewater to the Sound, offers a packed programme of sailing, kayaking, canoeing, caving and abseiling for 8s to 18s, it also organises dinghy sailing, canoeing and kayaking courses for adults, and there’s very affordable accommodation at the centre for those planning to make a break of it.

A new ‘pay as you play’ scheme, where you can try 2 hours kayaking for just �17.50, or 2 hours sailing for �19.50, makes boating surprisingly affordable – whatever your age!

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For the wind in your hair and your heart in your mouth, you can’t beat blasting across Plymouth Sound at 40 knots! Devon Powerboating offer a half-hour ride in rib, powered by a 200hp engine, for a reasonable �15 per person. Or, you could try out a jet ski at �65 for 1� hours. And, if you’ve got the bug, or bought the boat and wish to handle it safely, they run short courses for adults and children of 8 years and up.



If you really want to see the estuary waters, then dive in! Plymouth and its coastline has a particularly rich marine life and the artificial dive reef ‘Scylla’, just off Whitsand Bay, attracts divers from all over Europe. Here you can swim through an underwater world populated by bright jewel anemones, a myriad of fish and conger eels.

In Deep Dive Centre at Mountbatten offer a trial session in a local swimming pool, then two weekends of dive training, to certify new divers to dive up to 18 metres. After that, there’s a whole new world waiting to be explored.

In Deep, indeep.co.uk


Dwarfing Smeaton’s Tower, the Wheel of Plymouth offers you a bird’s-eye view of Plymouth, its waterfront and into Cornwall as it slowly revolves up to its 60ft summit. Landlubbers can enjoy the comings and goings in the Sound by taking to the air instead.

The Wheel of Plymouth is on site until mid-September and costs �6.75 per adult, �18 per family if booked online via greatcityattractions.com


You don’t need any special equipment or training to explore Plymouth’s waters on one of Ben Squire’s boats. Ben is a local success story, having started at 21 with a �1,000 Prince’s Trust loan, with which he bought a six-person boat to take people on mackerel fishing trips. Now, at 35, he owns and manages a range of craft, including the 100-seater Devon Belle pleasure boat, day fishing boats and the Cawsand ferry. 

This summer he will be opening The Boathouse Caf�, a seafood restaurant housed in imaginatively converted fishermen’s stores on Commercial Wharf. Using the fish, crab and lobster caught on his fishing boat, diners will be able to eat by the water, just yards from the famous Mayflower Steps.

As we sat aboard Ben’s timber-trimmed Scottish fishing boat Iolaire, it was clear that his favourite way to spend time is out fishing. Iolaire (meaning ‘sea eagle’) and Ronnoch Mor (‘king of mackerel’), can each take up to 25 people and are equipped with rods, offer 2� to 4-hour trips.

In 4 hours the boats travel two miles beyond Plymouth Breakwater to a dramatic reef drop, where the sea floor falls from 100ft to 160ft, mixing waters and plankton and attracting deep sea fish such as cod, pollock, herring, conger eel and, of course, mackerel. “Plymouth is one of a few places that you can reach deep waters on a half-day trip,” Ben explained. And in July, you may be treated to the sight of a basking shark, sunfish or, as on one memorable occasion, a huge leatherback turtle.


Curvy, elegant and with a definite touch of glamour, Tinside Pool and Lido graces the waterside off Plymouth Hoe. Its 180ft semi-circular pool, complete with fountains and filled with sea water, is as elegant now as when it was constructed in 1935 – a testament to Art Deco architecture and the ’30s health movement. Rundown in the ’80s but restored and updated in 2003, the pool can now accommodate 750 swimmers in chlorinated salt water. Its fine ’30s interior and blue-tiled pool and terraces invite you to swim – what’s more, this summer entry to the pool is free!

Sally Dean, who prepares Tinside Pool each spring and trains the staff for the season, extolled the joy of swimming at Tinside Pool, but for Sally, a competition swimmer with the Devonport Royal Swimming Association, the sea beyond is where she goes to train. Swimming most of the year in Plymouth Sound, she competes in the Hoe to Plymouth Breakwater swim, a distance of 2� miles, without a wet suit!


In just one hour, the Devon Belle offers an all-round tour of Plymouth Sound – from the tip of the Tamar, including the naval dockyards, to the edge of the Cornish coast. Few waterfronts can offer such a variety of scenery from city edge to rocky coast, and such a wealth of history.

Just across the Tamar estuary are the twin villages of Cawsand and Kingsand, with their candy-coloured cottages clinging to the steep narrow streets. A short but spectacular trip from

Plymouth’s Barbican on the Cawsand ferry transports you to Cornwall for the day – to land on the sandy beach, walk a stretch of coast path or relax in an old inn overlooking the sea. For an �8 return ticket per adult and �4 per child, it’s hard to beat.


Set Sail

You have to weave through a sea of masts to find Plymouth Sailing School’s land-based premises at Plymstock’s Yachthaven Quay. But after a short period of tuition, you’ll soon find yourself learning to sail on a stunning 34ft or 36ft yacht.

“We train a wide range of people wanting to sail – some with boats, many without,” explained instructor Richard Brown.

The school runs courses from beginner to yachtmaster and by splitting five-day courses over weekends, the courses are very do-able for working people.

“Plymouth Sound and the surrounding coastline is one of the best sail training areas in the world,” says Richard. “We can sail along sheltered rivers or around the Sound, learning to handle tides and manoeuvring on a busy stretch of water, or head out along our spectacular coastline where there are a wealth of harbours to call into after just a few hours sailing; it’s perfect.”


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