Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Saturday, 29 May 2010

My wonderful Plymouth Sound

The weather is lousy here, constant drizzly rain, squally winds and variable temperatures. The tides are awkward as well with big spring high tides around 9.00am. What with weddings and work and birthday parties - the number of sailing days available is diminishing fast!

Someone emailed me to ask about my home sailing area of Plymouth here we go a little background.

Plymouth Sound......when I stood on the Hoe for the first time....I fell in love with the place and knew instantly I’d live there for the rest of my life. I was 18, I’d just gone to visit the college (which I also loved) and I had spare time before my train back to South Wales. I walked through the city centre and up onto the Hoe..........and that spectacular view emerged. Wow! Sadly after leaving college, the only jobs were in south east England and so I had to spend eight years living in Surrey...........but I got back to Plymouth eventually and have never wanted to leave the place since.

Looking out over Drakes Island in Plymouth Sound
from Mt. Edgecumbe Country Park in Cornwall

Plymouth Sound is at 50.343°N, 4.143°W. It is the most amazing bay with Penlee point, (a coastal headland with a medieval chapel, old gun battery and a nature reserve) at its south east corner; and Wembury point (and the Great Mewstone island) to the south west. From a line across those two points, Plymouth Hoe is about 3.2 nautical miles north. It’s a huge open space above some limestone cliffs at the foot of which is the famous tinside pool – a 1930’s lido complex which has been recently restored.

The Tinside Lido, very popular in Summer
Found right at the foot of Plymouth Hoe

Hoe is an Anglo Saxon word meaning sloping ridge shaped like a foot and heel (can’t quite see that myself but I’ll take our Anglo Saxon’s forefathers word for that). It is part of what makes Plymouth so special – a long time ago they carved outline images of the giants Gog and Magog into the turf on the Hoe (a Cornish folk lore); Sir Francis Drake played bowls there in 1588 before sailing out to help destroy the Spanish armada; the huge stone citadel (now a Royal marine base) was built there in the late 1660’s to protect the port of Sutton and to intimidate the townsfolk who were leaning towards Parliament in the English Civil War.......the scoundrels!

Marauding pirate or English folk hero -
the one and only Sir Francis Drake

There was a pier as well at the foot of the Hoe...........German bombers got it....along with much of the city centre ......which was why it was redeveloped by Abercrombie!

Along the top of the Hoe is a huge tarmac promenade..........we have military tattoos up there; the British fireworks championship over at Mountbatten is watched by hundreds of thousands, from this area; it hosts fairs, Royal Navy days; I’ve watched transatlantic races start and waved to returning Fastnet Race boats. Then there is the iconic image of Plymouth around the world – Smeaton’s tower. It’s the upper part of one of the first Eddystone lighthouses......dismantled in 1877 and moved stone by stone to the Hoe to be re-assembled.

The iconic Smeaton's tower on Plymouth Hoe

One of my special places is the war memorial. The large one commemorates the Royal Navy dead from both World wars.......there was outrage throughout the city a few years ago when dishonorable people stole the bronze plaques listing the names of our fallen........the Devon and Cornwall Police did a marvelous job of tracking down the thieves.....and found all the plaques – some had been cut up ready for melting down but they’ve been restored.

The War Memorial and view from the Hoe across to Drake's Island

Two nautical miles out is the famous Plymouth breakwater. It is midway between Bovisand fort and Cawsand Bay in Cornwall. 1600m long, 13m wide at the top; 65m wide at the base and 14m deep - it was built in 1812 and was designed to provide a safe harbour for sheltering Royal navy ships from prevailing south-west storms. It’s got 4.5 million tonnes of rock in it..........for those of you who I knew wanted to know.........!

You can fish from here in the summer
if you can persuade local charter boats to drop you off........
and if the remember to collect you at the end!

Just behind it is the round breakwater fort – somewhat dilapidated I’m afraid. It originates from the 1860 Lord Palmerstone plan for the defence of Plymouth....the aim was to defend the entrances to the sound harbour. It was an anti aircraft gun training centre during WW2. I have no idea who owns it now or what it is used for. On the Cornish side is another fort – Fort Picklecombe – again commissioned for the defence of Plymouth – now it’s been converted into apartments!

Fort Picklecombe gurading the western entrance to Plymouth Sound

No so far out from the Drake’s island. It has a fort to protect the deepwater channel into Devonport dockyards, up the River Tamar. Stretching out to the west are the anti submarine traps........a real place to avoid trust me! There was a chapel put here in 1135; Drake sailed from here in the early 1500’s to circumnavigate the world; it was fortified as a barracks in case of Spanish or French attack (we really were paranoid along the south coast weren’t we!) Since then, its been owned by the city council; turned into and outdoor education centre and then bought by a former owner of Plymouth Argyle football club who has plans to turn it into a hotel. Talking of Drake – he crops up everywhere...we British regard him as a masterful explorer and hero. Of course, if you are Spanish, then you will have a different view.....a marauding unscrupulous pirate! He was a marauding, looting and pillaging thug if the truth were but known...but hey we like him!

Drake's Island......the pier faces north towards Plymouth Hoe

On the north east corner of Plymouth sound is the Cattedown – the estuary of the river Plym. It is protected by the Mountbatten breakwater. In Mountbatten are the former aircraft hangers which housed the RAF flying boat squadron during WW2. Actually, TE Lawrence was based there as were the RAAF squadron 461 who manned the flying boats. These were Sunderland’s – flying boat bombers whose primary aim was to search out and destroy the dreaded U boats. They flew anti submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay and by the end of the war they’d accounted for 6 U boats. The RAF left the area in 1985 or 86........they had had a search and rescue centre there. Now it’s a water sports centre with fantastic staff and courses. The hangers are owned by the Bridgend boat building company I think.

One of the Flying sunderland's entering the Cattedown with the Citadel in the background

And there we are....a whistle stop tour of my home waters......there is never a dull moment in Plymouth Sound......and one day I will tell you how I nearly parked Arwen on top of an incoming nuclear sub! To say that the Royal Navy Police inflatable boat team were dripping with sarcasm........would be a serious understatement bless ‘em. Actually they were really funny and really nice about the whole affair.......but it’s a story for another time!



Brian said...

Cool update. We want to know more about the nuclear sub. Any pics.

steve said...

Hi Brian. No pics...where possible I try to avoid taking many shots of naval ships - although sometimes they end up in my video clips because they are difficult to avoid; certainly never of any nuclear subs......that's too sensitive for obvious reasons.
Glad you enjoyed the posting and yes I'll share the nuc sub story at some stage


robert.ditterich said...

What a great post. Thanks. I also particularly enjoyed your post on using the yawl rig. There is very little around on that subject, and I appreciate your efforts enormously.

steve said...

thanks Robert - i'll post more on the rig as I get to grips with it; love your weblog by the way - thank you!