Salcombe to Torquay

(Continued . . .)

This series of five posts outlines a September passage from Plymouth to Teignmouth and back.

(Click on image to enlarge)

31. Leaving Salcombe

We leave Salcombe early. The tide will be unfavourable for a couple of hours and the wind is light but we would rather be at sea and will motor if we have to.

35. Salcombe entrance

Salcombe has been an interesting and, to us, different type of anchorage with its emphasis on yachting above all else. We head across to the narrow entrance at the edge of the bar. The HOUSE marked on our chart stands out with Sharp Tor directly ahead and the rocks off Bolt Head beyond.

44. Towards Prawle Point

We raise the sails. Along the coast to the south east, with Prawle Point in the distance, there appears to be little wind inshore. We do find some wind however and instead of hugging the coast to avoid the tide we head out to sea.

47. Salcombe approach

It is a morning of ‘big skies’. . .

48. Weather, Bolt Head

. . . and, out of the shelter of Bolt Head, the wind is stronger and steadier.

49. Prawle Point

Now, with Prawle Point ahead, we can see further along the coast to Start Point. Even with the tide against us we make good progress. The plan is to reach Start as the tide slackens and begins to turn in our favour. There are four yachts before us. We watch their progress and note they are passing close to the land and not giving it a wide berth to avoid any tidal race.

Start Point

We follow them, rounding the Point close to.

I read the depths: 52, 52, 52, 29, 28, 53, 54, highlighting the narrow ridge of rocks that stretch out from the land here. Start Point has a well-defined tidal race. Every incoming  tide sweeps up the Channel, the north section flowing along the south-west-facing Start Point coastline. At Start Point, it sluices round the point and over the underwater ridge, creating currents, cross-currents and upwellings. The result can be a very distinct line of short steep waves, even standing waves, especially pronounced when the wind is opposite to the tide. On the outgoing tide, the reverse happens, the tide sluicing round the point in the other direction with similar consequences. Today the wind is favourable, the tide slack and the sea flat.


We keep to seaward of the Skerries Bank and make towards Berry Head, clearing the Mew Stone off Outer Froward point. This rock is distinct when approached from the west but disappears into the background coastline when viewed from the south and south east. As Dartmouth is also concealed from the east by cliffs, the harbour commissioners of 1864 helpfully built a daymark above Inner Froward Point. The Daymark is prominent to the right in the image above and the entrance to Dartmouth can be seen on the left with the naval college (BRNC Dartmouth) behind. Generations of naval cadets will have taken bearings on this mark. I’m sure they still do . . . while carefully checking their GPS readings.


In 1864, this was a state-of-the-art navigation aid – 24 metres (80 ft) high, elevation 170 metres – a tall, visible, fixed point. It’s hollow construction gives it a stark elegance, form and function combining to create a structure of beauty.

168 years later, it is still there, still able to perform the function it was designed for – a single navigation aid for all seamen. Yes, it will disappear in fog and poor visibility when it would be particularly useful, and we of the digital generation may smile at this, but in 1864 this was the way forward. I am wondering how many of our digital navigation aids will be still here in 2046, let alone 2146. Indeed, what will we be using then?


Closing Berry Head, we meet the Brixham trawler Provident . . .

64. Torquay Harbour

. . . and rounding Berry Head, we cross Torbay in sunshine, motoring against the early evening breeze and a distinctly choppy sea, to come alongside the visitor’s pontoon in Torquay harbour. It is the day before the regatta and berths are hard to come by, hence our final rush to be there. We aim to leave early the following morning, and, from the shadows in the image above, I see we were up taking photographs shortly after sunrise.

(All images taken by Bill Whateley)

(To be continued . . .)