Going back to our roots of trailer sailing

It is 12 years ago since we purchased our first family cruising yacht – a trailer sailer Swift 18. We sailed the Swift for 6 years from Bucklers Hard in Hampshire (during which time we met other Swift 18 owners who have since become friends who own Parker yachts), and spent many happy times on her. However, space finally got the better of us (or rather our son started to grow!) and we then moved on to our Hunter Duette (23ft) named ‘Saoirse’.

We sailed ‘Saoirse’ for 5 happy years, this sturdier yacht allowing us to travel further, and experience heavier winds and seas. We sailed to the West Country 3 times, with Portland Bill allowing us to do so safely each time. However, as much as we loved the West Country, the hike across Lyme Bay was becoming less enjoyable, and eventually the worry of this crossing would begin to spoil our time away.

The versatility of trailer sailing was beginning to appeal to us again, and so at the beginning of 2001, we sold ‘Saoirse’ (she can still be seen around Poole Harbour). We knew which yacht we wanted to replace her with – a Parker 21 – which had all the good qualities of a trailer sailer to suit our needs. The Parker 21 was a yacht that we had dreamed of at the time we sold our Swift 18, but at that time a little out of our price range. We eventually found our Parker 21 ‘Little Auk’, and had great pleasure bringing her up to scratch for the 2001 season.

In May 2001, we trailed ‘Little Auk’ for the first time to Plymouth. Prior to our trip we had done lots of research on slipways and launch facilities in the area, and found Queen Anne’s Battery (MDL Marina) to offer the best. We left Poole at 6:30am, arriving at Queen Anne’s Battery at 10:00am – not bad considering some of the steep hills on route!

We were rigged (putting mast and rigging up/down only takes 2 of us 2 hours maximum) and loaded ready to go by 12:00 noon, launching at 3:30pm when the tide was in enough. Queen Anne’s Battery has a good wide double slipway, with a pontoon in the middle so you can literally ‘walk’ your boat in. The sky was blue, the sun was hot and our plan was to spend a couple of days in Newton Ferrers, having only visited there by car before. And so with a light southwesterly breeze we motor-sailed out in to the expanse of Plymouth harbour, for the short 2-hour trip to our destination.

Newton Ferrers
Newton Ferrers
Newton Ferrers sunset
Newton Ferrers sunset

The delightful villages of Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo are reached after a short journey through the steep wooded hillsides along the River Yealm. This little harbour provides a safe and sheltered haven for yachts, in idyllic surroundings. The harbour master (Julian Stapley) was extremely friendly and made us very envious of his job!

We tied up on the visitors pontoon at ‘The Pool’, which is just before the junction of the ‘Newton Arm’ and from here we could dinghy ashore to various points. The area around Newton Ferrers offers an extensive range of walks, and despite some being closed due to the Foot and Mouth crisis, we were still able to use some of the paths. After two wonderful days here, relaxing and chilling out, we decided it was time to move on.

The sail back to Plymouth was a bit more exciting – more wind, bigger seas and basking sharks! We had met these beautiful creatures once before in Torquay, but not as close as the one which dived straight under the boat this time! Once in the harbour our plan was to sail up the Tamar, with the intention of sailing under the wonderful Tamar Bridge, and seeing what it looked like from below!


We had met a local who had told us that Calstock (quite a way up river) was a lovely quaint place, and so we decided to head further up river. We passed Cargreen, and Cothele Quay (which looked like somewhere time had forgotten). Unfortunately at Calstock there did not appear to be any free moorings. The tide was beginning to turn and we could not find anywhere to anchor (the channel was not very wide at this point) and so we decided to head back to Cargreen. We picked up a visitors buoy on the river, however Cargreen is quite exposed, and with a strong wind blowing and shallow water, it wasn’t a very comfortable night.

The following morning we awoke to thick fog! Not wanting to stay another night, we decided we had no option but to try and find our way back down river. With chart in hand, and depth sounder on we strained our eyes to find the marker buoys which we had steered by the day before, and feel our way back. We did not even see the legs of the Tamar Bridge until we were under it! Visibility improved the nearer to the harbour we got, and we were glad to arrive back at Queen Anne’s for showers!

Unfortunately the forecast for the next 3 days was fog, so we decided to cut our losses and return to Poole. At least then if the weather improved we could still make the most of our time off.

The rest of 2001 was spent in Poole Harbour, getting used to our new boat. Poole Harbour has lots to offer a lifting keel boat, and we have had lots of good times with her. Later on this year we shall be taking ‘Little Auk’ to Falmouth for our two-week holiday, having visited this area in 1993 with our Swift 18.

For us trailer sailing has opened up a whole new world of sailing again, and has taken away the worry of long distance sailing, and the anxiety that weather unpredictability can cause. Basically for us now, if the weather turns nasty, we just somehow get back to the car and trailer, de-mast and home we go!

Alison, John and Jonathan Palmer
Parker 21 "Little Auk"
31 Jan 2002