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Exploring England's southwest coastline by superyacht

1 June 2022• Written by Georgia Boscawen

The southwest coast of the UK is rarely considered a superyacht charter destination. But with its uncrowded beaches, vibrant culinary scene and shores steeped in history, this rustic stretch of coastline is primed for superyachts, discovers Georgia Boscawen...

Wind howls through the narrow streets of St Mawes, an enchanting harbour village perched at the end of the Roseland Peninsula on the south coast of Cornwall. Here, among Falmouth’s verdant hills that run in deep folds along the estuary of the River Fal, whitewashed cottages overlook a small crescent harbour, which is typically lively and bustling with ferries, fishing boats and small yachts.

Today, however, the harbour lies deserted as the flotilla has taken refuge from Storm Eunice, a cyclone that is thundering towards Cornwall, threatening to uproot trees and overturn cars across the country. Harbourside properties are bolstered with storm boards, sandbags, and other extreme-weather paraphernalia as the town braces for the worst. But as the fire blazes in the sitting room of The Idle Rocks – a small hotel perched right on the waterside – I’m in an alternate universe, sunken into a deep fluffy sofa listening to the waves beat against the walls of the hotel with burgeoning force.

Credit: Steven Brownhill
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Family photos line the mantel, interspersed with carefully selected pieces from Cornish artists and nautical fabrics with pops of colour, and the smell of fig fills the air from locally poured candles dotted around the room. It’s a serene haven to weather the storm. And despite the meteorological threat that is currently flinging itself against the hotel’s half-boarded sash windows, the staff remain unperturbed, ensuring that our glasses are full at the fire, which is stoked with an air of growing excitement as the storm brews.

The southwest coast is no stranger to remarkable properties such as this. Many would consider it to be the beating heart of the British food scene, with curious pop-ups, food festivals and Michelin stars scattered along the coastline. But, surprisingly, superyachts are scarce and tend to make county headlines when they do venture into UK waters, causing a stir among the locals. But from where I’m standing, despite the weather, the southwest coast has all the ingredients for a great superyacht charter, and we could be on the brink of a revival.

An array of wildlife abounds the southern coastline
Credit: Andrew Pearson / Alamy Stock

“I would imagine after Brexit the UK will become the preferred port of call after delivery of new builds from Northern European yards,” says Christoph Schaefer, captain of the 48.5-metre V6. “So far it was either Norway or Gibraltar. While many will shy away from Scotland as it is a bit of hike, the Isles of Scilly lie en route to the Med and will for sure see a surge in yachts calling.”

Uncrowded and unspoiled, the Isles of Scilly lie 23 nautical miles off Cornwall’s Land’s End and are primed for exploration by superyachts, which can drop anchor off the coast. Tresco – which at 297 hectares is the second-largest island in the archipelago – is home to subtropical gardens with more than 20,000 plants from more than 80 countries, pristine stretches of sandy beaches, which are typically uncrowded, and a spa that offers every massage, wrap and facial treatment you could wish for. “I was taken aback by just how beautiful the islands are,” says Schaefer. “And I must say I am a bit surprised that they are not on everyone’s radar.”

Delicious fish-based cuisine is found at The Idle Rocks restaurant

This September the islands will also play host to one of Simon Stallard’s world-famous wood-fired cookouts. The Cornish chef – who runs the Hidden Hut at Porthcurnick Beach on the mainland – rose to greater fame when he was asked to cook for world leaders at the G7 Summit. His food has also proven popular with yachts on the coastline. “They drop anchor out in the bay and send the crew to the Hut to pick up food for the guests on board,” he says. 

This September he will run a pop-up event a secret location near Tresco, inviting a select group of customers (rather than world leaders) to sample locally produced delights from his 15-metre-long barbecue.

Back at The Idle Rocks, it might not be barbecue weather but I soon discover first-hand why Cornwall has been placed on the culinary map. The hotel’s executive head chef, Dorian Janmaat, perfected his craft at Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat‘Saisons, the Belmond hotel in Oxfordshire, where he spent eight years. Through the signature tasting menu, Janmaat illustrates the hotel’s gastronomic ethos – a celebration of local produce, but it also demonstrates why those travelling by superyacht would be at home here in Cornish waters. 

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Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, is renowned for its subtropical gardens
Credit: Robert Birkby / AWL images

As I sit in front of the dining room’s large glass doors – which when Storm Eunice isn’t hammering at the walls would be folded back to reveal a waterside terrace – dinner starts with trout tartare, seasoned sushi rice, cucumber and wasabi crème fraîche, followed by roasted scallop intricately dressed in its shell with baby leek, pickled cordyceps and crispy chicken skin, all neatly placed with tweezer-precision. A roasted fillet of Newlyn hake with locally foraged sea herbs is then placed before me, paired with a delectable glass of Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chaumes before we move onto the Wagyu beef, which arrives at the table with a short rib pomme anna, pared with a glass of Bruno Rocca Barbaresco. Seven courses later, it's abundantly clear why; despite the weather that currently looms over the country, the restaurant at The Idle Rocks is buzzing with energy as the food here is enough to drag even the most discerning critic from their storm hideout.

The properties here on the UK’s southwest coast are extraordinary, often family-run like The Idle Rocks, or passion projects such as Stallard’s Hidden Hut. But the shoreline also demands attention, as I discover upon arriving at Carne Beach, four and a half nautical miles east of St Mawes.

Dawn light on the Minack
Credit: Lynn Batten

In the wind, ribbons of sand blast down the long stretch of pristine beach which is dwarfed by the dramatic Roseland cliffs either side of the cove. There are no superyachts, of course, but visions spring to mind of beach picnics at low tide when the beach is truly vast with a spattering of people walking their dogs and leaning into the wind. Further east along the coast the rolling cliffs continue into Devon, eventually morphing into the Jurassic Coast, an UNESCO World Heritage Site that continues for 83 nautical miles from Devon to Dorset. Interspersed within the stretch of dramatic coastline from Devon to Cornwall lie small towns and fishing villages such as Salcombe, which is tucked away in the Kingsbridge Estuary, 45 nautical miles from Carne Beach.

Here, pastel houses overflow down the steep hill on the east side of the estuary, overlooking bobbing blue-hulled fishing boats and strings of yawls – Salcombe’s native sailing dinghy – that are intermingled among the hundreds of moored boats. Now that Storm Eunice has left the country, Salcombe is gleefully buzzing with activity. Cafés, shops and restaurants spill out onto the streets and a seemingly endless succession of tenders buzz around the Whitestrand Pontoon in the centre of town, their occupants flinging lines to one another and passing over supplies for a day of exploring Salcombe’s sandy beaches and coves. 

Superyachts such as Pegasus VIII, pictured near Falmouth, visit occasionally.
Credit: Getty Images

But while the vibe here feels quite cosmopolitan thanks to the picturesque streets and high-end hotels, Salcombe is a working fishing village at heart and immensely proud of its local wares, including the Salcombe Gin distillery, Crab Shed Salcombe and the Salcombe Dairy’s ice cream and chocolate factory, serving up traditionally made ice cream and bean-to-bar chocolate.

As I sit with my feet dangling over the wall at Victoria Quay – Salcombe’s favourite crabbing spot – the gentle sound of clinking boats and stretching bow lines fills the air. And as the sun sits on the horizon, it’s hard to fathom that I’m on the southwest coast of the UK, just days after Storm Eunice ripped its way through the country. We mostly associate long stretches of sandy beaches, overwater restaurants and dramatic coastlines with the Mediterranean, but even in the aftermath of a storm, the southwest coast of the UK is intrinsically charming, peppered with brilliant restaurants and steeped in history. And while the UK may not be able to guarantee a sun-drenched charter, a spot of rain – or even the worst storm the country has seen in decades – only amplifies its rustic charisma.

First published in the June 2022 edition of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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