6 great boat and ferry trips in Devon

PUBLISHED: 12:22 04 June 2020

Plymouth Boat Trips shuttle between the Royal William Yard, the Barbican and Cawsand. Photo: Plymouth Boat Trips

Plymouth Boat Trips shuttle between the Royal William Yard, the Barbican and Cawsand. Photo: Plymouth Boat Trips

Plymouth Boat Trips

Take a sea safari at Teignmouth or an evening cruise along the Jurassic coast with fish and chips

Blue skies and calm waters on a Stuart Line cruise Photo: Daniel SmithBlue skies and calm waters on a Stuart Line cruise Photo: Daniel Smith

For Ben Squire, a love of the life aquatic started at an early age. “My dad was in the Navy and I heard the call of the sea when I was young,” he says. “But it was fishing that brought me to the table. No-one was doing short fishing trips and so I started running them in 1998 with a little six-seater boat, then a 12-seater, then a 28-seater.”

From these simple beginnings, and aided by the Prince’s Trust, Ben has built Plymouth Boat Trips. His fleet of boats include the Cremyll Ferry, which shuttles between Stonehouse in Devon and Cremyll in Cornwall, and the Cawsand Ferry which takes passengers from Plymouth Barbican direct to Cawsand beach. And a new service links the Barbican, historic Royal William Yard and the Mount Edgcumbe Estate.

As well as the regular ferry services, Ben still runs the popular fishing trips and a programme of cruises. “This year we have launched a Mayflower Heritage trip for the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth,” he says. “You leave the Barbican and sail across Plymouth Sound, past the Hoe and along the River Tamar. There’s Drake’s Island, the Citadel, Mount Edgcumbe, Penlee, Rame… I often think that it is still very much like it would have been when the Pilgrims left in 1620.

Plymouth Boat Trips passengers watch the sun go down. Photo: Plymouth Boat TripsPlymouth Boat Trips passengers watch the sun go down. Photo: Plymouth Boat Trips

“Everyone enjoys being on the water, even on the little eight-minute Cremyll trip. You know you’re on the water crossing the Tamar, but you might not know that you’re on the oldest established ferry service in the UK. It’s at the heart and soul of what we do. Going from the Barbican to Cawsand, or the Royal William Yard, it can be an amazing trip. You can still spot wildlife – birds, dolphins, sunfish – and it’s not just about getting from A to B.”

Plymouth Boat Trips runs three ferry services and a varied programme of cruises from Plymouth’s Barbican.

Devon Sea Safaris offer the chance to see wildlife at close quarters. Photo: Devon Sea SafarisDevon Sea Safaris offer the chance to see wildlife at close quarters. Photo: Devon Sea Safaris

When Ben started his Plymouth service, Stuart Line Cruises had already been going for three decades. Tony Stuart started from Exmouth sea front in 1968 with 15-minute trips around the bay in a small wooden boat. Half a century later Tony is no longer with us (he died in 2012) but it’s still a family run business says Lauren Clark, girlfriend of Tony’s grandson Jake.

“People are now more interested in sight’do’ rather than sight’see’,” explains Lauren. “People want to have an experience and our cruises have proved really popular, like our new Fish and Fizz trips where we have teamed up with Krispies fish and chips for an evening cruise. Or a three-hour summer cruise from Sidmouth along the Jurassic coast where you can really see the geology and history of the area as well as spotting wildlife.

“In addition to our coast and River Exe cruises, we go along Exeter Ship Canal which takes you right into the city centre. It’s like travelling back in time. It’s very relaxing, and there are no waves if anyone is a poor sailor!

“Connecting with the water can be really important, particularly when you are talking about mental health,” says Lauren. “It can have a positive effect on people and offers the chance for people to spend time together. It can offer a sense of adventure and really give you something a bit different.”

Stuart Line Cruises in Exmouth sail all year round. In summer trips include along the River Exe, Jurassic Coast, day trips to Devon towns, along Exeter Canal and summer cruises. Winter trips include the chance to see Santa or have your Christmas party on board.

Find out why a Devon boatbuilder devoted 12 years to building the yacht of his dreams Helena.

Rob Hughes spent his career running boat operations around the world, but realised there was a gap in the market in Teignmouth, home to his wife’s family. And so, in April 2018, he set up Devon Sea Safaris in the town offering trips on the water in a ten-metre Hunter RIB. He says there are all sorts of delights on, in and around the water.

“You can discover all sorts of wildlife in and around the rocks and little islands – there are lots of seabirds like gannets, guillemots and even the odd puffin alongside the winter migrants and we’ve seen dolphins, porpoises, seals and even a thresher shark full breaching the water.

“What I’m trying to achieve is to help people to become more aware of what wildlife is out there. It’s amazing what you can see if you keep your eyes peeled and it’s something you will remember for the rest of your lives,” says Rob.

“We tell people about ecology and the environment on these trips. The South Devon coastline used to be a desert and that’s why there is all the red sandstone. The history of the area is really interesting too and I’m learning things all the time – like the existence of a German wartime fighter plane lying beneath the waves just off Maidencombe.

“These trips are not just for children. Adults love it too and we’ve had passengers aged from three to 98.”

Devon Sea Safari operates out of Teignmouth in a ten-metre RIB to explore the South Devon coast.

Western Lady has been been running a ferry service between Brixham and Torquay for 70 years. The 30-minute trip crosses Torbay with panoramic views.

The Greenway and Dittisham Ferry runs a regular shuttle service between the town of Dartmouth along the river to Dittisham and Greenway, the holiday home of Agatha Christie. You can also enjoy hour-long river cruises.

Explore the North Devon Coast and get closer to the abundant wildlife with Ilfracombe Sea Safaris trips which operate March to October.

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