Alex Whittaker takes us on a guided tour of Plymouth’s historic Sound and the many amenities here that make this boating location a true gem by anyone’s standards …

Famous Plymouth, with its long maritime history, is situated at the confluence of the rivers Plym, Lynher and Tamar, and lies on the majestic Plymouth Sound, which does not have quite the industrial aspect of other famous deep-water ports. Despite the anchored international vessels, the banks of the Sound are generally much greener than one might expect. Indeed, viewed from Plymouth, the Sound has wooded banks and intriguing sight lines across to rural Cornwall.

Deep water

An internationally renowned harbour, Plymouth really is the ‘Ocean City’. Since it is a working port with a lot of big-ship traffic, any approach to Plymouth from the sea will demand a thorough acquaintance with the necessary Admiralty Charts. Drake’s Island is very visible on approach, and you will have to plot your course to your chosen Plymouth marina from this point inwards. Broadly speaking, choose west for Mayflower Quay and east for most of the other marinas.

Shipping movements

Port movements come under the direction of the Queen’s Harbour Master, with radio traffic on VHF Channels 16 and 40 with the call sign ‘Long Room Port Control’. Channel 14 should also be monitored for forthcoming shipping movements. Most powerboats can easily run just outside the deeper buoyed channel reserved for shipping. Needless to say, Her Majesty’s warships have right of way.

Cruising destinations

Busy Plymouth Sound offers extensive sheltered waters for all manner of day cruising, pottering about and boat-based water sports. Most significantly, the Sound also provides a jumping-off point for trips to the rivers Fal and Fowey, and the rugged Cornish coast. The Devon coast, including Salcombe, Dartmouth, Torquay and Brixham, is within easy reach. However, many local boats venture much further to the Channel Islands and Brittany. Plymouth is a great cruising hub.

Cattewater and Hamoaze

The eastern side of Plymouth Sound, around Yacht Haven Marina, is usually referred to as the Cattewater. The western side, near Mayflower Quay and Royal William Yard, is referred to as the Hamoaze.


Think of Plymouth and Elizabethan wide boy Sir Francis Drake instantly pops into mind. His insouciant game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe, his contempt for the Spanish Armada and his restyling of the King of Spain’s beard have rightly been absorbed into national folklore. We also cherish the derring-do of his sea dog contemporaries such as Sir John Hawkins and Sir Walter Raleigh.

The voyage of the Mayflower, taking the Pilgrim Fathers to America, is usually our next historical thought of Plymouth. From such beginnings, and with its proud association with gin, Plymouth grew into a great trading city and Royal Navy port. The now preserved Royal William Yard complex testifies magnificently to the latter. More recently Devonport became the biggest naval base in Western Europe, and Plymouth became the home of many of our nuclear submarines. The Ocean City is now a tourist destination in its own right, famous for the cobbled Barbican quarter, and proving a wonderful landfall for the cruising family.

Spoilt for choice

Plymouth not only enjoys a large number of traditional marinas, it also offers the relatively modern dry stack experience. The sheer range of marina locations around Plymouth, the varied types of berthing being touted and the variations in each individual offer mean that this area delivers real choice to the powerboater. Innovative ideas such as being a shareholder in your own marina at Mayflower Quay, or storing your boat on a rack at Yacht Haven Quay, deliver very different and exciting boating experiences. This genuine choice has bred true competition. A number of boating enterprises in Plymouth – commercial and non-commercial – are actively vying for the powerboater’s custom. This must be a good thing.

Redevelopment aesthetics

In general, existing maritime wharves, quays, banks and docks around Plymouth have been developed to provide the basis for the marinas we visited for this article. How well and aesthetically this has been achieved in each case can only be a matter of subjective judgement, so none is made here.

MDL Queen Anne’s Battery marina

QAB marina lies on an extensive site, with good views over the water. It enjoys direct access to the sheltered waters of Plymouth Sound, and is also the home of the Royal Western Yacht Club. In terms of facilities, this is a ‘one stop’ fully serviced marina. It has all the features, fuels, support services and access to boating tradespeople one might desire. QAB marina is close to the town centre and the delights of the Barbican, with all that entails.

Features we noted

As well as a convenient place to berth one’s powerboat, QAB marina struck us as a good venue for trailer boaters, and it has both petrol and diesel on-site. We thought the wide, sheltered slipway and handy fuel berth were both very trailer boat-friendly features. Having access to provisions on-site in a shop also appealed to our trailer boating blood. We noted that MDL have an interesting Wi-Fi offer for berth holders: free unlimited super-fast Wi-Fi. While we could not try it on our visit, the idea of non-costed, truly fast Wi-Fi access certainly appealed to us as seasoned berth holders. MDL also offer complementary boat moves for berth holders: free-of-charge towing and boat moves to and from MDL’s hoist dock. If you have ever been caught out with unexpected charges for moving your boat to or from a hoist, this offer will certainly appeal.

The social side of life has not been overlooked. Chandlers Bar and Bistro is an enterprise that we thought classy and engagingly quirky at the same time – a very pleasant place to hang out or dine. It had a good all-day menu too. The owner, genial Stuart James, is also a boating man, so he is a fund of accurate and up-to-date local knowledge. We particularly like his nifty outboard display-cum-deck venue: ‘Chandlers Outboard Deck – Meet, Eat and Drink’. Mind you, our idea of heaven is to sit outside in the sun with a cold drink while admiring classic outboards! Sea Chest is close by, a pukka nautical bookshop and chart agent. They were particularly helpful and approachable people. The Sound Bites cafe, also on-site, had a good local reputation with the boaters we spoke to, though we did not have time to try it. It was amusing to spot a funky Tesla electric car charging point in the car park. The Mount Batten Ferry departs close by, and the extensive Force 4 Chandlery shop lies just by the marina complex gates.

QAB quick digest

  • Berths:                       235 fully serviced, plus visitors’ berths
  • Slipway:                     Yes
  • Hoist:                          Yes
  • Security:                    24/7
  • Fuel:                           Yes, diesel and petrol
  • Gas:                            Yes
  • Wi-Fi:                          Yes, free
  • Contact:                     01752 671142
  • Satnav:                      PL40l
  • Website:          
  • VHF:                           Channel 80

Mayflower Quay marina

Like most of Plymouth’s marinas, Mayflower Quay occupies a redeveloped ex-maritime site. Its inherited layout means that trailer boats must use the marina hoist. The marina yard really does fit a quart into a pint pot, and all staff we spoke to had a very refreshing ‘can do’ attitude. If you looked closely there was the full range of marina services and support businesses. The marina buildings are high on the quay, and this gives a commanding outlook to the boats. From the pontoons there are superb views across to Royal William Yard. In contrast, there are also delightfully rural views across to the wooded banks of the River Tamar. The Cremyll Ferry departs from a long stone jetty just up from Mayflower Quay. For prudent navigation, the position of this extensive projection should be carefully noted on approach and departure. Incidentally, just beyond, across the drying creek, lies the impressively large Princess Yachts International manufacturing hangar.

Mayflower Quay marina is an interesting institution. It is an independent concern owned by a number of shareholding berth holders. Among other benefits, shareholders are awarded reduced berthing rates and hoist charges. It is therefore not run for commercial gain. Thus, it is able to plough its profits directly back into reinvestment into the marina infrastructure. In turn, this has led to an inclusive ‘family’ feeling about the marina. You can also spot little individual touches here and there. For example, the bathrooms are excellent. Incidentally, we have never seen both hot and cold water available outside on a hose! Mayflower Quay marina has been awarded Marina of Distinction awards for the past three years by the Yacht Harbour Association: winner in 2015, runner-up in 2016 and winner again in 2017 – an extremely impressive set of achievements for any marina.

Features we noted

It was encouraging to see that the marina’s substantial launch, Speedwell, was able to offer arriving vessels assistance onto their berth. We also felt that the marina handbook was exceptional in having detailed navigational notes, distance charts and tidal stream data. On the social side, Jolly Jacks waterfront bar and bistro is a welcome and colourful addition to the marina. It came highly recommended by the berth holders to whom we spoke.

Captain Watts outfitters and chandlers lies just at the marina gate, and is a very convenient resource for berth holders and visitors like us. There is a convenient ferry nearby to Plymouth’s Barbican quarter, so you could live it up in the city and not need to drive yourself home. There is also a water taxi service to Royal William Yard. We further noted that a mutual agreement has been negotiated so that there is dinghy access for Mayflower berth holders into Royal William Yard marina – handy to scoot over the water and take an alfresco lunch.

As trailer folk, we noted that the last bit of lane to the marina gets quite narrow. The no-nonsense marina handbook directly addresses this issue with helpful practical advice. If you were planning to trail to Mayflower Quay, a telephone call would yield much practical information and close support on your arrival. We also noted that the handbook has a very useful section on avoiding Plymouth town centre when towing to the marina. Mayflower Quay marina is sufficiently different to demand a closer look.

Mayflower Quay quick digest

  • Berths:                       400 fully serviced plus visitors’ berths
  • Slipway:                     No
  • Hoist:                          Yes
  • Security:                    24/7
  • Fuel:                           Yes, diesel and petrol
  • Gas:                            Yes
  • Wi-Fi:                          Yes, free
  • Contact:                     01752 556633
  • Satnav:                      PL14LS
  • Website:          
  • VHF:                           Channel 80

Royal William Yard marina

Royal William Yard, designed in 1824 by Sir John Rennie, comprises an amazing collection of Grade I status Royal Navy victualling buildings. One soon runs out of superlatives to describe this architectural tour de force. The sheer scale and quality of the buildings reflects the assurance of the age in which they were built. These have been beautifully preserved and now house many leisure businesses, dotted about this extensive complex. Tucked away in the centre is a really neat little dock, comfortably nesting inside which is a compact pontooned marina. This has recently been taken under the wing of a local fisherman-cum-entrepreneur, Ben Squire. It has sections for berth holders on one side of the basin and visiting vessels on the other. Currently things are still being developed, and just eight visitors’ berths are available. Berth depth is at least 1 metre. It really is an inspirational venture. At the moment it is a strictly ‘no-frills’ berthing proposition, but we instantly liked it, and it is situated in such an astounding setting. We wish the imaginative Mr Squire all the best of luck.

Features we noted

As previously mentioned, throughout the complex there are cafes, bars and restaurants in profusion. These cater for all tastes and pockets, and include some of the big chains like Wagamama and Wildwood. On a hot day, you too will believe that pavement cafe society has finally come to the UK. There is a ferry running from the dock linking back to the Barbican in Plymouth, and another runs to Edgcumbe over the border in Cornwall.

Royal William Yard quick digest

Berths:                       8 visitors’ berths with power, plus water available on the pontoon

Slipway:                     No

Hoist:                          No

Security:                    Keycode entry

Fuel:                           No

Gas:                            No

Wi-Fi:                          No (but cafes on the quay have it)

Contact:                     01752 659252

Satnav:                      PLU 3RP


VHF:                           Channel 13

Plymouth Yacht Haven

Plymouth Yacht Haven lies on the Cattewater side of the Sound, situated on the Mount Batten peninsula. The marina is right beside historic World War II RAF flying-boat hangars. Taken together, this is an extensive water frontage. Most usefully, Plymouth Yacht Haven is accessible at all states of the tide. We soon realised that this marina could easily provide a complete solution for the powerboat-owning family. The brand-new toilet facilities will please any fussy family crew, and the linear layout of the marina building is pleasant and effective. Where some marinas sprawl, at Plymouth Yacht Haven you are not covering long distances to access the immediate marina features and services. If you want more, simply walk next door. Immediately adjacent, and rather substantial, is Peninsula Marine Services, residing in the aforementioned and truly vast ex-flying-boat hangars. It seemed to us that whatever support you needed for your boat, it was available on-site. You could leave your boat here and travel in from afar, confident that they could deal with literally any eventuality. If you love being around boats and boating, Peninsula Services will stir your blood. The sheer bustle around the hangars is astonishing. The adjacent slipway is vast – a doddle to use for trailer boat reversers of every level of competence, including mine. Although the marina has diesel fuel, there is no alongside petrol berth, which may be a significant factor if you are running a thirsty petrol boat.

Features we noted

On our walk examining the amazing WWII hangars, stumbling upon the bijou Galley Kitchen was a truly unexpected find. This is a compact but clever eatery tucked away in the middle of this busy boatyard. It is open seven days a week and has eat-in or takeaway menus. The latter would be very handy if you were working on your boat just a few yards away – as many folk were. It offers a broad range of fayre, including the soul food of all true powerboaters – the all-day breakfast. Back at the modern marina building there is a range of businesses, some directly related to boating, others more orientated to lifestyle. There is also the chic Bridge Bar and Restaurant. This has an elevated terrace with fine views over the marina. It is a great place to snack, yarn or dine. As we have learned at other marinas lacking such alternatives, it is nice to have at least two such excellent but varying eating choices available to suit one’s mood. Local pubs at Mount Batten and Turnchapel are within walking distance, though of course there are buses directly into Plymouth. Don’t forget that there is also a water taxi straight into the Barbican at Plymouth. This operates from the public slipway at Mount Batten. For those important bits and pieces to run the boat, there is the Mount Batten Boathouse chandlers on-site. For provisions, Hoe Mini Market is about a 20-minute walk away. However, the rather helpful marina staff informed us that local supermarkets and takeaways will deliver direct to the marina.

Quick digest

Berths:                       450 fully serviced

Slipway:                     Yes

Hoist:                          Yes

Security:                    24/7

Fuel:                           Diesel

Gas:                            Yes

Wi-Fi:                          Yes, free

Contact:                     01752 404231

Satnav:                      PL9 9XH


VHF:                           Channel 80

Plymouth Yacht Haven Quay Dry Stack

And now for something completely different. While we have seen small outdoor dry stacks at home and abroad, nothing prepared us for the sheer scale of the Yacht Haven Dry Stack. Now in its tenth year, it really is a vast and slick operation. Aimed at craft up to 36ft in length, boats are stacked in the sky in this modern marina. Using the tallest forklifts we have ever seen, it functions like a big, beautiful boat-vending machine. Goodies are collected from the racks and delivered to the convenient dock alongside. Wow!

Turnkey solution

The only pause in this process is if you have requested the optional valet fuel service. In this case, dry stack operatives will refuel your boat with diesel or petrol for you. You can therefore literally ring up and drive over, to find your boat already gassed up, waiting in the water on a pontoon. Just step aboard, turn the key and go. Then when you get back, just leave your boat on the supplied pontoon, climb into your car and tootle home. The dry stack team will then retrieve your boat for you, wash the hull down and store it back on the stack. We watched this all unfold as a seamless function one afternoon. It made a very favourable impression upon us.

Cool cathedral

Inside, the tall dry stack building is like a huge toyshop for trailer boat folk. In this vast cathedral to cool, here was rack upon rack of almost every modern trailer boat we have ever admired, all in one place. This resonated with us since we have to care for our own boat, and also store its trailer separately. Here was an entirely different concept to our own current solution of a traditional all-year-round marina berth, plus expensive paid trailer storage. When you see it all work so smoothly, the penny drops.

Questions answered

However, as boat owners we did have three key questions. If, like us, you often wish to stay aboard your boat for a few nights from time to time, was there access to floating pontoons? The answer was yes. Our second question concerned working on your boat in the yard. The answer is you can, and there are dedicated maintenance cradles and power provided. Indeed, those boats ‘stacked’ at ground level already have access to shore power electricity, so dedicated maintenance cradles are only an issue for aerial berthers. Our third question concerned trailer storage, an often overlooked but significant marina charge. Yes, there was trailer storage, and yes it was available at a reduced rate. Despite this new concept challenging our current marina arrangements at home, it seemed to make very good sense.

Features we noted

Essentially, this particular Yacht Haven Dry Stack version of dry stacking is a pukka marina with a vertical component. It is not merely a high-rise boat car park. The social aspects of marina life have not been neglected. The dry stack has its own toilets and showers, and there is a handy eatery, The Mess Room, complete with aerial terrace, right next door. Yacht Haven Dry Stack even provides a social area for berth holders. This comprises a shaded decking area with handy seating and tables overlooking the water, pontoons and docking facilities. It was very comfortable in the 30-degree heat during our visit. There is the usual range of marina support businesses on-site, and we felt confident that we could live with this whole groovy stacking concept. Last but not least, we especially liked the palm tree.

Quick digest

  • Berths:                       On rack – 240
  • Slipway:                     No
  • Hoist:                          Yes
  • Security:                    24/7
  • Fuel:                           Diesel, petrol, plus valeting service
  • Gas:                            Yes
  • Wi-Fi:                          Yes
  • Contact:                     01752 481190
  • Satnav:                      PL97FE
  • Website:          
  • VHF:                           Channel 80



Plymouth Sound and Approaches, Chart 30


C14 Plymouth Harbour and Rivers


Navionics UK and Europe

Captain Edward Pellew RN and the wreck of the Dutton

The Dutton was chartered by the East India Company and bound for the West Indies with a full complement of troops aboard. It was wrecked in Plymouth Sound during a gale on 26th January 1796. Admiral Sir Edward Pellew happened to be in Plymouth at the time. He assumed command of the initially botched rescue and then swam out in the storm to the grounded vessel. Many of the soldiers aboard had broken into the ship’s stores and were drunk, so Pellew had to threaten their insubordination with his cutlass. Under his leadership an early form of rescue was rigged, similar to an embryonic breeches buoy. Astoundingly, all but four of the 600 souls on board were saved. ‘The Dutton and Captain Edward Pellew RN’ is an original painting by Edward Boyle. It was commissioned by Stuart James as one of a number of graphic tabletops representing the maritime history of Plymouth. Stuart James is the owner of Chandlers Bar and Bistro at QAB marina, Plymouth.

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