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Sailing in Britain - A rich maritime Heritage and miles of landscape protected coastline

No 'staycation' holiday for the British, or for foreign travellers visiting England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, is complete without a trip to the seaside.

The British Isles has a staggering 19,400 miles of coastline, so you will never run out of headlands, coves, estuaries and islands to explore. The best way to understand this seafaring nation is to include a sailing holiday in your travels.

Classic Sailing has day sails, short breaks, coastal passages along the coast and island hopping adventures from Cornwall to the Shetland Islands. All our British fleet are either original historic ships or authentic replica of ships from a bygone era, so you can learn about maritime history whilst helping conserve historic ships and traditional skills.

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Why we love this sailing ground

Island Nation - Sailing Holidays & Vessels on Every Coast

The coastline of Great Britain includes so many islands, peninsulas and tidal rivers that the total length will always be in dispute, but 19 400 miles is a an estimate that includes the larger islands. We are lucky in that much of the most scenic cliffs, beaches and river mouths have been protected for their landscape value and their are huge swathes of British coastline that create timeless, unspoilt backdrops for your sailing holiday.

The fleet Classic Sailing promote chose to sail in the best cruising grounds for exhilarating blasts around famous headlands, a good choice of sheltered anchorages and visit coastal villages that appreciate a good looking ship anchored in the bay. We have big boats with bowsprits so we are not fans of marinas. Our skippers do like historic ports and smugglers quays or a mooring for the night surrounded by natural beauty and the sights and sounds of wildlife.

Pilot Cutters drifting in Fowey Harbour
Pilot Cutters drifting in Fowey Harbour

We try to recreate history and keep replicas and original sailing ships sailing close to their historic roots.

Hoist tan sails on a Lowestoft trawler like 1921 Excelsior on the East Coast; Beat around Start Point on a Brixham Trawler like 1892 Leader, Wait for the tide in the Bristol Channel on a 1907 West Country Trading Ketch like Irene or carry cargoes to the Isles of Scilly on Grayhound - a replica of a three masted lugger built to chase smugglers in 1776. Classic Sailing was founded with a pilot cutter Eve and still has two pilot cutters you can sail in the Western Approaches and English Channel - Agnes and Pegasus.

Pilgrim alongside in Brixham Harbour

Fast Tides, Rich Seas and Surprising Wildlife

The warm Gulf Stream affects the Irish Sea, English Channel, Southern and Western Ireland the the Western Isles of Scotland, giving us rich seas that have sustained fishing and seafaring villages for centuries. The big tidal ranges create an range of ecosystems for wildlife and an ever changing seascape for artists.

Basking sharks, Western Grey seals, common seals, bottlenose and common dolphins, pilot whales, sun fish, sharks, gannets, puffins, gilliemots, eagles, shearwaters, minke whales and more exotic visitors like leatherback turtles, larger whales or orca can all be found around our shores. Salt marsh and mud flats give us wading birds and owls, herons and oyster catchers call to us in quiet rivers.

Basking sharks can be 35ft long and found in Cornwall, Irish Sea and Scotland
Basking sharks can be 35ft long and found all around the UK. photo by Will Wagstaff in the Scillies

Sail Historic Ships and working craft in their historic Sailing Grounds

Our rich maritime history has not been so well protected and only a handful of working sailing craft survive. Visitors flock to see the Cutty Sark and HMS Victory but the British Isles once supported over 200 different types of small inshore craft which fished and traded under oar and sail. Further offshore the British Empire required ocean going cargo ships, warships and all sorts of fast craft to communicate with distant places.

The best way to conserve our maritime heritage and traditional sailing skills is for historic vessels and traditional replicas to go to sea."

Classic Sailing has spent over a decade widening opportunities for our customers to experience sailing as working crew on pilot cutters, schooners, trading ketches, sailing trawlers, and ocean going square riggers - that were once a common sight around our coasts.By booking a voyage on a traditional boat or tall ship you create living history and spectacle out on the water for all to enjoy. By actively sailing these beautiful working craft you are giving them a future in a modern world. 

68ft pilot cutter being built in Truro - a replica of F8 Vincent
68ft pilot cutter being built in Truro - a replica of F8 Vincent

Sailing Events UK - Celebrate Britain's Maritime History

Classic Sailing office is in Cornwall and down here in the SW almost every seaside village holds nautical events in the summer from gig boat rowing races to classic boat regattas, flotilla gatherings or one design yacht racing.

There are some showcase sailing events around the UK which draw in International crowds. In the traditional sailing world the biggest summer event is the International Tall Ships Race which often involves Festivals and Parades of Sail at British Ports.

Classic Sailing host a Pilot Cutter World Championships in Cornwall and there are numerous classic boat rallies, classic yacht races and waterfront festivals with music and a sea of wooden masts and flags.

See our list of Current Maritime Events LINK  that you can enjoy from the decks of our tall ships and classic boats in the UK.

Tall Ships Race Start off Falmouth
Tall Ships Race Start off Falmouth. Photo by Debbie Purser
Explore more
Britain has plankton rich seas all around us & more exotic marine wildlife riding on the Gulf Stream
Which ship for my adventure?

UK Historic Ships Register - Core Collection

Classic Sailing are proud to support the following historic ships that are not only listed on the Historic Ships Register, but out there on the sea keeping traditional sailing skills alive. Don't just go and see static exhibits in maritime museums - join us out on the water.

1892 - Brixham trawler 'Leader' sailing West Country, Scillies, Irish Sea and Scotland

1895 - Brixham trawler 'Pilgrim' sailing West Country, Scillies.

1906 - Edwardian yawl 'Moosk' sailing Devon and Cornwall and offering RYA courses

1907 - West Country Trading Ketch -  'Irene of Bridgewater' - South Coast, West Country, Irish Sea, Ireland, Wales and Scotland

1908 - gaff cutter 'Golden Vanity' - West Country

1924 - Brixham trawler 'Provident' - West Country, English Channel, Channel Isles

All of them have had hard working lives and are restored and equipped to modern safety standards for commercial charter and sail training.

Brixham girls - Leader & Golden Vanity by Valery Vasilevskyi
Brixham girls - Leader & Golden Vanity by Valery Vasilevskyi

Replicas create a scene too

Pilot Cutter 'Agnes' is a replica of a 1841 pilot cutter from the Isles of Scilly.

'Grayhound' has eight cannon and is a replica of a fast 3 masted lugger that was built for the Revenue Service in Cawsand in 1776 but ended up as an armed privateer.

'Eda Frandsen' was a 1938 Danish fishing boat built with massive oak timbers with high bows typical of Celtic built wooden fishing vessels that roamed the Irish Sea and Northern Waters.

Tall Ships Around Britain

'Tenacious' and 'Lord Nelson' are modern ships rigged traditionally as barques if you want the square rigger experience and a chance to view English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish shores from the 'crows nest.' their home port is Southampton but they have voyages and day sails all around Britain, Europe and further afield. Gaff Ketch 'Maybe' sails around the Irish Sea and SW Scotland.

Visiting tall ships we offer include the brig 'Morgenster' who often hops across to London and the South East from Holland, Three masted schooner 'Oosterschelde' who loves the Western Edge of the UK, the Hebrides, St Kilda and Orkney and herring drifter 'Tecla' who has adopted Ullapool as her Scottish home port and explores the Outer Hebrides, St Kilda, Orkney and Shetland each spring and summer.

Oosterschelde in Ullapool
Oosterschelde in Ullapool


Destination Vessels
Explore the Coast on a local boat, wooded creeks, smugglers quays, secret coves & waterside inns
North, South, East or West?

Zoom in and Explore 

West Country Sailing

The West Country covers from Bristol around Lands End and along the South Coast to Studland Bay in Dorset, with the best sailing, drowned river valleys (rias) and anchorages on the South coasts of Devon and Cornwall. The coastline of Dorset is equally spectacular with World Heritage Status for the Jurassic Coast, reowned for its geological significance, fossil rich cliffs, sea stacks, and arches.

See our destination pages on 



Isles of Scilly

Agnes in the Scillies
Agnes in the Scillies

The Solent & South Coast

A few of Classic Sailing’s vessels can be found cruising in the Solent during the summer, a true mecca for UK sailors the Solent refers to the straight that separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England and with some of the best sailing conditions and with lots of destinations all within a few hours sail of each other, there will be lots of choice and ample opportunity to explore this sailors paradise. Across the channel lies the Isle of Wight, also known as “the home of yachting” and Cowes is the most famous sailing centre in the UK. It is home to many marinas, yacht clubs and major sailing events from Cowes Week, Round the Island Race, the Fastnet Race and many more.

The Channel Isles

Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark lie off the coast of France and about 60 miles from mainland England. Our Brixham Boats find it easier to make the Channel Crossing to Guernsey or Sark than yachts based in the Solent, as it is a fast reach in a prevailing Westerly or South Westerly wind from Devon. The tides are fast with big tidal ranges so this can be a challenging sailing ground but very rugged and beautiful.

The Irish Sea

Surrounded by Celtic Nations and an important waterway for traders from Phoenicians, Romans, Vikings and Anglo Saxons, the Irish Sea has seen a lot of traffic under sail. Today there is not much shipping but fishing boats abound. Many of the Classic Sailing fleet make passages up and down the Itish Sea via ports like Holyhead, Liverpool, Dublin, the Isle of Man and Belfast as well as many smaller delights like the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Portpatrick, Stangford Loch or Rathlin Island.

Celtic Monasteries and pilgrimage sites. Photo by Melissa Williams
Celtic Monasteries and early Christian pilgrimage sites. Photo by Melissa Williams

Scotland and the Western Isles

Scotland is not just one sailing ground but several. The SW Coast is near to Glasgow and the Firth of Clyde with famous Whisky distilleries and bracken and heather covered hills. Three hours by car, bus or train from Glasgow, Oban is the transport hub for many of our voyages with plenty to explore around Mull, Iona and North of Ardnamurchan Point where the Small Isles lure you further into the Highlands and Islands. Further North in Mallaig you have the remote Knoydart Peninsula and Skye and easier access to the Southern end of the outer Hebrides.  Our most Northerly joining Port is Ullapool with access to Northern Skye, Shiant Islands and the Outer Hebrides.

See our special destination pages on Scotland

Oronsay view. Photo by Melissa Williams
Oronsay view. Photo by Melissa Williams

East Scotland and North Sea Coast

The Caledonian Canal links the West and East Coast of Scotland and we occasionally have vessels transit though the middle of Scotland rather than sail around the top.  The Moray Forth has a resident bottle nosed dolphin population and the Farne Islands and Lindesfarne have puffins but few vessels base themselves on the East Coast as the ports are far apart. You have to be tough to work on the sea here and the North Sea is pretty exposed to winds from Scandinavia and the Arctic.  The East coast ports like Dundee (whaling) Newcastle (shipbuilding), Whitby (Captain Cook) and all the tiny fishing ports are proud of their maritime heritage.

Eastern England - Barges, Smacks and Salt Marsh

East Anglia, Suffolk, Norfolk, The Thames Estuary and Essex are another complete sailing world. Sand bars, oysters, intricate channels between the mud banks and a lot of pride in not running aground in a part of the world where it is very easy to get 'stuck on the putty'. Sailing barges have huge leeboards and many similarities with the Dutch and low country shallow draft vessels. Classic Sailing is just starting to dip our toe into the East Coast Sailing Scene but local vessels like 'Excelsior' or Bawley 'Mary Amelia' can show your their sailing grounds and Dutch tall ship Morgenster is a regular visitor.

Excelsior on the East Coast of UK
Excelsior on the East Coast of UK

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