Falmouth’s Sailing History

Falmouth’s sailing history is a rich one! The sheltered waters of the river Fal and its tributaries provide ideal waters for sailing in Falmouth. Falmouth is after all, the third largest natural deep water harbour in the world.

No one knows when Falmouth’s sailing history began but fishermen have been using traditional boats for generations. Luckily the distance from centres of population and the presence of a large rock at the mouth of the river discouraged the development of a large commercial port or a naval base, leaving the waters clear for passing trade and leisure sailors. And of of course, the Falmouth Working Boat is well charted.

In the second half of the 19th century three types of boat served the many ships that arrived at Falmouth ‘for orders’. The pilot cutters were large gaff-rigged boats which took the pilots out to waiting vessels. Quay Punts were sailing boats about 30ft long which served as the white vans of their time, taking supplies to the many ships moored in the deep water. And the pilot gigs, rowing boats with about six oarsmen and a helmsman, could be seen delivering people to and from waiting ships. All three designs can still be seen around today.

All three designs competed to get business and needed to be fast. By the end of the nineteenth century all three classes were holding races in their spare time with rich prizes for the winners. The gentry were not left out and the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club was founded in 1872.

By the first half for the 20th century the middle classes were beginning to join in, looking for smaller craft for day sailing leading to the local St Mawes One Design and Sunbeam classes being introduced in 1923 and 1924 respectively.

The big boom in sailing after the second world war led to a growth in the variety and number of dinghies being sailed in the safe waters of the Fal, clubs like Restronguet were created, attracting classes like the International 14, Firefly and Optimist, Mirror and Laser which are still being raced today. The popular Dart catamaran was actually designed at Restronguet club.

In the last twenty years, Pilot Gigs have also experienced a resurgence and now it is one of the fastest-growing competitive maritime sport. Today you can see boats from clubs like Falmouth, Flushing and Mylor, Truro and Roseland out training or rowing competitively around the Fal.

With its ready access to the sea, it was always the yachts that dominated the scene and Falmouth Week in August remains a landmark in the yachting calendar.