A family affair: Cruising the South West of England in a brand new Princess F50

A boat isn’t just an object of desire, it’s also a great way to make memories and reinforce family bonds. Andrew Noall experiences all this and more during a two-week break on board his new Princess F50…

Having been brought up in St. Ives in the far west of Cornwall, boats were a significant part of my childhood, along with rugby and church!

Although a printer by trade, my dad shared a fishing boat with his father and other members of our extended family. The boat was called The Four Boys in reference to me, my younger brother Phil and two other first cousins.

Dad had a strong association with the local Lifeboat and Phil had his own small fishing boat in the harbour during his teenage years, so it’s fair to say I grew up spending more than my fair share of time around boats, despite never feeling I was cut out for a life on the water.

At the age of 19, my career took me away from St. Ives and boats disappeared from my life. I got married to Debbie, had two wonderful children, Verity and Reuben, and we now live in North Devon.

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After a while my brother Phil moved to North Devon too, just 10 miles up the road. In 2008, at the age of 42, the itch to be back on the water returned and, with more than a little encouragement from Phil, I purchased a new Jeanneau Merry Fisher 625.

We kept it on a road trailer so we could tow it to wherever we wanted to go and launch and recover it as needed. Over the next few years, we covered most of the southwest of England in this way.

Eventually we moved the Jeanneau to a more permanent base in Plymouth and it wasn’t long before we upgraded to a Prestige 34S so we could stay on board in a bit more comfort, then later to a Prestige 390S.

In 2020 our business circumstances changed and enabled us to consider upgrading once again. By this stage Covid was in full swing and although the Southampton Boat Show was cancelled, some of the larger manufacturers managed to run their own mini events at Swanwick Marina.

After much consideration we finally settled on a new Princess F50 which we ordered from Princess Motor Yacht Sales in Plymouth.

Dropping the hook at Whitsand Bay

Serene Princess

Covid impacted the build schedule but we eventually took delivery of our brand new Princess F50, Serenity, in late June 2021. In anticipation of this date we had coordinated and planned our first holiday aboard Serenity for mid-July.

Debbie, our daughter Verity and I were to be joined by Phil and his wife Jean for two weeks, plus my elder sister Deb would come along for the second week too, bringing our full complement of crew to six.

Thankfully, all three siblings get on well enough for this to be an exciting prospect rather than something to fear! Ordinarily, we would have headed away from our home waters of Plymouth for such a holiday but due to the pandemic we had already decided to stay local and protect our own family bubble aboard the boat.

Building family bonds with a light tipple after another glorious day at sea

The plan was to use Serenity’s well equipped aft galley to cater for ourselves most of the time or order in take-away food, only occasionally venturing out for a late lunch somewhere to eat alfresco when the peak period was over and the crowds had dispersed.

As an added bonus Plymouth was hosting the Sail GP event at the same time and most of the fleet was based adjacent to our marina. With the prospect of being close to all the practice days as well as the weekend racing itself, it felt like we would have enough to see and do without venturing far from Plymouth.

Fair-weather friends

We hadn’t dared to think what the British summer might have in store for us but as things transpired the two weeks we had planned coincided with a scarcely believable period of settled, calm, hot weather.

Paddleboarding in tranquil Cawsand Bay

Being together aboard Serenity for this exact time was almost too wonderful to be true, especially after such a long, challenging winter of limited socialising and cancelled Christmas plans.

We anchored out overnight on several occasions and spent the evenings together watching the sun set behind an orange horizon from the elevated comfort of the flybridge while enjoying a glass of wine or three.

We got up early the following morning wrapped in warm clothes and armed with hot drinks, then headed further out to sea to watch the dawn break and the sunrise over the Eastern shores.

The family spent most evenings watching the sunset from the flybridge

We enjoyed numerous sightings of dolphins as they surfed our bow waves in the crystal clear waters and even chanced across a humpback whale during one evening cruise.

We swam in sheltered coves near the shore where the water was warmest but also miles out at sea accompanied only by our imaginations of what might be lurking below us so far from land.

In the early mornings and late evenings we dropped anchor near the shore and launched the inflatable paddleboards using them to explore the South Devon Coast up close, but we also motored miles out to sea and paddleboarded out of sight of land surrounded by just the vastness of the English Channel.

Spending time on the boat emboldened the family to try new things, such as paddleboarding and deep-sea swimming

For many of us it was a chance to try new things, push ourselves beyond our comfort zones and experience the freedom and joy that only a boat can bring.

My wife swam many miles out to sea for the first time ever, my sister took to a paddleboard, Phil and I dived off the flybridge, and Verity not only took the helm but also brought our new boat back to her mooring – not many people pull off their first docking manoeuvre in a 50ft flybridge!

Family matters

Throughout much of our time aboard there was also the Sail GP event happening around us. From our berth at King Point Marina we could see the boats being lifted in and out, and the marina itself was being used as the base for the teams’ support boats, so there was plenty of activity to engage with in the build up to the racing.

Watching events unfold at the Sail GP event

In truth, we enjoyed the build up to the event and witnessing the teams practising as much as the race itself. We did buy tickets to watch the race from a prime location but in reality there were so many boats on the water that it became something of a bun fight.

There was so much movement around us that we ended up having to hold station for much of the event rather than just relax at anchor.

In fact, I was so nervous about breaking rule number one of being on the water – don’t hit anything – that we decided not to attend the second day’s racing but to head for the peace of a quiet anchorage instead.

The exhilarating sight of a humpback whale near the mouth of the River Yealm

All in all we could not have wished for a better time together to start our adventure with Serenity. The memories we made during those two weeks together have unquestionably helped enrich our extended family bonds. There is something about spending time on a boat that enhances every aspect of life.

Verity has a much closer relationship with her aunties and uncle because of the time spent boating together over the years, and I know that Phil and I would not have anything like the relationship we enjoy now without boating bringing us together and providing the opportunity to share our interest.

This doesn’t just extend to the obvious pleasures of being afloat in sunny weather either, even the menial tasks like cleaning the boat, washing the hull and sorting out the maintenance issues together build a sense of shared satisfaction at a job well done.

Andrew’s daughter Verity successfully guides Serenity back to her mooring

It also extends to the, thankfully only occasional, times we have been caught out by bad weather or mechanical issues, requiring us to pull together and find a way through the stressful moments.

There was the time we lost an engine and water started filling the bilges of a previous boat off Ramsgate, not to mention a memorable rounding of Start Point in some of the biggest waves we have ever seen – scary at the time but now vivid memories of experiences we have shared together and still enjoy recounting on occasion.

Life is busy for us all these days so our boat is our refuge, a place where we can escape from the usual stresses and strains to find time to invest in the relationships that really matter to us.

Guests of honour

Another wonderful aspect of owning a boat is being able to share the experience with others. I love nothing more than having guests on board with us, be they extended family or friends, and always try hard to target the best sea conditions so they can enjoy the experience to the full.

We often come across dolphins out of Plymouth and to see the awe on guests’ faces as these wonderful creatures come alongside to check us out is such a joy.

On one of our previous boats our guest list climbed to 94 people over four-and-a-half years of ownership and although we have only had Serenity for just over 8 months at the time of writing, our guest list stands at 35 already.

Due to the pandemic the family gained a new appreciation of their home waters near Plymouth

And now that we have the luxury of an extra guest cabin compared to our previous boats, we are looking forward to welcoming them for the full overnight experience.

Inevitably a lot of guests see a boat like ours and wonder at the expense of it all but I can honestly say that I don’t regret a single penny of what boating has cost me over the years.

When I look back at all the memories we have created together and the experiences we have shared, it is so obvious that boating has nothing to do with being rich but everything to do with being enriched.

Our family life would be so much poorer without it and thanks to Serenity we now have a whole load more unforgettable memories to add to the list.

First published in the May 2022 issue of MBY.

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