Anywhere on the coast has boats but Ilfracombe has a particularly splendid harbour which allows for a variety of water borne craft not seen elsewhere.
The ‘commercial area’ of the harbour is along the south (Cove/Marine Drive) side of the Inner Harbour and there are two trawlers plus potting boats, between them bringing in a diverse catch of local fish and seafood which is sold both locally and elsewhere. Look out to sea during the summer months and there are football shaped floats of different colours – these show where crab and lobster pots are placed, many more are further out in the Bristol Channel.
Also moored in both the Inner and Outer Harbours are private yachts and pleasure boats. The Ilfracombe Princess offers coastal and wildlife cruises twice daily in the summer. The Hampshire Rose is an old RNLI lifeboat which does short trips of around 20 minutes. Ilfracombe Sea Safari has two fast RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boat) for a faster ride. There are also boats offering short or whole day fishing or diving trips including Obsession II, Bluefin and Jay Jay. Most of the Ilfracombe boats are lifted out of the water for the winter because of the high seas. This leads to the spectacle that is ‘Boats Out’ (usually Oct/Nov) and ‘Boats In’ (usually Mar/Apr). Watch Boats In and Boats Out on Ilfracombe Harbour Webcam.
Larger vessels seen moored in the Outer Harbour include Lundy supply ship The Oldenburg which also takes passengers to visit the island. Restored steamer The Balmoral makes trips to Ilfracombe throughout the summer and offers cruises along the coast as well as further afield. The Waverley is the world’s only remaining seagoing paddle-steamer and visits Ilfracombe for a few days each year.
The largest ship seen off the coast is a cruise ship and the last few years Ilfracombe has had an annual visit from the Holland America Lines MS Prinsendam. Although relatively small by cruise ship standards the vessel looks huge moored outside of the harbour whilst tenders ferry passengers to shore. Other large vessels seen in the distance are usually container ships on their way to ports along the Bristol Channel.
You can also see numbers of kayakers, paddle boarders and jet skis as well as the occasional fast motor boat. Scientific research ships often visit the area and occasionally a ship from HM Navy. The Matthew of Bristol, a replica of John Cabot’s ship – said to have discovered North America before Christopher Columbus, is a regular summer visitor.
The RNLI Lifeboat Station can be found on the Cove in the Inner Harbour. It is open to visitors. Observers may be lucky enough to see the launch of one of the Ilfracombe lifeboats, the inshore Deborah Brown II and the all-weather Shannon Class The Barry and Peggy High Foundation but please remember the launch is for a serious reason – someone needs rescuing! Don’t obstruct the slipway for any reason.
Ilfracombe Gig Club crews can often be seen practicing off the front of The Capstone and also hold their annual gig regatta just outside the outer harbour. ‘Pilot Gigs’ are traditional boats originally used by crews to get ‘their’ pilot to an incoming ship to navigate the difficult waters of the region. These days electronic equipment has taken away the need for a local pilot and the boats are used throughout the South West for fiercely competitive racing. Ilfracombe Yacht Club also host an annual Yacht race to Lundy and back.
Many of the trips mentioned here can be booked via Ilfracombe Tourist Information Centre.