It's time to weigh anchor

The Southampton Boat Show opens next week, the signal for sailing enthusiasts all over the country to dust off their fantasies. Penny Jackson talks to one couple who are making their dream a reality and selling up for a life at sea
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On a quiet night , Dave and Angela Hopkins can hear the Atlantic rollers from their house a couple of miles inland from the north Cornish coast. In a few months, the sea will be more than a distant sound. By then they expect to have exchanged their comfortable home for a 49ft catamaran. After 12 years at The Mill, near Padstow, the Hopkins are selling up for a life at sea. Not just short fairweather trips with long interludes on land, but a voyage that could take them wherever, whenever, they choose. "It is wonderful not to be faced with constraints of time and to be free to sail where we want. We also don't want to feel that we have to come back for any reason and that is why we have decided not to keep a property and to put our belongings into storage,'' explains Dave Hopkins.

It is his retirement from a 45-year career in aviation that has provided the impetus for their new life. Although he once kept a boat in the Caribbean, pressure of work meant that had to be abandoned. The catamaran, he says, will be bigger and far more comfortable. "We are creating a home with all the comforts of washer/ dryer, freezer and air conditioning. But that doesn't mean we won't have to rough it at times."

The couple will be leaving behind a house that over the years they have turned into a lovely family house. It was newly converted when they bought it and while more than a shell, was pretty much a blank sheet. They decided to turn the first floor into one striking, large, split-level drawing room with three steps between the two levels. The lower is used as a music and reading area while the upper level has a wood-burning stove and vaulted ceiling with exposed timbers. Double doors lead over a bridgeway to a terrace and all-weather tennis court.

The approach to the house passes under the bridged archway, a relic of the past, when the mill was fed by water from a leat. "We know that a wheel was ordered from the iron foundry in town in 1860. We never saw the wheel but we have extended the house over the area where it turned by glazing it over and making a cellar to the depth it went down," explains Dave.

The Mill, built of natural stone, is thought to have been designed by the architect William White. It is one of four buildings restored and turned into homes in a setting that is private, yet not isolated. The three-storey house faces west/south-west and there are glimpses of the sea at Mawgan Porth.

The north coast, with its popular surfing beaches, is a little more than two miles away while the pretty south coast, a haven for yachts, is a 30-minute drive. The sailing bug had bitten long before Dave and Angela Hopkins first bought a flat in Falmouth in the Eighties, but what they came to appreciate was the slower pace of life in Cornwall and its friendly communities. "The most noticeable change has been brought about by the popularity of the Eden Project," says Dave. "The tourist period has stretched noticeably since it opened."

Once regarded as suitable only for the retired and holidaymakers, Cornwall is now benefiting from hugely improved transport links and flexible working patterns. Vicki Harvey of Jackson-Stops & Staff is seeing a growing number of families moving into the area, attracted by the coast and schools. Truro, a cathedral city with smart shops and good educational facilities, is a particular magnet.

At present The Mill is the only house of its size - four bedrooms and three bathrooms - on her books. Cornwall, unlike Devon, does not have an abundance of family houses. Many of them tend to be more modern and if they are on a holiday route they can be noisy. Cottages, on the other hand, are generally in good supply.

At the end of its half-mile driveway, the Mill is a peaceful spot, further enhanced by two acres of land, with garden and paddock. Whatever regrets the Hopkins may have about giving it up is more than outweighed by the prospect of taking ownership of their catamaran. As the October launch date approaches, the first leg of their journey from France, where it is being built, along the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal to Casablanca has already been planned. And what will be the chief compensation for abandoning their Cornish property for life on board? The South Pacific, says Dave. "I have never been there and more than anywhere else it encapsulates the feeling of exploration."

The Mill is for sale at a guide price of £550,000 through Jackson-Stops & Staff (01872 261160)