The Scilies

Sunday 25th July – Thursday 29th July 2010

Tom arrived to join us in Falmouth last night, arriving in a dampening blanket of fog that just seemed to descend from nowhere.  It was really eerie as the fog levelled a stillness on everything… the sea flattened to a glassy sheen with barely a ripple and the sounds of the boats moored on the water also silenced.  It was like a dementor had come over and sucked the life out of the water.  Pete’s comment was, “if this is the weather in the morning, then we’re not going anywhere!” We all hoped for better conditions in the morning.  We listened in to the VHF broadcast (the navtex wasn’t updating properly) and it suggested we would be in luck, with a good NW 3-4 to blow us down to the Scillies…


Sunday 25 July

Falmouth – Penzance

43 miles, W, mostly moderate seas

Pete got up just before 07:00 to listen to the updated forecast, and it was looking good to go.  At 08:20 we slipped our mooring (much easier in slack winds, Tom was up at the bow to help heave off the mooring chain, but actually on this occasion, I could have managed!) and set out into the bay.  No wind, really, no wind.  We motored for the first couple of hours (stopping briefly to allow Pete to haul the mainsail).  We seemed to be trading a balance between sun and no-wind and clouds and some-wind.  We couldn’t decide which we favoured!  On balance, wind, I think.  A couple of times the wind threatened to blow, but it wasn’t until it reached a steady 12 knots that I thought it would be worth trying to sail.  Pete said we needed 6 knots an hour to make the Scillies in a sensible time.  6 knots in the right direction!  This is where the wind let us down today – the wind was blowing, but hadn’t properly read its brief as it was coming with far too much west in it – we were sailing directly into the wind.  So much for the lovely beam reach down to the Scillies, we were beating.  We cleared the Lizard about 6 miles out to sea, and were trying to make a course due west right through to St Mary’s on the Scillies.  The sea was seriously bouncing us around, not that Whinchat minded, but I rather did!  Moderate it certainly felt, and we were making cracking speeds (around 7-8 knots) in the wrong direction, making our passage to our course heavy going.  Pete reckoned about 5 knots… well short of the 6 knots we needed.  Pete was helming, Tom was snoozing along the back of the cockpit (behind the cockpit technically).  I figured I’d lie down, just about warm enough (the sun was out with the wind by then, but the boom was casting a shadow, and we needed the sun to take the chill out of the wind).  I also dozed for about an hour.  My plans for lunch didn’t quite work!  It was supposed to be a chilli reheated and dunked with bread, only neither of us fancied standing in the galley stirring a pan of food… so we went for the hunks of bread with a slice of ham slapped in the middle!  It was just perfect, and certainly reviving.  Pete knew we weren’t making good time, and said we needed to call at 14:00 on what we were going to do – press on or head into Penzance.  He called that we would actually make a change of destination and we would go to Penzance.  This was still 15 miles away, as we were this far south of land! The wind seemed to ease down, and the sea certainly seemed to have its tiggerness (bounce) taken out of it… or was I just getting used to it?  It was a long tack towards Penzance, which took three hours to see us tied up inside the locked inner harbour.  The wind, of course, by then had received the script as we approached the town and found some north – we were once again beating into the wind!  Pete had clearly had enough at this time of beating into the wind, so we motored the last bit.

Our arrival into Penzance was as stressy as any new place we go into, but knowing there was an extra pair of hands in the form of Tom was brilliant!  We were certain to raft, and had the authority of the harbour master to respond to.  He had told us to go one side, which we prepared for, and then he changed his mind… only none of us could hear him with the roaring wind (25 knots of it by now, lots of north) so messages were relayed across various boats… “against the one with the Norwegian flag… eh?…. the one with the yellow bimini?… yes”… this mean tying up on the port side, the other side.  The Norwegians were out, so we had the job of going gently onto their boat and tying up.  We actually did it really well, not much fuss, no screaming, not much fending off (I did a little on the stern, but out of worry-this-is-a-new-boat rather than any great need).  I had to dive into the port lazarette to get the additional monster fenders…  Additional springs laid, so there is a spaghetti of blue warps that run from our boat to the Norwegians next door.  We are rafted, several boats out (six!!!), so there is currently a clamber and then a short walk (now the gate has been locked) between me and the shower, and that’s something I am rather looking forward to.


Monday 26 July

Penzance – St Mary’s

43 miles, NW, mostly slight seas



The opening times of the tidal gate meant that we dropped our mooring lines at 06:20 to ease out of the harbour, washing up as we headed out into the bay.  There wasn’t much of a sea which meant that making below deck ship-shape wasn’t so bad.  When I came up on deck, there was a fierce looking storm over St Michael’s Mount; it looked spectacular, and Tom and I both appreciated that we were heading the other way – towards the sunshine.  We weren’t sure what the wind was doing, so we motored out until we made our first way-marker… and the sails were up at 06:45!  Not bad.  Tom had the first helm, and despite what the forecast had said, the wind again hadn’t read the briefing… we had yesterday’s NW!

Still, it was suited to our course, so we were on a lovely long tack, with a super Force 4, occasionally gusting around 22 knots. Whinchat seemed to just lean into the wind, and the gusts meant that the fore-deck was completely cleaned by the sea slooshing over us of the mini-shrimps from the mucky anchor chain in Falmouth.  One of the displays that we were using was to give an accuracy check of the heading to the way-points plotted in the Furuno gear.  Tom had us spot on.  Pete then took the helm for a short while, and saw Tom’s immaculate record slip.  It was a change of wind – more W than we needed, so that once again, Whinchat was head to wind.  This meant the course we could hold wasn’t ideal, and the record time, “We’ll be there for lunch time at this rate” (which we thought about 13:00, 14:00 allowing for all being tied up safely) was a decent promise.  The skies had even cleared, and we had wind and sunshine!  We passed Land’s End, and headed further west in sight of the Scillies.  The sea that we had experienced yesterday wasn’t there at all either – it was slight, no pounding through the swell.  It was all going rather well.  We knew we had to pass the end of a shipping clearance zone, but our skipper was OK with that because of the Furuno kit.  We could see other vessels on the screen before we could actually see them, at times.  We were also visible because of the same technology (AIS, I think).  However, not everyone has it, including a fishing boat that Tom had spied when we were off Land’s End.  Was it fishing?  Possibly (its day markers were up saying that they were fishing, but Pete reckoned that they always charge about with them on, fishing or not).  It seemed to change course, perhaps seeing us, and we were good… but then it seemed to slow down and we were once again approaching = not so good.  We eventually passed it without incidence, none the wiser as to what it was actually doing.  Neither Pete nor I could see any sign of life.

I took the helm around 10:00, and promptly found some wind!  We were watching a sailing boat on the horizon, when Pete said, “is that a bank of fog ahead?” I looked towards the yacht, and it had vanished.  We were in fog, also not in the weather forecast!  Our skipper insisted we wear life jackets and that we were clipped on.  I had expected the fog to deaden the wind, as it had done in Falmouth the other evening, but the wind continued the same – in the wrong direction for us.  Pete activated the radar, for the first time, and we were really needing it to work (the Furuno gear had gone wobbly, the charts were visible on the monitor at the helm, but not down below in the chart table).  The gear delivered!  We could see that the yacht on the horizon was still there, and also that there was nothing very much in the shipping separation.  Very pleasing!  Fog stresses Pete massively.  We sailed through varying densities of fog for about 90 minutes, and then suddenly, Tom and I realised that the horizon was extending all around us, and we were eerily out of the fog.  I’d helmed a long stint, so it was back to Tom.  Oh, and I had continued to take us massively off-track (thanks to the wind, I hasten to add, and not my sailing skills).  We were clear of the shipping separation, so it was a tack backwards and forth to get us back on course.  Pete spotted some porpoises (or perhaps dolphins) which I missed.  We all then saw other fins close to the boat, which Pete realised was a basking shark!  Awesome!  It was some size, and delighted all of us.  We were close to the Scillies here, and Pete thought we should have had sight of land by then, clearly suggesting that there was more murkiness around than I’d realised.  Then, I caught sight of a lump of land through the gloom – St Martin’s.  It was a very welcome sight, even though it wasn’t in the direction that I thought it would be!  The trouble with tacking into the wind, you just can’t get there in a straight line!

We still had about 5 miles to run to the last way-point, and as we approached it, it dawned on Pete that our destination must be shrouded in fog!  We took the sails in where we knew we had plenty of space, and we were under motor to take us into the harbour.  I thought he’d be really stressed at this point, but he didn’t show it.  All he said was, “if I’d known that this weather would have greeted us, I wouldn’t have set off” Pete was at the helm, following his very carefully selected way points on the Furuno, with Tom and I spotting markers, Tom on the port side and me to starboard.  We made a great team coming into the harbour.  A couple of trip boats cut around us, but we held fast to our route.  I had no idea where land was around us, and at times would say where I could see something, even if I couldn’t make it out – one such spot turned out to be a red port can, marking the channel, very useful!

As we came into the harbour, we could see it was filled with moored yachts.  Pete asked me to go down below and find the Harbour Master to call, so I flicked through until I found the call sign, channel 14.  In flicking, I’d found some comments about approaching the Scillies, which is viewed as challenging because of the plethora of hidden rocks.  Passages in and out are by transit lines and bearings (which came back to me in a rush of brain activity when we did the passage out here with Cornish Cruising years ago).  The pilot book cries out that the Scillies can be tackled by a good boat, a good crew and good visibility!  I chatted to a bloke later, when we’d tied up, who was local (from Tresco) and he said he’d only come across from there, and he shuddered when I said we’d come in from the mainland.  Anyway, all this is distracting me from my story!  I called up the Harbour Master, in my best VHF voice, and found out that we had to moor in the outer two rows of buoys and that as they were full, we’d have to raft.  That wasn’t in our immediate plan!  Pete identified a target, a very pretty blue boat, and we went alongside.  It took about 30 minutes to tie up, with us lying lines and springs to keep us safe.  The boys inflated the dinghy and secured us onto the mooring buoy as I made our lunch (somewhat later than planned, at 15:30), reheating the chilli and adding a liberal amount of cheese on toast.  It was wonderful.  We then headed for the shore, to see what was what.  We were all pretty shattered, so had a very half-hearted shop.  I was very thirsty, as were we all, so we had a beer in The Atlantic pub.  Lovely.  A pint of shandy!  We talked of showers, and made a dinner reservation for 19:15 in a restaurant a short walk away from Huw Town.  We then headed back to the boat, feeling refreshed by the beer, but the effects were short-lived.  The skipper was back on his boat next to us, and had put many fenders down, and was clearly fussed about us.  Pete chatted to him.  I sat down in the saloon, and felt very weary.  Tom was also flaked out.  I had to go and lie down, where I fell asleep for a good while.  Through layers of sleep, I heard Pete cancel dinner and re-book for Wednesday.  The boat was really yanking and clanking.  Pete was holding his head in in hands, looking so stressed out.  The skipper next to us was up and about, pacing.  Pete went up, and I followed.  We spent the next hour relaying lines, which seemed to stop the jerking.  However, our spreaders were now close together.  The guy was really nice, but neither skipper was happy.  At one point, I was chatting to him about the mooring lines, and he said, “we’ll have a conference with your captain…” I thought it was lovely.  In the end, Pete went back into the dinghy to relay our mooring line to the buoy – this was the magic trick to slacken off, as previously we were weighted on his mooring line.  However, this then meant adjusting more lines.  An hour later, we weren’t jerking around, despite the same sea and wind conditions.  Pete’s stress levels had subsided, but I wouldn’t describe him as comfortable.  We were all very pleased that we hadn’t gone out to dinner – none of this would have happened, and it risked moving things around late at night, or worse still, having to move off in the dead of night.

None of us had any energy for very much; I cooked a meal and none of us were in the mood for wine.  I think each of us realising that we might be needed to spring into action if something went wrong overnight.  We all needed a really good sleep, but would we be rewarded?


Tuesday 27 – Wednesday 28 July

St Mary’s, Tresco (by trip boat)!

We slept well; no alarm clocks and no need to rush around on deck during the night to relay lines – or worst of all, have to find another place to tie up!  On Tuesday we didn’t do very much, just hung out.  Tom scrubbed the dinghy which certainly didn’t look shiny brand new now.  The close proximity to the harbour’s mooring buoy meant that the dinghy now had yellow ‘go faster’ streaks along it!  Not ideal!  Tom was concerned that we’d end up with go faster yellow on us unless it was tackled… so he duly did.  Our first task was to shower… my goodness, £1 well spent!  I didn’t wait for the full £1 to run down, but Pete and Tom did, to the last drop.  From there our day stretched into lunch and then Tom and I did a bit of retail, as Pete went back to the boat to measure up the cleats so that we too could have a strop to moor with (Pete was having ‘strop’ envy on the boat we were moored against, and the standard sized one didn’t fit, so Pete had a custom one made…. of course!).  I’m not really sure where the afternoon drifted to, but it slipped by in pages of books and blogs. We went back ashore for supper – an excellent steak on a stone in the Atlantic.  On the way back to the boat, we were treated to the most spectacular sunset.


Breathtaking, eh?

Wednesday saw us venture to Tresco, not by our boat (we had a nice little mooring buoy all to ourselves!) but taking a trip boat.  There was a fair amount of chaos in the harbour, since a cruise ship was anchored in the waters off St Mary’s and most of the trip boats were being called upon to act as launch to the eldery Scottish passengers.  How some of them manouvred on and off the boats I have no idea!  Tresco saw us enjoy a walk up from the southern quay (it was low tide), cue photo…

…. and end up with lunch at the New Inn.  Super!  More local crab!  The only thing affecting us all was a dodgy case of sea-legs.  It wasn’t the beer as we had soft drinks, but we were all certainly swaying at the table. We then wandered up to the northern tip of Tresco, across the top of the island and back towards New Grimsby for a spot of provisioning at “Trescos”, Tresco’s own deli-supermarket.

Pete had found a place for dinner on Wednesday night, courtesy of  Juliet’s Garden.  It was a good 20 minute walk out of Huw Town (on St Mary’s) and we were beginning to lose faith about it, but it was sooooooo worth the walk and the wait (it had been closed on Tuesday).  Apart from our sea legs, you couldn’t fault it.  Gorgeous location, lovely menu, beautifully cooked food and excellent service.  It got full marks from each of us, and my chocolate pudding was just heavenly (and slightly off-menu because of the wheat-free).  We rolled back down the hill, and out to the boat very happy.


Thursday 29 July

St Mary’s – Falmouth

65 miles, not really much wind and flat calm seas

Pete set the timetable for the day based on the tidal flow that would see us around the Lizard with the most favourable start.  It meant that we had to leave about 09:00.  Not too shabby!  It also meant that it would see us relatively late into Falmouth, so I had made up a shepherd’s pie to heat up when we got there.  None of us really fancied the idea of making something when we arrived, and certainly if we were heeled over!  The same went for lunch; maximum food availability for little need to stand in the galley.  I had checked the weather online yesterday, and it wasn’t promising very much wind anywhere; not really confirmed by the VHF weather check by Pete.  NW 3-4, it said.  Where?!

We left in beautiful sunshine, and I was amazed at the land around us as we left St Mary’s.  There was no indication of it when we had come in, and you see the extent of the lumpy bits around.  I was even more impressed with Pete’s passage planning.  We headed out to sea, and it looked so peaceful.  We hauled the mainsail (well, Tom did) and duly noted that there was no wind.  It was going to be a motor until we found some…. which was about 15:30, on my watch (of course, as I am the wind finder).  The next six hours settled into a rotation of watches – we deployed AutoDoris to do the driving, but she can’t spot lobster pots or other ships.  Tom went up to the bow and concentrated on his tan.  I laid down in the cockpit and finished my book (One Day, thank you Karen, it was a slow-burner and completely brilliant).  My shift next.  Pete made lunch (so much for worrying about the boat heeling, it couldn’t have been much flatter).  Tom did a watch.  Nothing very exciting happened in any of our watches – no basking sharks, no dolphins, not even many ships to worry about.

We had one moment of excitement, moderately so, when I was on watch and a ship seemed to be on collision, albeit about 4 minutes away.  I called for Pete and for a time AutoDoris was rested and Pete massively changed course in order to avoid anything.  We would have been totally OK, but it provided something to do.  Was it boring?  No, not at all.  You begin thinking that 11 hours of motoring lie ahead of you, and that it’s going to drag, but in fact the day just slipped by.

As we were approaching The Mannacles (I think) the wind seemed to arrive, enough to try sailing at the very least.  I was at the helm, so the guys released the front sails – and we were cruising along at a very respectable 6-7 knots.  Pete was itching to fly the cruising chute again, and as the wind had slackened a bit (we were in about 15 knots, too much for the whopping great big sail in my view), I offered no more resistance.  It took them a good while to sort it out, and longer for the chute to unfurl and fly.  When she did, Whinchat became really hard to control.  It was like we were going to be dragged into the bow waters.  I yelped!  I wrestled the wind and managed to get her righted, but the wind won out.  I screamed out.  Pete jumped about and spilled some wind out of the main (easing it out) and the battle was over.  Not content with its defeat, the wind did the ultimate in dirty tactics and changed course, everso slightly, but by adding more north, we were seriously heading off course.  Pete had half- joked that we would be in Falmouth for 8 o’clock, for G&Ts. Tom and I took him at his word!  The chute was taking us further out to sea, and therefore it was taken down, as we headed up into the wind.  Tom took the helm, for a sail, as we debriefed about the successes and matters for improving on flying the chute.  “Don’t do it in a wind shift”, I thought!  Tom reckoned we were making the next waymaker OK, and we agreed between us that we would concur with sailing provided it got us to our destination for G&T time.  In fact, the wind helped us out, and we joked with Pete that we didn’t have to mutiny and put the engines on.

We came into Falmouth about 19:30, and we made the deck ship-shape, easily making the G&T time.  Wonderful!  We were all rather pink from a day in the sun, and very happy that we could just bang supper in the oven and wait for it to bubble away.

It hadn’t been the sailing day that any of us had imagined, or wanted, but as they say, better than any good day in the office!