James’s Summer Cruise – Part 3 – Isles of Scilly

Isles of Scilly – Celtic Sea

The next leg of our journey took us south across the Celtic Sea from Ireland to the Isles of Scilly. This was the longest single passage at a straight line distance of 132 NM  and we expected it to take at least 30 hours. We started at 10am and soon realised that it would be necessary to motor most of the way as the wind was mostly from the south.


By mid afternoon we were 30NM south of Kilmore Quay and had hardly seen another vessel, but after a couple more hours we approached the fishing fleet trawling the rich seas. Around the same time something very special happened; we were approached by a pod of dolphins who came to play around the boat in the bow wave. The dolphins darted around and underneath the boat and we could hear them squeaking under the water. It was the most amazing experience to see the animals so close, and over the next few hours several different pods visited, each time we would see some breaking waves in the distance and then suddenly we would be surrounded by dolphins, they would then disappear just as quickly.

Night fell and we took watches of three hours each, we did try to sail for a few hours but it was surprisingly difficult to keep a steady course close to the wind in complete darkness, and the tide seemed to be against us longer than was reasonable, so ultimately the engine had to go back on again. The Isles of Scilly began to creep over the horizon around lunchtime and the wind shifted enough that we were able to sail the final part of the journey. The Atlantic swell began to become noticeable as we closed the rugged coastline and the depth reduced from around 100 metres to 60-80 metres. The GPS chartplotter continued to show us the way, but we endeavored to identify land features to guide our approach to New Grimsby Sound which divides the islands of Tresco and Bryher. It was late afternoon when we finally picked up a visitors’ buoy and relaxed to enjoy the view.MAP19


The next morning we inflated the dinghy and fitted the outboard motor before making the short trip to New Grimsby Harbour.2014-08-09 11.33.25

We soon located the island shop which seemed well stocked and followed the signs to the world famous Tresco Abbey Gardens, there was a plaque saying that the gardens didn’t open until the afternoon so we decided to explore the southern end of the island first. The unspoilt beaches are made of coarse white sand that is beautiful to look at but not so easy to walk on, we could see across clear blue sea to St Martins to the east and St Marys to the south, it looked almost tropical. There is a very nice cafe in Old Grimsby where we ate lunch as we watched dinghy sailors enjoying themselves in sheltered waters.2014-08-09 13.18.46

After lunch we returned to the gardens – it turned out that they had been open all the time – the plaque was an antique! The gardens are famous the the wide variety of exotic plants exhibited, and has sections from many tropical & sub tropical regions that can grow in Tresco’s warm micro climate.2014-08-09 14.50.14

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There is also a museum of ship’s figure heads rescued from wrecks around the islands.2014-08-09 15.36.29

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By late afternoon the weather began to change for the worse as Hurricane Bertha approached from the Atlantic, so we stocked up at the shop and headed back to Tante Helena.

Overnight Hurricane Bertha blew and blew, it wasn’t terribly peaceful or comfortable onboard but we felt safe enough. Tante Helena’s strength was tested at about 8am when an adjacent French boat broke free from her mooring and crashed into us bending the pulpit metalwork at the bow with her anchor. Fortunately for us the damage wasn’t too serious and we probably saved the French boat from drifting into the rocks!

By the afternoon the wind had reduced enough for us to take the dinghy ashore again and explore the northern end of Tresco. Cromwell’s Castle guards New Grimsby Sound and the higher ground affords some good views of the other islands.

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Again the wind blew strongly overnight but settled in the afternoon so we took the dinghy across to Bryher to explore. Bryher is an island of contrasts – the north west side is very rugged exposed to the Atlantic swell, whereas the southern end has sandy beaches and dunes. We dropped into the very exclusive Hell Bay Hotel for a beer & coffee whilst avoiding a rain shower.

Northern side looking west into Atlantic:2014-08-11 13.57.53

Northern side looking east:2014-08-11 14.05.44

South western side:
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Eastern side looking across New Grimsby Sound towards Tresco:2014-08-11 15.11.36

It turned out we had stayed a bit too long as when we returned to the dinghy the tide had come in too much and we were unable to untie it from the jetty which was now underwater! We had to wait a couple of hours for the tide to retreat enough to retrieve the dinghy and return to Tante Helena for supper.

The evening’s high tide was followed by an exceptionally low tide at midnight and the boat had barely enough depth beneath the keel; after watching the depth sounder for a couple of uneasy hours we decided that we would move to a deeper mooring in the morning. Us ‘east-coast’ sailors aren’t used to huge tidal ranges!

St Marys

Strong winds continued to keep us hemmed in New Grimsby Sound, so we took advantage of the daily ferry service from Bryher to St Marys rather than attempting to sail Tante Helena over. The ferry took us into the port of St Mary which is the major town of the islands and also where the Scillonian III ferry to the mainland docks. The town is well stocked with shops for locals and tourists alike. We walked around the northern side of the island and enjoyed views back across to Tresco and Bryher.2014-08-12 11.28.05  2014-08-12 12.59.58

There is a small sandy bay on the southern side of the island which is popular with holiday-makers, there were also a few yachts anchored there.2014-08-12 15.05.32

On the return journey the ferry travelled via St Agnes, so that was another island ‘bagged’.

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Despite difficulties caused by Hurricane Bertha and huge tides, we thoroughly enjoyed the Isles of Scilly and hope to visit again. A real highlight of the trip.

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