Living up in Ramsgate and being immersed amongst quite a few Rib owning friends, we’ve done the channel from Dover/Calais and Dover/Dunkerque quite a few times in various Ribs. Looking for the next challenge, my friend Nelson Wood and I had penciled in a possible Scilly Isles crossing a while back but due to work commitments, I could only do it early October so we were all a little dubious as to weather the conditions would be okay. In the event, there was only three of the original five able to come anyway so we went back to taking just one boat – leaving my Ribtec at home, we took Nelson’s Tornado 6.5, ‘Exeat.’ Plan was to launch at Penzance but due to a little err, hiccup, on the way down (Stopping for a cuppa and finding we were one wheel and hub short on the trailer!) we diverted towards Falmouth to try and find some spares.
In the event, we fell on out feet when we discovered Tyrone Snell Trailers in Penryn. Huge stocks of spares and Ivor Neller, the director was a real gent. Not only did he promise to have it done after the weekend ready to collect, being a recent rib owner himself, he also gave us great advice about launching, what to see, and gave us usage of his, currently vacant, berth at Mylor. When we arrived there, it was a gem! I can imagine that it gets silly busy in summer but what we found was a gorgeous, almost Greek Island-like, quiet, little harbour marina with a fantastic slip and parking for £4.00/day. There’s a superb shower block, nice café and bar on the quay and it’s located bang next door to Falmouth so there’s loads to see and do. We camped in the car park with no hassle and though I doubt you’d get away with that in peak season, there was nothing saying ‘no overnight camping’ on the signs.
On Saturday, we chucked the boat in and took a cruise around to the Helford River. Then it was back for a shower and back into the boat for a curry in Falmouth. Nelly and myself both love night-time cruising and being pretty warm, it was a great way to go into town – we moored up on the visitor quay and there was no sign of anyone wanting money from us. Another result!
Sunday was pretty miserable and we aborted any ideas of the Scillies, so we turned North-East and headed up to Fowey, completing around 50 miles throughout the day. It was bloody rough in places but never dangerous so we arrived for the obligatory cream teas mid-afternoon. Once again, mooring up for free. Out-of-season-cruising kicks ass! The run back was quite a bit more comfortable as the wind had dropped. Ivor had recommended a boat-accessible pub called The Pandorra Inn, just a few minutes back up the river so another night-cruise was called for. Great pub, lovely food and a mooring that, on neaps, still had 6ft at low tide. Beats walking or driving to the pub!
We’d been stressing over the weather, and for once the buggers got it right! We woke Monday to find clear blue skies and with the reports showing one metre waves, ‘slight’ sea state and wind dropping to <3 as the day went on. With a 60 mile passage in front of us, we knew if we got past The Lizard in reasonable conditions, we could be fairly sure the rest would be fine for the Scilly Isles. And Tuesday looked to be even better. We logged our passage with the coastguard and set off up the Carrick Roads. Our last crew member, Scott, who’d never been boating before had been speaking to his ‘Uncle Malcom’ – the font of all knowledge apparently who described our plan as ‘stupid’ and scared Scott nearly to death. Before the Fowey trip – and the confidence that a dismal days ribbing gave him – he’d asked if we could drop him in Penzance as ‘Uncle Malc’ had said the crossing was too dangerous in such a small boat. Blue skies and good conditions seemed to set aside any such fears and I’m pretty sure he’s hooked now – at least, he was asking about training en-route!
So, with the route in the plotter, and at roughly 27knots, some two and a half hours later we cruised into St Mary’s Sound, having completed a very straightforward passage and picked our way - cautiously! - into St Mary’s Hugh Town harbour where we tied up on a floating mooring (there’s no quayside mooring to be had), hitched a ride ashore and found a campsite. Of course, it was top of a steep hill and we hauled all our gear to the top before we found out that they’ll collect it for you in a Landy….but it had amazing views and the sunset was beautiful. Not one I’d go back to though. £7.00 per person per night off-season is pretty expensive but then they mug you a pound for a shower. Guess I was getting used to a bargain by the time we got there! Took a stroll into town, had a meal in ‘The Atlantic’ pub (16oz burgers!) and a few more pints of Cornish Rattler. On the advice of a local, we hung outside the club in town for a few minutes and listened to the amplified voice of the ‘birders’ droning through lists of who’d seen what bird, how old it was and where they’d seen it. It’s a tradition apparently and is absolutely hilarious. The islands are absolutely infested with twitchers – every bush you walk by has voices coming from it.
Tuesday dawned even better than Monday, simply beautiful weather, looked flat calm and we were up and off for brekky in town before topping up the fuel (£1.36/litre on the quayside) and heading over to New Grimsby on Tresco for a visit to the New Inn for a drink and a look round. Spotted some big fish, Seals and admired the bays, beaches and crystal clear water around the islands. We’d love to have spent more time amongst the Islands, but we were all expected back on Tuesday night so we had to push on.
Setting off for home, there was almost no wind and the sea was genuinely flat calm, though there were some huge, but gentle Atlantic swells coming through which meant we were driving up one side of the wave for hundreds of yards, before descending the other side – I’d never experienced that before and it was good fun at 38 knots, which we did all the way back to Penzance, avoiding the scores of dopey Black Tipped Gulls (I’m told that’s what they were!) that seemed intent of flying into us and being buzzed by a chopper en-route to the Islands. St Mary’s to Penzance in 50 minutes – how’s that!
Following a splash and dash, we headed back to Mylor and managed to collect the trailer and get the boat out with just enough water left - we made it by minutes and finished loading up in the dark. Then it was just the little matter of a 350 mile drive home!
An absolutely amazing few days and a real sense of accomplishment. Quite a few people had told us we were mad attempting the Scillies, but prepared and equipped as we were and with Nelson being an experienced and commercially-endorsed yachtmaster and lifeboat man, in good weather it wasn’t difficult – even though on a few occasions the sea gave us a glimpse of just what it’s capable of down there. Nelson’s done a number of passages for the RNLI around the cornish coast and encountered some really vile weather. So, though he had some local knowledge - it’s very different in a 6.5m rib than an Arun all-weather lifeboat! I got lots from the passage planning, navigation and nighttime stuff and now, I feel ready to complete my Advanced Powerboat Qualification.
So, top tips from what we learned.
Mylor’s beautiful and a great place to launch, but a long way from The Scillies and a hardcore passage - which means you need to tackle The Lizard.
There’s loads more to do with the boat down there, we didn’t even scratch the surface.
The Pandora Inn is in my ‘Top 5 pubs’ – partially because I can take the boat, arrive in the dark on low water and moor up safely.
The Scillies are fabulous, how come I reached 40 and never even thought of going there before?
But mainly - keep playing with the boat throughout winter, when weather permits. There’s definite advantages to being out of season, we seemed to save money everywhere and had no problem with parking/camping etc.
If you'd liek to see 'em, the pictures are at www.level11.co.uk/scilly