Simo’s summer cruise to the Scillies

Rather than go separately and singlehanded on 2 boats Dave Majski and Geoff Hilditch decided to go together on Dave’s Sadler 34 Simo and try to venture further afield for this year’s summer cruise. Plan “A” was Skye but, due to the relentless succession of depressions and rain in Scotland in May, Plan “B” was adopted, being to try for the Isles of Scilly.

True to form it was blowing SW6/7 on the morning of our planned departure day (Saturday 6th June), but was forecast to moderate and veer NW by early evening so we had a couple of pints late afternoon and took to our bunks at 2000 and set the alarm for 2315. The wind had veered to the NNW when we left at 2345 and the bar was still quite lumpy as we motored out into Caernarfon Bay (we wanted to be at C1 before the ebb was running). We set the genoa with a few rolls and I took the first 2 hour watch as we broad reached down the Lleyn Peninsular averaging a good 6 knots and were past Bardsey when I came up for my next watch at 0600. Dave had set “Mr Wilson”, his Windpilot wind vane steering gear which did the hard work as we continued South. By mid morning the wind was lighter so we set the main and cruising chute and, surprisingly, it drew for 6 hours (instead of the wind disappearing within the usual 10 minutes after setting!). The chute was snuffed and bagged at 1600 and we continued under main and motor passing close to the Smalls lighthouse at 2000, when we resumed the 2 hour watch rota.

The wind rose steadily during Sunday night and was a steady 20 knots from the North by the early hours of Monday – the seas were starting to build but “Mr Wilson” was coping very well under full genoa and we often had the company of a school of Common Dolphins playing under Simo’s bow. I had a strange/amusing incident on my midnight to 0200 watch – I’d spent 20 anxious minutes watching a ship approaching from the South until satisfying myself that it was going to pass safely to the East of us without any need for a course alteration – as soon as it had passed I saw a white light abeam of us to the East which was rapidly getting bigger – I assumed it must be a “gin palace” bearing down on us with all lights blazing – as I nervously viewed it through the binoculars I realised it was actually the moon rising over the horizon!
By mid morning the wind was regularly gusting to 25+ knots and the seas were decidedly lumpy so we put a few rolls in the genoa and continued South with little change in boat speed. We had a laid a course to the West of the Seven Stones, which had the added benefit of taking us clear of the TSS off Lands End and we had our first glimpse of the Scillies at around 1400 – a low line of islands dead ahead. Maybe the lack of much sleep over the previous 2 nights had fuddled our brains as we had a job working out which island was which as we rocketed towards them at 7 to 7-1/2 knots, so we shortened sail further and started the engine as we turned to port South of the Seven Stones and made for St Marys – it certainly looked an inhospitable lee shore with the 2-2.5M waves piling up on the jagged off-lying islets and rocks.

We entered St Marys harbour at 1600 and were directed to pick up a yellow visitors mooring at 1615 – 227NM in 40-1/4 hours, so an average speed over the ground of 5.64kn, mainly under sail. We tidied up the boat, had a bite to eat before going ashore for a couple of pints and were back in our bunks by 2200 for a lovely 11 hours of sleep!

With the wind forecast to blow NE5-6 for a few days we decided to remain at St Marys for the duration of our stay and to visit some of the other islands by the regular ferries that run from the main quay at St Marys (they cost about £14-15 return) a decision helped by the offer of 4 nights stay for the price of 3 (£18.50 per night) and the fact that there was meant to be a period on Wednesday night when the wind would veer Easterly and blow force 7 (in reality it did veer E but stayed at force 5-6).

The islands really are a paradise – beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, sub- tropical plants and friendly locals. We had a walk around part of St Marys on Tuesday, visited Gugh & St Agnes on Wednesday afternoon (The Turks Head pub is very good!), after going alongside the quay wall in the morning to refuel and fill the water tank and visited Tresco on Thursday (probably the most “commercialised” of the islands but beautiful nonetheless). In general terms general provisions in the small Co-Op supermarket on St Marys are not massively more expensive than they would be in a similar store in the UK.

The forecast for Friday was for the Easterly to gradually fall lighter and veer SW later in the day with some drizzle and poor visibility gradually improving but it was still a shock when we awoke that morning ready for our 0800 planned departure time to see fog and visibility of less than 400M. After a quick “pow wow” we decided to leave as planned and set off following the inbound track on the chart plotter with the radar as added back-up to keep an eye on the hazards, all to port. Despite the poor visibility there was a steady 12-15 knots of breeze from the East so we set full sail as we passed to the South and West of the Seven Stones and then changed course onto a beam reach to head for our landfall off Pendeen Head on the mainland coast of Cornwall, again passing to the West of the Lands End TSS, checking the radar every 15 minutes for shipping. The visibility gradually improved in the early afternoon and Pendeen Head lighthouse loomed out of the gloom about 2 miles to starboard at 1430. By the time we were approaching the Carricks (Seal Island for the trip boats from St Ives) the wind had fallen light so we completed the passage under motor dropping anchor in about 4M 400M or so NE of Smeatons Pier, St Ives having worked out that should leave us in about 2M at low water. We rowed ashore and sampled the local brews in The Sloop, The Castle and the Kettle & Wink Bar (of the Western Hotel) before feasting on a really first class Indian meal at the Raj Put restaurant next door.

With our next destination being Padstow we weighed anchor at shortly before 0800, about low water at St Ives, so as to take the full flood up to Padstow and set full sail. Once clear of the lee of the land the wind was consistently around 20 knots from dead astern so we dropped the main close to the West of the Stones Cardinal Buoy (pretty lumpy seas there) and continued under full genoa making over 6 knots through the water, tacking downwind to keep the wind on each alternate quarter. As we approached the Quies, off Trevose Head, mist and drizzle descended and the visibility closed in but was just about good enough for us to see Gulland Rock/Island and Stepper Point as we headed for the Doom Bar which was in a benign mood we were pleased to see. We sailed up to and past the first Red channel buoy and then furled the genoa and continued up to Padstow and into the inner basin under motor where we were directed to a berth alongside the wall at one of the ladders by the friendly and helpful harbour master. Padstow is a great little harbour – right in the centre of the town and with excellent facilities for visiting craft (and quite good value at £21.50 per night for Simo).

It was like “proper holiday” at Padstow, the sun shone, we sat outside a couple of the quayside pubs having a pint, walked along the coast path to enjoy the views over the Camel estuary and Dave even entertained the holiday makers by hauling me half way up the mast to fix the steaming light.

We left at 0545 on Monday morning and, with the light Easterly forecast to gradually back round to NW and fall even lighter, decided to take the opportunity to visit Lundy Island, in the middle of the Bristol Channel about 10NM North of Hartland Point. We motored all the way and, even thought there was only 4 or 5 knots of wind, the sea was by no means smooth and there were quite a few white horses in the race and overfalls off the South end of the island. Being unsure of what is on the bottom in the landing cove we decided not to anchor and instead picked up a substantial mooring a fair way out at 1355 after the 41NM trip from Padstow. We went ashore by dingy and plodded up the steep track/road (not for those who suffer from vertigo!) up to the plateau like top of the island where there are quite a few buildings – holiday cottages, a farm, a church, a shop and perhaps more importantly, a pub – the Marisco Tavern selling “Lundy” beers brewed for them in Bideford. It’s a unique and tranquil place, although we couldn’t help thinking of the film “The Wicker Man” as we walked back down the lane at 1900 before going back aboard Simo. We moved to a mooring closer inshore marked “Warden mooring” in faded paint where we enjoyed a quiet and calm night.

Tuesday morning was overcast with a very light Westerly wind so it was again a case of motoring to our next destination, Solva in Pembrokeshire. We left at 0815 on a course for Jack Sound, the narrow channel with a “fearsome” reputation between Wooltack Point and Skomer Island. It was an easy passage with the only excitement being the approach at great speed by the range control boat from Castlemartin firing range near Milford Haven requesting us to alter course by 15° to keep us clear of the missiles they were testing later in the day (we never saw any!). We had quite a strong head tide passing Milford Haven which made us about 50 minutes late for the period of slack water in Jack Sound but the Sound was flat as we passed through the narrowest part, about 200M wide, with about 2 knots of fair tide – quite an anti-climax really! We arrived at Solva a little early at 1730 and anchored in the pool just inside the entrance for 30 minutes to await more water before going in to the Fjord like inlet and tying up on the quay wall on the N side of the harbour. We stayed in Solva for 2 nights (mooring charge £15 per night) – the harbour master is really friendly and helpful and gave us lots of advice on local walks and which were the best pubs for beer and for food (not necessarily the same!). We walked along part of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path to St Davids on Wednesday but views were limited by quite dense sea fog.

We left Solva at 0740 on Thursday bound for Fishguard planning to pass through Ramsey Sound with the last couple of hours of North going tide, with the option of going outside the Bishops and Clerks should the Sound look too rough. The wind was very light from the NE, at 5 knots or less so we set the main and motorsailed West, about a mile offshore. As we approached Ramsey Sound we could see a line of breakers to the West of Ramsey Island whereas the Sound itself looked quite calm, with white water only visible on the Bitches. The tide was running very strongly off the Bitches (we were making 5 knots through the water and 11.1 knots over the ground) so we were through in a matter of minutes in quite calm seas until we rounded St David’s Head where there were some small overfalls as we altered course to clear Strumble Head about 12NM ahead. The wind increased to 10-12 knots from the North so we turned off the engine and set full sail and beat up the coast, with the tide with us all the way to Strumble Head. The last 4 miles to Fishguard seemed to take an eternity as the tide turned and we had to stay closer inshore than we had intended, so were caught in the overfalls, to keep clear of a Stena Line Ferry coming in to Fishguard. We anchored in the allowed area in the outer harbour and rowed ashore for diesel and provisions from a garage and Tesco store near the entrance to the ferry terminal. At 1915 we weighed anchor and tied alongside the small breakwater in the inner harbour at Old Fishguard where we went ashore for a beer in the Ship Inn (famous for being used in the Moby Dick and Under Milkwood films in the mid 50’s and early 70’s respectively) and then in the Fishguard Bay Yacht Club.

We left at 0730 on Friday morning bound for Porth Dinllaen on what turned out to be the least pleasant passage of the whole holiday – the forecast was for W or SW 3-4 increasing 5 at times – it’s a pity no one told the wind as it was blowing due North at 15 knots until lunch time so, as our course was 5°M, it was a case of plodding on through the nasty chop under motor. By 1400 the wind had backed to the West but had fallen light to 5 knots or so and, by then, we had a building Spring ebb against us so we continued under engine and set the genoa to assist a little. As we approached Bardsey, leaving it about 1-1/2 miles to the East the tide was fierce against us at about 4 knots so it was slow progress – we passed outside the Tripods at around LW slack at Bardsey and carried the first of the flood up to Porth Dinllaen, where we picked up a mooring at 1950 after the 63NM passage. As we were tidying up the rain started so we stayed on board rather than go ashore to the Ty Coch Inn.

It was misty and drizzling when we left soon after 0900 on Saturday morning with hardly a breath of wind but, once out of the lee of the land, a 10-12 knot breeze from the SW filled in allowing us to enjoy a gentle sail under the genoa back to C9 off Caernarfon where we furled the sail and motored onto Simo’s mooring on the wall in the River Seiont at the end of a most enjoyable and successful fortnight’s cruise logging 506NM, about 312NM under sail and 194NM under motor.
Geoff Hilditch