By George.Curtis2 - 22 Mar 2016
St Marys – 49°55.10'N, 06°18.80'W
Tresco – 49°57.60'N, 06°20.90'W
Information provided by Adrian Davis, 07 April 2010
WE MOVED HERE in 1970 when I joined the island medical practice. In the course of my work, I’ve travelled between the five inhabited islands in all seasons, so have gleaned experience of local conditions. I’ve also been closely involved with our lifeboat over the years.
The islands lie some 27 miles SW of the tip of Cornwall – five inhabited isles surrounded by several smaller ones and numerous rocks and ledges. The largest and the administrative island, St Mary’s, has regular links to the ‘mainland’ by helicopter and fixed wing aircraft and, in the summer, a passenger ferry The Scillonian augments the regular freight ferry. CLIMATE The islands are influenced by the Gulf Stream and tend to be warmer than the rest of the UK, only on occasion suffering hard frost and rarely snow. Winters tend to be wet and windy, but sub-tropical plants survive outdoors and, before tourism took over as the mainstay of the economy, there was a large industry growing daffodils and narcissi for mainland winter markets.
APPROACHES The four main entrances are well marked. From the east, St Mary’s Sound is safe at all states of the tide, as is Broad Sound from the west. It’s possible to enter St Mary’s Road via Crow Sound around high water and from the north the Tresco Channel has deep water at all times, though the southern end dries. TIDES With a 6.2m max rise anchoring needs care. Tidal streams rarely exceed 2kn, but certain places can be rough depending on conditions. There can also be a considerable ground swell from the west.
ST MARY’S HARBOUR This is privately owned and is administered by the Duchy of Cornwall. Over 2000 yachts visit each year and the town and harbour can provide all normal facilities, though specific items such as spares may take longer to obtain than on the mainland. Visitor moorings (yellow buoys) are provided on the east side of the harbour and cruisers are requested to keep clear of the green local trots. The quay is busy in the summer serving The Scillonian, the inter-island launches, local fishing craft and approximately 25 cruise ships per year, so yachts are asked to avoid the area around the north end of the quay at all times. Anchoring is prohibited in the harbour. The harbour is open to the west and north and can become uncomfortable – in some conditions dangerous. At such times safe anchorage can be had in Porthcressa, to the south of the town. This is as close to the town and has been known to take up to 70 yachts at a time, but beware a southerly blow.
Tresco There are also laid moorings in the Tresco channel and a stop here to enjoy the sybaritic joys of that island is well worthwhile. Do not omit a dinghy trip to Bryher and a walk round Shipman Head and back with views across Hell Bay and the Norrard rocks with perhaps a stop at the hotel to refuel.
Sailing anticlockwise, St Agnes is the most isolated off island, but offers idyllic anchorages in Per Conger or the Cove, overlooked by The Turks Head Inn. A short walk takes you to the very first lighthouse built by Trinity House (1680) and further on with fine views to the west lie the fearsome western rocks marked by the historic Bishop Rock Light. Close to St Martins, the Eastern Isles can provide shelter and a chance to visit the resident Atlantic Grey seals, which may also be found on the western and northern rocks.
St Martins has great beaches and to the north lies St Helen’s Pool.
SOCIAL Many activities are supported by the community. There are over 40 listed in the local ’phone directory. You are bound to see the local six-oared pilot gigs practising and racing between the islands. These were developed for general transport between the islands and to take pilots out to incoming commercial sail, but now dominate the local sports scene.
In early May each year Scilly hosts The World Gig Championships and attracts a fleet of around 100, mainly from Cornwall. Although the Isles of Scilly cover a small area there is much to see and do, so give yourself enough time.