The Cruise – Part 18
Tuesday 20th May
Al lent me detailed charts of the Islands. I had been relying on the diagrams in Reeds Nautical Almanac and the electronic charts in my Lowrance GPS, but the latter are rather too detailed to be of much use in this location because of clutter on such a small window. Finding the way over the shallows between Tresco and Samson was made easier with Al's charts. We had a beat to windward in a fresh wind with the current helping us at first, but by the time we were to the west of St. Mary's the current was ebbing to the west and with the south east wind, making progress was slow. Our intention had been to visit the islands of Gugh and St. Agnes which are joined together by an isthmus of sand at low water, but after consulting one another on the VHF we though it more prudent to sail to Hugh Town, the main harbour of St. Mary's.
Tacking between the boats and buoys in the harbour was quite taxing, as there was no room for error, but the water was smooth, which helped because the boats carried their way. Both boats beached simultaneously as two interested people had noted our arrival and were waiting to satisfy their curiosity. They turned out to be Keith and Jack from a huge ketch beached with the aid of legs; it happens that the splendid vessel is used for trading between the Scillies and the mainland. Keith is a sailmaker.
We went to the Harbour Master's Office, but the man in question was not there; however we discovered that a person nearby was his assistant. He informed us that staying in the harbour would cost £18.00 a day per boat, plus the fact that we would not be allowed to beach them. Getting ashore with a boatman would incur more expense; we therefore moved to Porthloo beach were we set them high and dry above the boulders on a sandy incline.
When the evening meal was finished we had a walk along a narrow road to the telegraph tower and the old Coast Guard base. More visitors continued to examine our boats, including two from a stylish sloop anchored in the same bay, and a lady named Joan who owns a Tideway dinghy.
Wednesday 21st May
We had the whole day before us for exploring St. Mary's; little did we know that the rain foreast for the evening would arrive early in the afternoon.
There was a leisurely start as our boats dried out on Porthloo Beach and it wasn't until 0945 that we showed any sign of action. We ambled towards Hugh Town where we had planned to board the red open-top bus for a grand tour of the Island. At the time of departure around mid-morning the bus was full of elderly people, some with knapsacks, two or three with binoculars, and most with cameras. Our driver, who was also the commentator and owner of the bus, had a great sense of humour which helped liven up the dull historical facts of who owned the Islands and how they were governed in 1832 when the Goldophin family relinquished government to a Select Vestry. In more recent times Harold Wilson, the then Labour Prime Minister, owned a bungalow on St. Mary's which he frequently visited; indeed his wife continues to do so. At the end of a long decline with Alzheimer while being nursed at a local nursing home Lord Wilson died and he was buried in the graveyard of Old Town.
Cafes are hard to resist, and after our bus tour we found the Delicatessen cafe suited our pockets. Suitably refreshed, it was more shopping at the Co-op before returning to the boats for lunch and an ice cream on the way.
Early afternoon rain brought disappointment, as we did not fancy 'Walking in the Rain'; instead we passed the time in our hermetically sealed boats – that's apart from the open ventilation system designed for hotter climes!
Drying out our boats on the beach was debatable because of the surge, but in the end we elected to do so, which wasn't as bad as it might have been. We observed that the sandy beach had changed shape by becoming steeper than yesterday; therefore we waited for a full hour-and-a-half before letting them take the ground on less of an incline further out, but there were a few small boulders that needed missing.
Thursday 22nd May
Rain and showers were forecast, but the whole day was sunny and warm. Al and I made an early start at walking to the Longstone Heritage Centre where we hoped to find a famous small boat that had sailed across the Atlantic and perhaps further, but she was not there because the owner had fulfilled his promise and sailed her further still to his home port. Neither of us could remember the name of the boat or the name of the owner whom we believed was Scandinavian. Perhaps the name of the double-ender in ship's lifeboat style was 'Solvig', which rings a bell. No doubt a reader of this blog will know the facts. I remember sending a photo of the boat to the Microcruising Yahoo group about three years ago. Coffee and cake at the Centre made up for our disappointment. Displays of photographs showing the aftermath of a few of the many shipwrecks on the Scillies were sobering and underlined our respect for the sea.
Close to the Heritage Centre are the Carreg Dhu Gardens, although not expansive, they are intimate with displays of sub-tropical plants and trees brought there, planted and natured over several years. Nearby there's a Nature Trail that follows a stream to Porth Hellick on the south west coast of St. Mary's. Bird life in that area is prolific and I was encouraged to see and hear song thrushes which are rare in Essex where I live. The coastal cliff scenery in this area, including Peninnis Head, is spectacular; huge rocks pilled upon each other and interlocked resembling gigantic sculptures of the Henry Moore type, rounded and shaped into weird forms by the elements; colourful lichen, grasses and numerous flowers delight the eye. We found the local police and coastguards were engaged in a mock missing person search with youngsters from the Island's school. Building relationships with youth in this way is highly commendable.
At the Old Town Cafe we fortified ourselves with yet another cream tea which almost reached the high standard of the Bryher Cafe.
Back at the boats we found man passionately interested in them who took many photographs. He had seen us when we tacked into Hugh Town Harbour and had subsequently discovered photos of the boats on the Library computer.
Before we knew it, the time arrived for us to assist in floating the boats by tugging at their anchor lines when waves surged onto the beach. Sailing to New Grimsby at Tresco was a simple downwind run. There we anchored in the lee, fairly close to the shore, so as to dry out briefly before re-floating on the rising tide next morning.