Scilly Isles Sea Paddling

30th September – 4th October 2010

The Isles of Scilly have been on my “must do” list for ages so when Miranda suggested a Club trip / reccie out there it was something that could not be turned down.  After all this was just the sort of trip the Club was set up to do!

It was a very small group from CKC – five – who headed out by different modes – road, rail, sea and air.  All slightly concerned about the absolutely rubbish weather forecast for the weekend!

Geoff, Miranda, Debs and Toons opted for a hellishly early start and drove down to Lands End from London (or in Geoff’s case Scotland!) and then a short hop by plane to St Mary’s and arrived on the Thursday afternoon.   True to form, I went with the low carbon option and took the sleeper to Penzance on Thursday night and the Scillonian III ferry on Friday morning.  I also had the benefit of having no luggage restrictions so I got to take all my paddling gear (!).


The seas were damn rough on the way over and taking Rob Davis’ (from Seapoint Canoe Centre) tip I headed as low as I could go and grabbed one of the bunks and went to sleep – after all the ferry is not nicknamed the “vomit comet” by the locals for nothing!

I arrived into Hugh Town dock (St Mary’s) feeling pretty good – all things considered – on Friday lunchtime.  I thought the others may already be on the water but no – the weather was just too bad in the morning and had opted for shopping instead (albeit Toons just stayed in bed apparently).  Trudging through the wet streets of Hugh Town I grabbed a taxi to the cottage in Porthlow and I was told we were all heading out in less than an hour to venture on to the sea.  Chris from Kayak Scilly (where we were hiring the boats from) had briefed the others the day before about the tides, tidal streams and weather and was optimistic that the weather would clear in the afternoon – we were less than sure (as it turned out we should have had more faith).

We headed over to where the boats were kept with the rough plan of heading out into St Mary’s Pool and northwards along its coast (nothing too adventurous).  A quick chat was had with Murray, we grabbed the boats (a mix of P&H Capella’s, Wilderness Systems Sealution’s and a Dagger Atlantis) and we were off.  The going was tough against the north-westerly wind that was coming straight at us with some pretty big swell as well.  However, as we headed further out away from the coast onto “The Road” the wind pretty much instantly died and the sun started to shine through the clouds with more and more blue sky appearing.  An instant decision was made and we headed straight for Tresco.   As we approached the island inquisitive seals suddenly appeared in front of us – this was to become a common sight over the next few days.  Geoff, Toons and I pulled up onto the beach between Crab’s Ledge and Green Island to have a bit of a wander.  Meanwhile the girls decided to get the fishing line out and bob about a bit.

We turned westwards along the southern coast of Tresco and paddled over to Samson to have a look at what the Atlantic swell was up to.   Geoff decided to jump onto Samson’s sandy beach and claim it as his own!  We then made our way back southwards before heading back to St Mary’s.   We all got changed and headed into town for food at the Mermaid Inn.

Total estimated distance paddled:  9.4 km or 5.2 nautical miles.


We had a plan to be on the water by 10am – hmmm – I see Debs and Geoff have perhaps not been on many trips with the rest of us before!  However, amazingly we were on the water by 10.30am – got to be a record?  Chris had phoned in with an updated forecast in the morning and we had an outline plan of heading across to Tresco, up between Bryher and Tresco and poking our noses out to see what the Atlantic was doing and whether to go around the tip of Tresco and back down its east coast.  We had a southerly wind with us for the open crossing – at Tresco, Toons had a quick pit stop to adjust his footrests and we continued northwards.  The sights and landscapes on either side of us were amazing as we approached Hangman Island (the locals had even put a mock gallows with a skeleton hanging from it…) and Cromwell’s castle on the northwest point of Tresco.  We poked our noses out into some pretty big swell and after a quick chat decided we’d have to venture out quite a way to avoid the breaking swell and clapotic waves that were occurring a modest distance from the shore.  So we turned back and pulled up on Bryher’s beach and had lunch and coffee at Fraggle Rock Cafe (!).

Back on the water we headed southwards along Bryher’s coast and decided to semi-circumnavigate Samson, picking our lines carefully along its west coast to avoid being beaten broadside onto rocks by the breaking swell and surf.  A few seals hailed their hellos as we paddled through.  Toons taking the lead decided to go for a wave which nearly ended in tears with him being flipped and having to resort to a punt off the bottom (or Italian as we call it) to get himself up (but hey whatever works I guess).

After a bit of a session practising in some surf on the southerly tip of Samson we pulled up on its sandy beach to explore it a bit.  Samson is the largest uninhabited island in Scilly and comprises two hills which are connected by an isthmus on which its former inhabitants built cottages – the remains of which can still be seen (it was depopulated in 1855).  We headed up North Hill to take in the views across to Bryher, Tresco and St Mary’s and could even see across to the Bishop’s Rock Lighthouse beyond St Agnes.

We then headed back across to St Mary’s with very little wind and glorious sunshine.  Most of the group practised their rolls and rescues before heading in to get changed and eat in the Mermaid Inn again (as it turned out everywhere else had stopped serving at a stupidly early time!).

Total estimated distance paddled:  17.3 km or 9.6 nautical miles.


Sunday was supposed to be a complete wipe out with severe weather predicted.  However, when we woke up things could not be further from the truth – it was an amazing day.  The plan was to head across “The Road” and along the east coast of Tresco.  There was very little wind and the seas were pretty smooth going as we paddled across with some amazing views across to the Eastern Isles in the sunshine.

We took our time paddling along Tresco’s sandy east coast, past Old Grimsby and its Blockhouse and landed on Northwethel to look across to Men-a-vaur (Murray had said it was possible to time the swell and shoot between its rocks).  It looked seriously choppy out there with crashing waves going through it every 4 to 5 seconds or so.  After a quick bite to eat as a group we headed out to Men-a-vaur to get a bit closer, picking our route carefully past the various rocks and surf zones along the way.  Paddling through some pretty big swell it was clear that it was not going to be possible to shoot through, not without significant risk of injury.  As we turned around to head back to head towards St Helens – I caught a glimpse of a fin, we all turned to look and saw a dolphin jump literally metres from our boats (amazing!).  Unfortunately no time for photos as the swell was so big we did not want to hang around.

I pulled up on to St Helens to look at the remains of its ‘Pest House’ (a quarantine station) – in the 1760s an Act of Parliament decreed that any ship approaching the British isles via Scilly would have to abandon any of its passengers or crew who showed signs of any contagion in the stone quarantine station on St Helen’s until they either died or recovered (most did not recover).

The group headed off towards Tean and Tean Sound – Geoff and Toons opting for a route which took them between Pednbrose and Tean whereas the rest of us paddled around the north of Pedbrose.  Reunited we headed towards Lower Town on St Martin’s to grab a coffee and cake.  Luckily we came across a local couple in a tandem sea kayak who informed us that the cafe was shut but to go further on and pull in at Old Quay in Higher Town, head up the road and Polreath Cafe should be open – and indeed it was (no substitute for local knowledge!).  Cream teas and cake were had by all.

We headed back across “The Road” past the Eastern Isles to the northerly tip of St Mary’s and back along its coast to Hugh Town.  We pulled up the boats, rinsed the kit and head back to the cottage to chill out and cook up all food we’d bought.

Total estimated distance paddled:  18.7 km or 10.4 nautical miles.


No paddling was to be had on Monday as we had to pack up to go our various ways back to the mainland – which was a shame because the weather was probably even better than the previous few days.

All in all an amazing trip and with the weather forecast against us from the start we were damn lucky.  The weather got progressively better each day we were there.  I guess the Isles of Scillydoes not mean the “Sun Isles” for nothing!   Many thanks to Miranda for organising!

Getting to Scilly is the hardest part!  Once there it is a truly unique environment and has something for all sea kayakers – stunning landscapes, seas to cater for all abilities, diverse wildlife, limited traffic on the water and not many people around to bother you.   CKC will be heading back there in the future that’s for sure – the only thing is do we opt to paddle there from the mainland next time?


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