Scilly Sailing – Lou’s Story

Scilly Sailing – Lou’s Story

Having returned from her week as a guest on Leader, Lou Bolter decided to put pen to paper to describe her experience of sailing to the Isles of Scilly. It was her first holiday of this kind…


The beautiful old Brixham fishing trawler ‘Leader’ was built in the WA Gibbs shipyard in Galmpton Creek, on the river Dart, Devon in 1892 . . . and she’s still sailing.


She is now part of the Brixham based Trinity Sailing Foundation. A registered charity with aims to preserve historic vessels plus assisting in the personal development of young people. So very similar to the Steamship Freshspring Trust based in Bideford, North Devon.


Miraculously I was offered a last minute place on the August 3rd voyage sailing out of Falmouth to The Scilly Isles for six nights. My previous sailing experiences has been strictly warm weather in the Caribbean laced with the odd rum punch or two, so this was to be an adventure into the unknown!


Leader was tied up on the Pen Dennis Marina, she stood out from all the other craft with her black hull and red “boot top” waterline. Stepping aboard, my eyes were immediately drawn to the beautifully worn timber, almost sculptural, cleats and blocks. Throwing my bag on a bunk (previously a hold for fish) her soul had already touched me.


There were six crew and 12 guests, after our health & safety briefing and tea and cake we set off.
Her itinerary is always subject to change due to weather conditions and in planning the best sail skipper Mark decided we should anchor up for the night not far from Falmouth in Mullion Bay as the whole south coast was experiencing large swells.


At anchor we rolled and the old lady creaked (apparently caused by the modern infrastructure within the wooden hull). A superb dinner (all food included) was served up in the spacious saloon, prepared by Neil who prefers to be a ‘cook’ rather than a ‘chef’. As we 18 humans chatted excitedly everyone, myself included, started to go a bit green…. I made it through pudding ! So feeling rather smug I later climbed into my cosy bunk, then from nowhere I too succumbed and joined my new mates on deck where we compared seasick remedies.


Participation in crewing was optional as this was not a ‘training’ voyage. We were a mixed bunch, some serious sailors (the logoed well worn clothing was a big clue) others just wanting to see the Scillies whilst learning some maritime skills on the way. Stefan, the Bosun demonstrated various skills required for a traditional sailing vessel including: retracting the bowsprit (what a surprise and so practical), sail changing (super heavy), anchor work (a huge big old anchor that you usually only see in museums or pirate films) and the importance of listening to instructions, also life jackets to be worn at all times on deck whilst sailing.


During our voyage Mark allowed us to helm using the compass or flag directions to stay on course.
My attempt at this was not good.


Anchor up and sails set (muscle power involving sweating and tailing ropes, not a winch in sight) we left for St Martins. On the horizon numerous yachts appeared, more and more, tacking and flying with the good winds, it was the Fastnet Race!


More excitement occurred when dolphins joined in the party. We anchored off the north shore, the Zodiac dinghy was launched, which involved rigging up the ‘derrick’ an we went ashore to a deserted beach strewn with shells. I climbed a hill through clouds of heather, ferns and butterflies, choosing not to go further I turned and there down on the beach one of my shipmates had donned a wet suit and was snorkelling!


Back onboard we had another great meal, the wine flowed, we laughed a lot and someone strummed a guitar whilst Neil, our cook, sang sea shanties and regaled us with tales.


Next morning our destination was to be New Grimsby Bay on Tresco, however skipper Mark decided to take us for a sail first, so with a mizzen, staysail, flying jib and main set we headed out to sea. Apparently the seas were slight to moderate with a few three metre waves thrown in. For most of us the biggest seas we had experienced. Personally I gloried in seeing this old lady confidentially tackling the wind and waves under the expert steering of Mark. My respect for both was sealed.


We went ashore clutching towels to have a shower, which was conveniently located in a pub, so we
had a pint whilst we waited in the short queue. First impressions as I wandered over to the pub were, it was all so clean. Tresco employees busily going about their chores, wearing neatly logoed uniforms
whilst riding equally smart basketed bicycles. The holiday makers driving around it in branded golf carts, some might say a tad Disney, however all very lovely. Beautiful swathes of blue Agapanthus everywhere.


The following morning, after another wonderful breakfast (porridge seemed to be popular) we went
ashore again to explore. The Abbey Gardens (started in 1834) extend over grounds surrounding the remains of 12th century St. Nicholas Priory. Famed for its tropical plants you could be forgiven for thinking you were in another country, definitely worth a visit.


At the start of my adventure copious notes were made but by this point it was all so exciting meeting new friends, sailing and sojourns on shore that all note making ceased. So this account becomes a blur of wonderful experiences……


During the afternoon the artist side of me kicked in with a few sketch book pieces whilst sitting in the sunshine on the stern. Arriving in St Mary’s early morning, Leader briefly tied up quayside to refuel then anchored out in the harbour. After this we were free to go ashore for as long as we liked, the dingy was available for returning to the boat at two hour intervals, all perfect.


The island offers many walks, criss-crossing over the centre and spectacular coastal walks with views over crystal clear blue sea. After walking and the mandatory ice cream cone a few of us headed to The
Mermaid Pub situated almost on the quay to wait for the last dinghy back. More delicious food that night which was rounded off with a cheese board and port!! Yes we passed it to the left…..


To avoid the imminent storm we sailed out a day earlier, homeward bound, but not before we had a
front row view of St Mary’s ladies gig race. With many boats accompanying them, shouting support they passed us (still at anchor) rowing into a spectacular sunset swept by dramatic pre- storm clouds.


We left lovely St Mary’s. That big old anchor was pulled up and we set off to sail over night heading for
Helford River to anchor there for a barbecue lunch before returning to Falmouth. I remained on deck
hoping to see a starry sky between the brooding clouds. We did have peeps of possibly Orion’s Belt but just as I thought I would turn in for the night the dolphins came to play, silver gorgeousness!


The following morning our last breakfast became ‘brunch’ (inclement weather meant no barbecue) and what a treat, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, burgers, sausages.


Falmouth was celebrating ‘Falmouth Week’ so Leader could not tie up quayside, instead we nudged up against a friendly and very welcoming Dutch sailing vessel (I’m sure there is a technical term for this) complete with her own jet ski and a clutch of bicycles.


Unable to grasp the fact that this superb experience was at an end we had to say goodbyes. Very awkwardly, holding onto skipper Mark’s hand I eased down a very narrow and angled plank to reach the quayside. More hugs with everyone then we went our separate ways.


Lou Boulter travelled and lived all over the world before settling in North Devon where she finds
inspiration for her artwork. She recently completed the line drawings for the ‘Welcome Aboard’ brochure given to all visitors on SS Freshspring.