By Dick Beaumont
The first time I visited the Scilly Isles was as a seven-year-old boy in 1960 for a family holiday. My dad had booked a flight out from Lands End Airport to St Mary’s to stay at a guest house there.
“The Scillies had begun to weave its magical spell on me, but not in any kind of a way I could have imagined.”
On the morning of the day before our departure to Cornwall, my mother woke in dread of what would have been our first ever flight. My father was in total despair as my mother insisted we would not get on the plane because a dream had foretold that the plane would crash. She was a very determined woman and despite all the tears and cajoling, she stood fast. Instead, we drove to Penzance harbour and caught the Scillonian ferry. My mother and father hardly spoke on the entire drive down to Cornwall.
The trip across to the Scillies was uneventful but as the ferry came into St Mary’s Harbour the small plane we should have been on, passed us overhead and flew straight into the hillside. Tragically there were no survivors. People on the ferry screamed but my dad just looked at my mum, and neither of them said a word. Spooky but true.
I last dived the Scillies in late August 1997. The week was memorable for completely different reasons compared to the idyllic week we had there the previous year. We had run the 32nm out to St Mary’s in our 6.5m dive rib and two days after our arrival a massive summer storm hit the Scillies, but we couldn’t get a weather forecast due to all shipping forecasts being suspended while the BBC reported on the death of Princess Diana in Paris. Unbelievable but true, we nor any other mariner could get a weather forecast for two days, and we needed to run 32nm across open sea to get back to the mainland.
Fortunately, the weather did settle down and I was able to dive the infamous Seven Stones reef, which is halfway between the Scilly Isles and the English mainland’s most western point, Lands End. This reef was the scene of Britain’s biggest ecological disaster, the wreck of the Torrey Canyon.
The diving and the islands themselves are really fantastic. There are literally hundreds of shipwrecks around the Scillies and when combined with underwater visibility often exceeding 30m, it’s easy to be drawn back there time after time. You’ll think you’ve been on a flight to the tropics; the colour and variety of the reefs and wrecks will astound you.
Wrecks such as the Italia, King Cadwallon, Minnihaha, Plympton and Hathor (two wrecks one lying across the other) were all excellent, but two wrecks still live bright in my memory 24 years later:
The wreck of the Douro, is more a wreck site than the visible wreck of the slave trader that sank in January 1843, but it’s grisly treasure, slave bangles, is what still draws divers to the area today. I found several of these artefacts wedged in the cracks and crevices of the Round Rock reef. I’m pleased to tell you that the Douro sank on the
way out from Britain, so the bangles were unused as they headed out to Africa to take on their appalling cargo.
The wreck of the Cita was unforgettable because she sank just 5 months before I dived her and curtains still wafted in and out of some of the portholes. The wreck had not fully settled and as we dived the intact, but fatally damaged ship, she ‘groaned’ eerily as her steel hull protested at her resting place.
After more than 20 years on the sea bed, she has been fully claimed by the sea now. Her encrusted decks sit upside down and twisted in the cool waters of the Atlantic, home now to cuckoo wrasse, seals and every colour of anemone you could ever imagine.
If the wrecks don’t attract you the underwater topography will. The beautiful reefs, canyons, walls and drop-offs are so full of life they match coral reefs anywhere in the world and with seals, sharks and dolphins abounding, you’ll never know which way to look or point your camera.
I cannot recommend the Scilly Isles and the diving highly enough. As I write this article my memories of the strewn reefs and remote archipelago are drawing me back there. I called Dick Durham and proposed that we sail there once again, but this time in the most suitable vessel I could imagine for a voyage back into history, Betty II, Dick’s 100-year-old classic centre boarded gaffer.
Look out for another story in Ocean Sailor about the fascinating Scilly Isles and our exploits on Betty II.
Contact Izzy Godden of Isles of Scilly Dive Charters for the best information for diving the Scillies contact her on +44 755 2145737 or firstname.lastname@example.org I know Izzy will give you the best of Scilly welcomes and show you the very best dive sites.
You’ll need an 8mm wetsuit, or better still a dry suit. Although the climate is subtropical over much of the islands, the cold water comes up from deep in the North Atlantic.
If you’re looking for accommodation in the Scillies look no further than Schiller Holiday Suites owned and run by Dave and Sarah Mc Bride., Dave used to run a dive charter business there so you’ll get great accommodation and some tips on the best dive sites to head for.
Contact them on 01720 423162 or email email@example.com
By Dick Beaumont