SCILLY SEASON
Classic Boat|February 2021
Max Campbell won our ‘Classic Boater’ award in 2018 when, aged 20, he sailed across the Atlantic in the tiny Flying Cloud. This time, the Scillies are far enough
MAX CAMPBELL
“It’s like a whole new world I never knew existed”, Lydia said as we pulled out of Penzance Harbour and set the sails. Mounts Bay is sheltered from the north-westerly, and we spend the morning ghosting through the wind shadow. It’s a calm, sunny morning – with little pearly clouds that hang motionless in the sky. The water is a deep-empty blue, broken up by the occasional compass jellyfish. A light breeze fills in, and we pass the remainder of West Penwith before poking out into the Western Approaches.

FLYING CLOUD

There are three of us on board Flying Cloud, a 22ft (6.7m) carvel sloop. My first proper boat – she was my home for years, and we sailed to the Caribbean and back together. A weekend cruiser set up for blue-water sailing with a little sprayhood and a homemade wind vane. The ultimate yacht for a shoestring budget.

Last year I sold her to a guy called Andy, who lived in Topsham, Devon. It was where she was built, and he planned to sail her back there. I thought this was a nice way to end the 10,000-mile round trip that she’d completed over the last few years. I was sad to see her go, but found comfort in the thought she’d still be sailing with someone else. Unfortunately for Andy, due to Covid he was stuck in New Zealand. After an exchange of sporadic WhatsApp messages, he offered to let me use her for the season.

Ecstatic at having the chance to go sailing, I arranged to have Flying Cloud lifted into the water. Two years on the hard had led to many gaps in the planking, wide enough to let sunlight through. For the first few tides, the bilge pumps fired constantly. We left her at the top of the slipway on her beaching legs. The leaking slowed after a few days, and at low tide I managed to stop the worst of it with a squeeze of Sikaflex.

A SUMMER CRUISE

To escape the seasonal crowds, we set off on a passage to the Isles of Scilly. The Scillies are a small archipelago made up of both inhabited and uninhabited islands lying 22 miles to the west of Lands End. My friends Beth and Lydia decide to come along too. They have little sailing experience, yet are keen to experience life on a small boat, despite the lack of both standing headroom and a heads of any sort.

As we leave Land’s End in our wake, a thick fog fills in, smothering the sight of land. The stretch of water between Lands End and the Isles of Scilly isn’t like open ocean sailing. The shallow bathymetry, coupled with strong tidal currents, results in short, steep waves. Occasionally a disorderly sea slops onto the foredeck, crashing over the deck and cascading into the cockpit.

LANDFALL IN THE SCILLIES

The 30-mile passage from Penzance to the Scillies takes about seven hours. In the late afternoon, faint silhouettes of islands appear on the horizon. There’s something almost mystical about the rugged, uninhabited Eastern Isles. I’m struck by the raw beauty of the scenery. Seabirds weave between granite formations, and the archipelago opens up in front of us, revealing a countless collection of small islands and rock formations.

It reminds me of my previous visit to the islands in Flying Cloud, arriving from the other direction. After a two-week passage from the Azores, the impressive Bishop Rock Lighthouse rose up from the horizon. It was surreal to see a structure so grand, after becoming familiar with empty blue horizons. I decided it was my favourite landfall of the entire Atlantic circuit.

This time around, the sun drenches everything in a soft orange glow. We sail upwind towards a large anchorage between several uninhabited islands. We anchor next to my family on Marie, as the fading light glistens on her new iroko wheelhouse.

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