Tag: Pilot Cutter

The Isles of Scilly, an Island by Island guide

Isles of Scilly St Agnes sailing boat

Set 28 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, the low-lying Isles of Scilly are small, untamed and isolated. Often bathed in warm sunshine, they offer a balmy idyll surrounded by crystal-clear waters.

Comprised of just five inhabited islands, and numerous tiny uninhabited rocks and islets, the archipelago is home to 2,200 islanders, The largest, St. Mary’s is just 2.5 square miles in size and home to the largest population – a total of 1,800 – with the other 400 Scillonians spread across Tresco, St. Martin’s, Bryher and St. Agnes. Each isle has it’s own personality, offering subtle differences from its neighbours. No visit here would be complete without experiencing them all and the best way to explore is with a Scilly sailing holiday.

St. Mary’s

For those arriving into Scilly by flight or boat, they will have their first glimpse of island life on St. Mary’s.  It may be the largest in the cluster but it’s still very small with a total circumference of just over 9 miles. Head to the ‘capital’ Hugh Town to browse an eclectic cluster of shops, galleries and the museum or soak up the sights from one of the tempting cafes and restaurants that are dotted throughout the town. As you sail into the main harbour, you can see why this island attracts too many sailors each year and with its new marina onshore facilities, the islands welcome boats from far and wide every season.

Lace-up your boots and set off on foot to uncover some of the islands Bronze Age history and the outstanding scenery that has long lured artists and wildlife enthusiasts. Take in the incredible sights from the historic 16th Century Star Castle which commands panoramic views across the archipelago or make for Old Town where you can beach comb whilst losing yourself in the peaceful hush that falls on this quieter side of the island. And if you’ve worked up an appetite after a busy day exploring then you’ll be pleased to know that nowhere is far from a delicious local eatery. – there’s even a vineyard and gin distillery to enjoy!

St. Martin’s

Home to some of the finest powder-soft white sandy beaches, visitors to St. Martin’s are often forgiven for thinking they’ve landed in the Caribbean. The miles of long white sand, backed by marram-topped dunes are deemed some of the best in Britain, they ebb away into mesmerizingly clear turquoise waters which just cry out to be swum in. It’s the perfect place to pack up a picnic and wander along the coast, exploring, beachcombing and whiling the hours away.

Aside from the beach St. Martin’s offers a natural paradise, a spectacular landscape of wild flowers, heather and gorse.  The birdlife here is exceptional with guillemots, Storm Petrels and puffins all calling the Eastern isles (which are scattered off the far tip of St. Martin’s) home. Stick around until after dark and you will be rewarded with a sky full of stars – the island boasts five dark sky sites and even a community observatory.

St. Agnes

Fondly referred to as the wild isle, St. Agnes is Britains most southwesterly outpost and is strewn with Bronze Age burial sites and barren heathland. Spirited, independent and windswept, St. Agnes offers a rugged beauty interspersed with stunning sheltered coves. The only island to be separated from the archipelago by a deep-water channel, St. Agnes is connected to the diminutive island of Gugh by a shallow sand bar that is only accessible at low tide. Stroll barefoot across to spend a few hours utterly castaway during the flooding high tide. Gugh is one of the most popular anchorages on Scilly, where you can spend the evening on deck with the most amazing sunsets and starry skies for company.

It is in part this isolation that has seen the island become a magnet for wildlife and it is here that Storm petrels and Manx shearwaters have started to breed again thanks to the highly successful Seabird Recovery Project. For those who prefer more modern comforts, fear not, St. Agnes is also home to galleries, musicians and artists’ workshops as well as the most south-westerly dairy farm in Britain which produces absolutely phenomenal ice cream!

Tresco

Manicured and sophisticated, Tresco is the only privately owned island in the chain and its luxurious appeal lures celebrities and royalty alike. Proffering fabulous beaches – both Pentle Bay and Appletree Bay jostle for attention amongst the world’s best beaches – it is the ideal place to linger and take in the sense of calm which Tresco exudes.

However, it is the incredible sub-tropical Tresco Abbey Garden for which the island is arguably best known. A botanical wonder set amidst the ruins of an ancient Benedictine priory, the gardens are home to over 20,000 plant species collected from around the globe, many of which would be unable to survive anywhere else in the UK. Whilst exploring, keep eyes out for the flash of a red squirrel – they have thrived since being introduced in 2013 and are often spotted hopping from tree to tree! Wildlife watchers will also rejoice in watching the seals and array of migratory birds that flock to Great Pool whilst history lovers can spend hours visiting the numerous heritage sites found on Tresco, including Cromwell’s Castle which guards the channel between Tresco and Bryher. And there’s no need to pack a lunch, hungry tummies can be satiated at one of the mouth-watering eateries, each serving up delicious island shellfish and local produce.

Bryher

Beautiful Bryher, an island of rugged cliffs and secluded coves, of wonderful contrast and overflowing with charm. Just one and a half miles in length by half a mile wide, this tiny isle packs a punch with countless artists and creative spirits inspired by its magical charms including author Michael Morpurgo. Indeed, Bryher is the location for the film When the Whales Came, filmed on the island back in 1988.

However, you do not need to be a creative type to be captivated by Bryher’s allure. Experience the stillness of the southern shores with their shell-strewn beaches and rich aquamarine waters. Venture up the granite stacks of Shipman Head to storm watch and embrace the wilder side of Bryher or circumnavigate the coastline via the seven hills, none of which rise more than 150 feet.

The island is also home to an abundance of tempting island produce. Indulge in heavenly freshly-prepared paella, cook up some Bryher bangers and farm produce on a barbecue, or treat yourself to some delicious Veronica Farm fudge and Crab Shack delights – yum!

Discover the Isles of Scilly with one of our sailing holidays >

You can choose to sail over to the Isles of Scilly from Cornwall or Devon, with voyages departing from Falmouth, Penzance Plymouth or Brixham. The trip over the 28 miles to the islands can take a full day of sailing, depending on the winds, but once you are over there you have the freedom to tour via boat with opportunities to step ashore each day and explore the islands on foot. If you’re not keen to sail over to the Isles of Scilly then you can charter the Scillionian classic boat Pettifox who spends her summers on St Mary’s where she will meet guests off the planes and ferry to host them on board for a week or a weekend. Sail the islands and stop off each day to explore and enjoy the local food or cook out on the beach with a BBQ and watch the sun go down. A sailing holiday on the Isles of Scilly is a truly magical experience unlike any other sailing adventure in the UK.

A seasonal guide to sailing in Cornwall

Sailing guide to Cornwall Helford

Cornwall for many is the UK’s favourite holiday destination. With its astonishingly diverse and picturesque coastline, stunning sandy beaches and meandering streets in ancient fishing ports, Cornwall has so much to offer. A sailing holiday in Cornwall is the perfect way to experience a more undiscovered Cornwall, away from the crowds with local skippers as your guide.

Over the centuries, our nation’s foundations have been built on the age of sail and Cornwall played an integral part in the design and construction of wooden sailing boats. Today, Pilot cutters, trading schooners, rowing gigs and fishing smacks have all stood the test of time and offer a huge amount of pleasure to all who visit the county.

Escaping to the outdoors for the freedom of the sea and fresh air after the restrictions of 2020 has never been more needed. Thankfully, with a sailing holiday in Cornwall, you can explore the coasts and rivers at your leisure aboard a wonderful historic fleet of comfortable sailing vessels; each one superbly restored and hosted by wonderful captains and crew.

Spring sailing in Cornwall

Wake up from winter and spend a Spring weekend sailing in Cornwall. Find Bessie Ellen in the picturesque port of Fowey with its charming narrow streets and coloured cottages stretching the foreshore. It’s no wonder that the ancient town of “Foye” is such a mecca for outdoor sailing enthusiasts who come from afar to explore this perfect little estuary.

Explore the waters of St Austell bay, shielded by Dodman point and dominated by the Cornish Alps – the remains of China Clay spoils once so important to the historic harbours of Charlestown and Par. On returning to Fowey, the stark red and white bands of the Gribben Head day mark.  Built in 1832, the daymark was constructed to avoid confusion to mariners mistaking the shallow reefs of the bay with the deeper estuary of Falmouth further down the coast.

Eda Frandsen shakes of her winter blues and sets sail from Falmouth under new ownership with the lovely Mungo & Stella. The historic port of Falmouth provides an ideal starting point for a sailing holiday in Cornwall, exploring the river where each bend reads like a book, opening a new story on each turn. A morning walk ashore is one of the most relaxing ways to begin your sailing adventure as oystercatchers chatter away, herons clack in the branches and the quiet cormorants dive with a satisfying plop.

As the river gives way to mud banks, the spires of Truro glint in the morning sun.  Winding back towards the sea, the Fal is truly one of the great British rivers and remarkably unspoiled on all banks. The sea beckons, and with Stella’s fabulous bakery below from her tiny galley, munch contentedly on cake and she will happily divulge the secrets of the Helford river. Equally enchanting, the Helford is a smaller river hiding creeks and quays along the way. Daphne Du Maurier penned her famous Frenchman’s Creek after a sailing voyage from Fowey with her father. Today, the Helford is a place of absolute tranquillity and is surely a little bit of heaven on earth, and a must-see for any private charter sailing holiday in Cornwall.

Pilot Cutters unite!

The clatter of blocks and the crack of the canvas never fails to excite as the fleet assembles in the bay of St Mawes for the annual Pilot Cutter Review in May.  Over four days, Pilot Cutters of all ages, from new-builds to restorations, gather together to cruise in company along the coast to Fowey and back before rejoicing in friendly racing around the cans in the famous Carrick roads.  Join Pilot Cutters Agnes and Pellew as they join this spectacle of sailing along the Cornish coast.

Shanties and classic sailing in Falmouth

If you love the sea and you love a shanty, then the Cornish town of Falmouth hosts one of her biggest summer events in June, the Classic Boat rally combined with the increasingly popular Sea Shanty Festival. Street markets, food stalls and singers fill the streets, pubs infused with Breton stripe clad revellers resound with harmonies of John Kanaka and Fair Spanish Ladies.

From all over Europe, singers come together in song and friendship, keeping alive the old sea shanty traditions. Out on the water, graceful classic yacht Escape, traditional trawler Pilgrim of Brixham and gaff cutter Pettifox liven the bay with other classic boats, joining the parades of sail and friendly races that take place throughout the weekend before the tired sailors retreat to a corner of a warm and friendly pub to join in the merry singing.

Summer river sailing along the Tamar

Think lazy summer days spent messing about on a river. Life could not be more carefree as our traditional Tamar barge Lynher slides gently on the tide from the wide mouth of Plymouth sound up through the marshlands of the Tamar River. This great river divides the two counties of Cornwall and Devon and navigable upstream from the mouth a Cremyll.

Today, the industrial mines of tin in this region of Cornwall lie quiet, but the once busy quays are still there – famous Cothele, quiet Haldon and majestic Morwelham each have a unique story.

The banks of the meandering river come alive with wildfowl in the early evening light and a gentle peace descends over gently rolling hills after the heat of the day.  Well away from the tourist trails, the Tamar Valley is a real gem of a destination to explore. Great walks lead to historic monuments all wrapped in the unspoiled woodland valleys. Perfect for a family sailing holiday and private charter weekend away in Cornwall.

Be part of the historic Tall Ships race

Falmouth has once again been chosen as host port to the magnificent Tall Ships Race as they set off on the start of the Magellan – Elcano 500 Series, celebrating 500 years of the first circumnavigation, crossing Biscay to La Coruna before heading south to the famous ports of Lisbon and Cadiz. 

Falmouth is particularly suited to hosting the regatta, from St Anthony’s head to Helford, Flushing and Pendennis, everyone can enjoy a day on the cliff tops in the clean sea air, relishing in the excitement as the all Tall Ships and their crews prepare for their own adventures. 

Or perhaps you want to be closer to the action onboard Escape or Pettifox as they offer guests the chance to sail in Falmouth Bay and see the start of the Tall Ships Race and join the parade of sail. A sight not to be missed!

Head to the islands from Cornwall

As legend has it, the Isles of Scilly are all that remain of the ancient land of Lyonesse but today the Isles of Scilly are the perfect sailing holiday getaway. There is no better way to explore than by sailing boat, discovering new bays and anchorages, wildlife spotting of the Western Rocks or walking barefoot in powder white sand. 

Many of our fleet of sailing vessels visit the islands, but none are more suited to the area than Agnes, a true Isles of Scilly pilot cutter and gaff cutter Pettifox who was built on islands.  Built specifically for the sea around the islands, both boats have a shallow draft so are able to venture into some of the more isolated spots around St Martin and Tresco, and the hidden island of all – Gugh. 

With so much turquoise water and wonderful beaches, being in the water as much as on it is a must, netting prawns in the Tresco shallows is a favourite way to idle away the afternoon. Plants and gardens are very much a part of the island industry with plenty to visit or walk the gentle paths between old flower fields   Whatever the weather or time of year, the islands impart a little magic to everyone who comes here and leaves you wanting more of this simple way of life.

The history of Pilot Cutters and how these boats are sailing today

Agnes under sail classic boat sailing Cornwall

Imagine, it’s 1837 and you are the captain of an enormous wooden merchant ship, sailing into dangerous waters full of sandbars and submerged rocks, attempting to reach port after a lengthy voyage. Your vessel is fully laden with a precious cargo of cotton and tobacco and both your crew, and yourself, are utterly exhausted after weeks at sea, wishing nothing more than for someone to take the helm from you in these last, most difficult moments.  Reaching for your brass telescope you scan the horizon for a certain something that gives a glimmer of hope, then finally you spot it: a boat, perhaps 50 feet or so, making towards your starboard bow at a galloping pace. Exhaling a huge sigh of relief, you instruct your men to ‘heave-to’, able to relax at last, for the pilot cutter is here. 

This may sound a little dramatic but pilot cutters were often the saviours to larger vessels needing to head into port. Swift, agile sailing boats they had experienced sailors at the helm, each equipped with in-depth knowledge of local waters and able to safely guide the bigger ships safely into harbour, often through treacherous waters. Operated as a freelance service, pilots would strive to lead as many ships into port as they could to ensure a hefty profit. The more nimble the vessel, the quicker a larger ship could be reached which in turn meant that faster vessels became more profitable. 

Originally based on single-mast fishing boats, pilot cutters evolved a deep hull shape, a gaff rig and a long bowsprit with room for jibs in order to increase speed and manoeuvrability. The design of the cutters changed rapidly between the 17th-19th Centuries, sped up by the increased competition for business. 

Constantly outdoing other pilot cutters, of which there were many, was a top priority. Like all competitive evolutionary traits, survival favoured the fittest – and in this context, the pilot cutters not only needed to be fast and nimble, but they also needed to strike a balance between speed and crew size – more crew meant a higher wage bill.  Many of the smaller cutters working the Bristol Channel could be operated with just two crew; the skipper and the apprentice. In some cases, if there was a ship to be brought up river, the skipper offered his services as a pilot, leaving the cutter in the hands of the apprentice to sail it back.  

However, speed and agility weren’t the only requirements – ‘seaworthiness’ was also an essential part of the design brief. Off the coast of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly pilot cutters would fill their berths with experienced pilots before waiting out in the Western Approaches, often for several days, patiently anticipating approaching vessels. As soon as tall masts loomed on the horizon, the Captain would drop the knowledgeable Pilot off to schooners, brigs and barques to sail as fast as possible, ensuring they were first to arrive and offer their services.

As ever, times change and the arrive of maritime steam power saw the role of the traditional wooden cutter change indefinitely at the start of the 20th Century. Many traditional pilot cutters were sold off as private yachts to make room for the faster, more manoeuvrable steamboats. Yet the name ‘cutter,’ with its connotation of the provision of a maritime service, lived on and is still used today for customs boats in both the UK and the US. 

Proving that the legacy of the Pilot Cutter is strong, Cornish Shipwright Luke Powell has dedicated much of his time over the last 20 years to faithfully reconstructing numerous Scilly pilot cutters.  Luke has also established the Truro-based ‘Rhoda Mary’ Shipyard where, along with his team of skilled shipwrights, he has recreated a  replica of the Falmouth pilot cutter “Vincent” using only traditional wooden boat building methods. 

These fantastic traditional boats offer a thrilling sailing experience to both the novice and seasoned sailor and VentureSail are thrilled that both ‘Pellew’ and ‘Agnes’ will be part of our Cornish sailing charter fleet. Sailing on the very waters on which they plied their trade so many years ago, both vessels provide the opportunity for guests to taste a little bit of history as these nifty wooden boats skim their way across the waves, imagine a larger, tall-masted wooden vessel is in their wake. 

View Pellew’s voyages as she sails the coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Hebrides.

Sail with Agnes as she explores Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.