After bringing Equinox back from Europe, Hamish and his family enjoy cruising the Scillies and other islands close to home.

Now in his 82nd year, my father Ewen reluctantly ended a nearly 50-year relationship with his much-loved and well-used succession of yachts as the last of four Black Velvets went to a new owner in the spring.

This emotional event, sad as it was, freed up her mooring on the tranquil upper reaches of one of the most beautiful estuaries in the south west of England, the Yealm.

The river is upstream from the bustle of Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers, but only half a pleasant hour to the open sea – this delightful area is Equinox’s new home.

Another event coinciding with this was some unexpected inheritance passed on to me from my grandfather who died more than 40 years ago; considerably boosting the modest Equinox fund.

Aerial view of Old Grimsby Sound, Isles of Scilly, with Teän. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

Aerial view of Old Grimsby Sound, Isles of Scilly, with Teän. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

An enjoyable list was drawn up and Equinox was now ready for family cruising in home waters again. And so, four days after my son Jacob finished his GCSEs in early July, the two of us cast off our mooring at 1900 and slipped out of the Yealm.

We had a favourable tide under us and a fair wind for cruising the . This was partly billed as a pre-day skipper cruise for Jacob but also an opportunity to visit this stunning archipelago.

The night was clear and often accompanied by phosphorescent dolphins. In a pleasant north- westerly, we caught the tide past the Lizard at the break of day and were closing in on the archipelago by lunchtime.

Arriving at low tide we anchored in 2.5m on sand just north-west of Great Ganinick. We then slept, waiting for the flood to allow us across the flats west of Guther’s island to one of our favourite spots just north of the channel running south of Teän.

The delightful harbour of Polperro, now with four trot moorings. Payment can be made at the Blue Peter Inn.

The delightful harbour of Polperro, now with four trot moorings. Payment can be made at the Blue Peter Inn. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

So at dusk, as the tide allowed, we threaded our way north and spent a quiet starlit night in perfect shelter.

The next few days passed with simple pleasures of good food and relaxed walks on the surrounding islands, filling our time until the evening of the third day when we slipped north out of Old Grimsby and took the light north-westerly wind towards the Lizard.

The crew walking across La Coupée bridge to Little Sark.

The crew walking across La Coupée bridge to Little Sark. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

Bird’s eye view

Jacob was now fully involved in the passage planning and was standing his own night watches, seeing in the dawn. As the morning developed, the wind dropped and Falmouth remained not far off to the north.

I thought I’d try and fly the drone for only the second time whilst sailing. (The first time resulted in a crash requiring a new drone and acquiring a badly sliced thumb, hence the trepidation.)

Shortly after safely landing the drone, we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins. Still in photo shoot mode, we attached the GoPro to the windsurfer mast and ended up with wonderful underwater videos of three dolphins surfing our bow wave.

Dolphins join in.

Dolphins join in. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

The wind started to fill in strongly from the north, solidifying a decision for a quiet night and we headed for the upper reaches of the River Fowey. The next day found us planning a visit to Polperro where they have laid two additional moorings, doubling the capacity in this delightful little fishing village.

The 10-quid fee, paid in the pub, gave little to quibble about, so we spent a lazy day swimming, relaxing and planning an overnight stay in Looe harbour the next night.

Drying out in Looe is an obligatory part of our cruises along this coast as Clara and I were married in the diminutive fisherman’s chapel not 20 yards from the visitor’s wall in west Looe.

So we did the calculations and an hour after our arrival Equinox settled against the wall on a sunny afternoon and all was well in our little world.

Our shake-down cruise was coming to an end as we left the next day on the tide for home, coincidently passing the beautiful gaff-rigged yawl Moosk anchored off Looe beach, which was to be Jacob’s home for his Day-Skipper course. Moosk was built in 1906, and is now run by the Island Sailing Trust. Jacob passed!

The drying visitors berth at Looe, Cornwall.

The drying visitors berth at Looe, Cornwall. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

And so we, as a family, all arrived back onboard in the middle of August making this the first time we have all been onboard together for a cruise since leaving Equinox in the Mediterranean nearly three years previously.

We were in no rush, the main remit being relaxation for everybody, including the charter guest, our dog Tresco.

Clara only had two weeks’ leave which does not fit well with any sailing plan. In fulfilment of the remit, we spent the first night on the mooring and the second night only a mile away at the entrance to the Yealm, anchored under cloudless skies just off Cellar beach.

The children and the dog took the paddleboard to the sand bar exposed for an hour at LWS, we set up the acrobatic silks from the spinnaker pole, and we got ready to head towards Guernsey, leaving at midnight.

Article continue below…

Exploring herm and sark

The forecast came good and we arrived over the sill in St Peter Port in the early afternoon after some fog and mizzle on the south side of the Channel.

We had a lazy afternoon and a simple supper ashore and with the wind set to stay from the northwest the beaches and coves on the east coast of Herm and Sark looked inviting. We approached Herm the next day from the south anchoring off Belvoir bay in three metres.

We took an excited dog ashore and enjoyed a walk around the island while Jacob and Helix took the paddleboard north to Shell beach.

Heading towards Guernsey.

Heading towards Guernsey. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

Weighing anchor the next day, we took the sunshine and northwesterly to the north of Sark enjoying the close-quarter pilotage required to weave in amongst the rocky outcrops on the north-east coast and anchoring at the head of Dixcart bay, running a kedge anchor ashore to keep our head into the slight swell to minimise the ‘Equinox roll’.

The tides were heading towards neaps, the weather was settled and sunny so all was set fair for a relaxed stay. We welcomed our neighbours aboard that afternoon, who had two similar-aged children and we shared stories and photographs.

They had chartered Sea Shanty from Plymouth and it was possible our tracks would cross again in a few days. The drone was deployed from the beach and two days slipped by easily. The four children played together and we walked to Little Sark, across the precipitous La Coupée bridge, for lunch.

At night, the sky was star spangled – Sark declared itself the first Dark Sky Island in 2011. But by this stage, as is the problem with a short cruise, thoughts and plans had to start looking north.

The weather was not bad but fog and mizzle were making up a chunk of the next few days and after that strong northerlies were forecast, so the south Devon coast was calling.

The anchors were retrieved and we headed south about Sark to revisit Herm, as Jacob wanted to run around the island, and Tresco was never going to refuse another walk. We anchored just off the Rosaire steps on the southwest of Herm at high water, and everyone was ferried ashore in a light drizzle.

The crew: skipper Hamish, Jacob, Helix, Tresco and Clara.

The crew: skipper Hamish, Jacob, Helix, Tresco and Clara. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

The very local southerly stream, running at two knots at HWN is not to be ignored in this little passage, and I stayed aboard and made some small repairs and modifications to the galley.

Returning to St Peter Port we came alongside the outer pontoons into a tight little spot, so much so that we thankfully got the tender off the davits and gave it to the harbour master before attempting the manoeuvre.

The next morning, we took on water and fuel, and were getting ready to leave when Tresco was returned to us by the kind crew of the German yacht across the pontoon who had found him heading into town!

Bidding guernsey farewell

The wind had just shifted round enough from WNW to allow a track to Dartmouth, and so we set off north just after midday in the fog and drizzle up the Little Russell with a fair tide under us.

A pod of very inquisitive dolphins welcomed us into Dartmouth. It was early and we had experienced a good sail, with Jacob and Helix having taken a full three-hour night watch. The tides had worked in our favour, so we wound our way up the Dart to the entrance to Bow Creek, anchored and went to bed.

A perfect spot just upstream from Stoke Gabriel on the River Dart.

A perfect spot just upstream from Stoke Gabriel on the River Dart. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

The afternoon tide then called us up to Tuckenhay, and a pint in the Maltster’s Arms. We used the electric outboard to tow the paddleboard, enjoyed a drink and caught the tide back home again. Why make life any more complicated?

After a quiet night and with no need to make big plans, we took Equinox and the tide upriver the three miles to Totnes, and in doing so we were wonderfully reminded of our last collective time onboard three years ago, meandering slowly through the waterways of France.

Jacob did an excellent job of piloting us up river and we moored alongside the wall of the Steam Packet Inn.

So a few pints after high water we took the tide back down the Dart and anchored again, but now on the Stoke Gabriel side of the river closer to a pontoon for getting Tresco ashore at low tide and another tranquil night enveloped us.

We rose early the next morning to a beautiful day and took the dawn tide down river past the colourful bustle of the annual regatta and headed west towards the Yealm.

Sunset over Rame head near the Yealm.

Sunset over Rame head near the Yealm. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

The digital and 4G signal logistics of receiving Jacob’s GCSE results on passage did not go smoothly but the email attachment eventually downloaded, providing cause for congratulations.

Once we’d made it around Start Point, the north-west wind gusting Force 6 was tedious for our last sail. However, just after rounding Bolt Tail, two cables to the south of us in the sunshine, we spotted Sea Shanty again.

And so began a fantastic photo shoot as the wind obligingly moderated for a little while before filling in again, and the slog to the Yealm continued.

We anchored off Cellar beach in the company of Sea Shanty for a delightful few hours, walked the dog up around the point, and then headed back up to the perfect calm of our mooring as dusk descended. The BBQ was duly lit and hung off the davits, providing a perfect end to our far-too-short family summer cruise.

The davit-sink BBQ on the family’s mooring on the River Yealm.

The davit-sink BBQ on the family’s mooring on the River Yealm. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

Island cruising lessons learnt

Buy your guides

Do buy the excellent Imray RCCPF pilotage guides to the Isles of Scilly by Graham Adam, the Channel Islands equivalent by Peter Carnegie and the appropriate Imray paper charts – C10, Y50 and C33A are an absolute must.

Big screen entertainment

A large screen chart plotter, clearly visible from the steering position, and having a competent crew to add to the eyeball navigation, will enhance your exploring and make things so much easier.

Flood time timings

Use the first 2/3rds of the flood tide. If not sure of your route through and between the islands and in the Isles of Scilly, try to be comfortable with having only a metre or two of water under your keel.

Dixcart Bay, Sark.

Dixcart Bay, Sark. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

Plan around neap tides

Plan your first visit to coincide with neap tides, if you can, and aim for daytime landfall, but if the weather is settled just go.

Keep going

Non-stop overnight from Plymouth to the Isles of Scilly and from Dartmouth to the Channel Islands is possible if you leave after supper or just before dawn from the Helford River. Calculate the tidal race around the Lizard for the Isles of Scilly.

Prepare to love it

Don’t be put off by the tides and be prepared to want to stay for longer, especially to explore ashore.

Ship’s dog and lookout Tresco.

Ship’s dog and lookout Tresco. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

Brush up on anchoring

Don’t anchor on any of the marked cables running between the islands, but be confident in anchoring
to fully enjoy these islands.

Rock and roll

Be prepared for close quarter pilotage and the rocks and tides will become your friends once you’re dialled into the scale. Use them to your advantage.

Aerial view

Bring a drone for some awesome photographs!

Anchored amid beautiful beaches off East Tresco, Isles of Scilly.

Anchored amid beautiful beaches off East Tresco, Isles of Scilly. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyor

Enjoyed reading this?

A subscription to Yachting Monthly magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.

Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.

YM is packed with information to help you get the most from your time on the water.

      • Take your seamanship to the next level with tips, advice and skills from our experts
      • Impartial in-depth reviews of the latest yachts and equipment
      • Cruising guides to help you reach those dream destinations

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.