2019-10-09 - Penzance-St Marys

Survey details

Survey route: Penzance-St Marys

Company: Isles of Scilly Travel

Sea region: Celtic Seas

Survey start date: 2019-10-09

Number of nights: Day sailing

Porthcressa beach

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

With weather advisories being announced the day before warning of lumpy seas, an engine failure on the Team Leader’s train to Penzance resulted in an hour delay, arriving just in time to meet the rest of the team on board. With the stressful part over, the team quickly introduced themselves and were soon on the Bridge meeting Captain Pete.


The Scillonian III departed Penzance at 9:16, with the weather looking deceivingly pleasant with sunny skies and calm seas; herring gulls and guillemots flocking as they passed the vessel. Within 10 minutes of leaving, the sea state turned to a force 4 and the swell was moderate. After leaving the bay and rounding the corner, this escalated further to a sea state 5 and heavy swells of between 2-4 metres. A lone manx shearwater was spotted attempting to take off from the water's surface, with little success in a half-hearted attempt. Over the course of the outbound crossing, sea states varied between a force 5 and 7 in the open water (boardering a force 8 gale), intermingled with some brief rain showers, which due to the direction of the wind, blew like daggers in our faces as we braced the conditions on the outside bridge wings. The occasional black backed gull was also seen.

Our efforts were not in vain though as at 10:51 around an hour and half after leaving, we encountered a common dolphin ahead of the ship, making a b-line for the bow as it swam under the waves. Within minutes there were more appearing from the port side, again racing to the bow, porpoising through the waves and displaying their lovely yellow hourglass patterning. Another 4 common dolphins were also seen coming into the bow from the starboard side.

Shortly after, the team experienced a brief rain shower which for less than a minute limited the visibility, but as soon as it had appeared it was clear again. Another 45 minutes into the survey another 3 common dolphins were seen on the starboard side fast swimming towards us.

As we neared St Mary’s the swell and sea state lessened gradually down to a force 3 accompanied by light swells within the shelter of the bay.

The team disembarked, welcomed by sunny intervals and pristine beaches. Within minutes of walking down the street to explore, the heavens opened, and we grabbed shelter in a café to have a well-deserved hot drink and apple strudel which had been recommended. Here, we watched turnstones turning over seaweed through the beach-view windows.


After a walk around St Marys and some lunch by Porthcressa beach, the team boarded once again, leaving at 16:15. The return leg started with promise as the sea state 4 looked rather pleasant compared to the way over and a lone grey seal was sighted near the coastline resting at the surface, nose up in a ‘bottling’ position.

As anticipated, both the swell and sea state picked up as we ventured out to sea, escalating to a force 7. The visibility reduced sporadically too as heavy rain blew over. With the wind behind us however, the survey was much more comfortable on the return journey, except for the occasional roll to the side; at one point rolling around 35 degrees to port, holding on as we rode over the 3-4 metre swells.

At 16:21 a commotion on the port side alerted us to dozens of gannets circling and diving. Keeping a watchful eye of activity below, common dolphins were soon spotted breaking the surface. As the feeding frenzy neared, the bout of activity quickly surrounded the vessel as it crossed our path. It was truly wonderful to behold the gannets so close plunging into the waters at such incredible speed. A few more common dolphins were then seen feeding amongst it all just to the starboard side as the frenzy stretched onwards, mimicking the availability of fish below the surface.

An hour and a half into the return journey, the sea calmed to a force 5 and a sooty shearwater was seen, later followed by a puffin trailing behind a group of guillemots. As we rounded into the bay approaching Penzance, it lessened again to a force 4, revealing a magnificent orangey pink view of the sky above the Cornish landscape.

We would like to thank Captain Pete and his crew for inviting us on board and being so welcoming. Despite the weather, we thoroughly enjoyed the voyage and hope to travel on board the Scillonian III with you again soon.


Common Dolphin x 16

Grey Seal x 1

Bird List:

Gannet, Great Skua, Greater Black Backed Gull, Kittiwake, Manx shearwater, Cormorant, Shag, Herring Gull, Common Guillemot, Black Headed Gull, Sooty Shearwater, Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Common Scoter, Turnstone, Starling, Carrion Crow, Feral pigeon, House sparrow, Greenfinch, Warbler species

Spot the turnstones amongst the seaweed

Survey team members

Ruth Coxon, Kathleen Neri, Norman Harris