Last Boat from Hugh Town

It was when the cockerel in the box went quiet that it got a little bit scary.

There had been warnings that a storm was going to blow into the islands for several days.  I had been staying on the island of St Agnes and had been watching out for weather updates, anxious that my boat back to the mainland might be cancelled.  On the morning of my departure, it appeared that luck was with me: the RMV Scillonian III would leave that afternoon as normal; the boat the following day was to be cancelled.

sea chart

The water in Hugh Town harbour could not have looked more calm; the sky was blue; there was no suggestion of the waves lurking beyond the protective ring of the outer islands.  We hit choppy seas almost as soon as the boat passed the end of St Mary’s.  The Isles of Scilly lie around 30 miles offshore from Lands End.  It looked like being a long journey.

I sat outside on a long wooden bench on the deck.  The waves were hitting us sideways.  I kept my sight trained on the line of the horizon, watching it as it rose and fell, so that one moment my view was full of sky and the next it was full of sea.  The relief that I had felt on discovering that I was on the last boat out of Hugh Town was quickly turning to anxiety.

The same feeling was evident amongst my fellow passengers.  There was a surface forced cheeriness each time the vessel sunk into a deeper-than-usual trough or rose on a higher-than-usual swell, but beneath the brittle smiles was an undercurrent of fear.

Two women opposite from me were transporting a cockerel back from the islands to the mainland.  The first time that an indignant cock-a-doodle-doo sounded from the large sealed cardboard box there were expressions of surprise all around me; the second and third times there were titters of amusement; by the fourth and fifth times there was a general consensus of impatience, with the realisation that the noisy bird might be our soundtrack all the way back into Penzance.  When the seas began to get rough the bird became conspicuously silent.

I left my seat and, swaying unsteadily like a drunkard, went to stand at the rail on the starboard side of the boat.  With every new wave, I felt like I was in an elevator, effortlessly lifted skywards before being dropped back down to earth again.  Looking out across the grey water it was possible to predict when the big waves would hit; brace against the rise and fall.  Somewhere ahead was Cornwall.  Somewhere in Cornwall there was a bar.  And somewhere in that bar there was a stiff drink with my name on it.

© E. C. Glendenny


Travel writer, E. C. “Easy” Glendenny, isn’t always steady on her feet even on dry land.

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