Brighton Belle – Isles of Scillies and the Dolphins

image of dolphin
Bubbles the dolphin


By William Mills

“Clip on immediately,” the first mate orders.

The rolling North Atlantic swell causes me to momentarily pause in my headlong rush to the boat’s side.

“But I need to take photos of the dolphins,” I try to explain.

image of dolphin
A dolphin nears Brighton Belle’s side in the North Atlantic Ocean


Yet, Steve is insistent that safety must come first, and after five days on board Brighton Belle as a beginner it has already been instilled into me that we do not leave the cabin until we have donned our lifejackets with safety line looped around our shoulders ready for instant deployment.

The sight of dolphins swimming close by causes me to doubt that old mantra, ‘one hand for the ship and one for yourself’.

Dolphin 7
Dolphin breaks the surface

How can it possibly apply when I need both hands for my camera?

I clip on and lie on the deck, my thigh pressed against a stanchion and the rest of me edging out over the sea.
I need not over worried about missing shots as the dolphins were patiently waiting for me, darting back and forth.

I always find the prospect of dolphins swimming nearby totally memorising as these animals are highly intelligent and organised, yet from a different world from us.

One is a little camera shy, but I call to him and he playfully rises to greet me.
Oh, the joy of becoming at one with the dolphins…

My odyssey had begun in Plymouth five days earlier when I’d joined Brighton Belle, a 1980’s Oyster 55 which is owned and run by a syndicate based in Brighton, and hence the name.

image of yacht in Plymouth
Oyster 55 Brighton Belle in Mayflower Marina Plymouth Harbour

Aboard were three experienced skipper grade club members, David, Bob and Steve, with newbies Carolyn and myself making up the numbers.

Plymouth initially looked grim, but later grew upon me.

image of Plymouth docks
Old wharehouses newly modernised Plymouth Devon.

Once, these forbidding buildings would have looked upon new crews of sailing ships running their ship’s guns in and out in case they spied a Frenchie on the horizon.

Drakes island Plymouth harbour
Drakes Island in Plymouth harbour has long historical links with the military

Nowadays, we read up on the latest Covid regulations.

The following day we put to sea soon after dawn.

Our course heads us westward towards the Scillies.

A lively breeze of 20 knots from the NW soon picked up transforming Brighton Belle into a thoroughbred racing effortlessly across the sea which was being whipped up into white caps from one direction with the Atlantic’s potent swell rolling in from another.

Yet this graceful yacht handled all with ease and finesse making it a wonderful experience to be aboard.

I was learning nautical terms all the way, and Bob kindly explained what twist in the mainsail meant and how the vang adjusted it.

That night we anchored in Helford River and ate aboard. We each took turns preparing our evening meals and everybody helped.

Helford River
Helford River was the scene of many of author Daphne du Maurier’s adventure novels

The sun was a golden orb just breaking the eastern horizon as we continued our quest the following morning.

Lizard peninsular
Lizard peninsular reveals a line of jagged rocks stretching out to sea

Raising the sails in the Lizard’s outfalls was stamina building, and soon we were away for the new day’s adventures.

BB Steve and Bob
First mate Steve and Brighton Belle committee member Bob discussing sail hoisting

After the Lizard, Land’s End looms in the distance, and a fabulous gaff rigged ketch heading up Channel past the Wolf Rock lighthouse made for an excellent photo opportunity.

image of gaff rigged ship
Traditionally rigged ketch with gaff main and mizzen and four headsails heading up channel with Land’s End in the background

A helicopter flies overhead, followed by our first sighting of dolphins which I wonder might have been attracted by the sun glinting off the lens of my camera.

Wolf Rock and land's End
Wolf Rock and Land’s End in the distance
A helicopter as seen through the rigging heading towards the Scillies
image of dolphin
Dolphin swims near to Brighton Belle 10 miles south of Land’s End

The Scillies isles are very low with hills few and far between so it was with excellent seamanship that our skipper, David found them in the first place.

Anchoring was a little tense as we had to be sure we weren’t above any of the cables marked on our chart, but all was well.

Brighton Belle anchored in St Mary's
Brighton Belle anchored off St Mary’s Island, Isles of Scillies

The following day was spent exploring Hugh Town, the Isles’ largest settlement, which consisting of little more than a couple of pubs and a souvenir shop, didn’t take long.

Hugh Town
Hugh Town, the largest settlement on St Mary’s Island IOS


The next day when more sightseeing was announced, I was a little disappointed we weren’t going to motor out to Bishop’s Rock, being the last point of land before the New World.

So I opted to stay on board and potter around in the dinghy exploring rocky creeks nearby and swim in the gorgeous clear water with its light emerald coloured seabed.

image of Zodiac dinghy
Zodiac 340 RIB with 6HP Mariner in the still waters off Hugh Town St Mary’s Isle

But all was made up the next morning because, after our third night anchored in the same spot, we embarked on our epic 25 hour sail back to Plymouth with memorable encounters all along the way. The first with the TSS shipping, and the dolphins second.

A dolphin swims alongside Brighton Belle


Brilliant stars and a sea bathed in moonlight greeted me as I came on deck for my final watch at 2 am, our destination less than 20 miles distant.

crew of BB
David, Carolyn, Bob and Steve on board Brighton Belle

I really didn’t want to reach land, instead savouring every last moment on this majestic yacht and  its crew, a wonderful bunch of people, who were patient, and kind to me. A big thanks to the organisers.

image of Hugh Town Scillies
picturesque Plymouth

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