One of the must do activities for a visitor to St Ives is one of the many pleasure boat trips on offer. There are many to choose from, including trips around the bay to see the expanses of golden sand, mackerel and deep sea fishing, the newly started water taxi to Hayle, the high speed rib rides and probably the longest running and most well-known, the trips to Seal Island.
On this occasion I opted for the trip to Seal Island aboard the Tiger Lilly, owned and skippered by John Paul (JP) Basset, a born and raised St Ives man with a family history in the town dating back to the 1700’s. His son Sam also works on the pleasure boats and both father and son are members of the St Ives Lifeboat volunteer crew. His wife Joanne sells the tickets and the boat is named after their granddaughter Lilly. And if you thought it couldn’t get any more family orientated than that JP’s cousin Stephen is the harbour master! So with this impressive local pedigree behind the wheel I boarded the Tiger Lilly and we set off from St Ives harbour.
Three and a half miles west of St Ives a colony of up to 40 to 60 Atlantic Grey Seals have found a safe haven on a small island officially named the Carracks but locally known as “Seal Island”. There has been a long history of visitors and locals sailing out from St Ives to “see the seals” dating back as far as the 1930’s.
As you leave the harbour you can turn back to see an incredible view of the town and harbour filled with dozens of boats framed perfectly by the two piers. As you head west down the coast you travel close to the shore and cliff faces and even through the feeding grounds of Cormorants and diving Gannets. As you watch the Gannets torpedo themselves into the waves you get a new sense of the expression “birds eye view”.
Sailing along the coast you see St Ives in a way only possible from the sea. Hidden caves and coves, inaccessible from the land, are discovered as you sail along the Cornish coastline. The rocky outcrop of Seal Island comes into view after about 20 minutes.
When the tide is low the seals compete for the best spots on the island rocks to bask in the sun and pose for excited visitors. After years of trips the seals are used to the attention and their inquisitive nature means they seem to enjoy having their photos taken.
As the tide rises the seals slip back into the sea to hunt and feast on local fish and even lobsters but seals are not picky eaters and will eat most of local crustaceans on offer.
Seals aren’t the only marine life to see. Dolphins are very common visitors to St Ives Bay and often swim alongside the boats and put on aerobatics displays for awestruck observers. Sunfish and Jellyfish are also sometimes seen. The seals however do not confine themselves to their island! And many swim into the harbour to see what’s going on, beg for a fish or two and provide a great photo opportunity.
As we rounded The Island, the harbour was a beautiful sight bathed in the fading evening light after a thoroughly enjoyable trip to an iconic and timeless St Ives attraction.
The trips can be booked online through the St Ives Boat Trips website and can also be found on Facebook.
Where to find Seal Island:
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