A Scillonian skippers’s scribllings with John Hicks c1995

John Hicks is a Scillonian and very proud of it. He’s a boatman by profession who used to ferry passengers all around the Islands in his 45 foot launch The Swordfish II. John used to live in his guest house in Longstone which is about one mile from St Mary’s. An ex-member of the local council, he was heavily involved with the local theatre club and was a member of the Christmas lights committee. As you will tell from his articles, John is a warm and very humorous man and the last we heard he was living in Bristol.

Mention the Isles of Scilly in Cornwall and everyone will say: “Yes, off Land’s End”, but asked if they’ve visited and the majority will say: “No not yet, but we’re going to”, and I expect they will in time. But so very many people wait until they are long in the tooth before coming over and then wish they had come many years earlier. I have heard many hundreds of people say the same thing.

To describe Scilly in the words of one Cornish woman who came over to Scilly a few years ago for the first time, she said: “The only way I can describe it is to compare the mainland to a black and white television and the Scillies to a colour television.” I have to say that being slightly biased (my family has been on the islands for nearly 400 years) I have to agree with her.

The weather here is very similar to that of Cornwall but quite often we find ourselves just a degree or two warmer, especially in the winter. This is because the sea temperatures do not alter too much and the sea breezes in the winter months are warmed just slightly by the sea. (I don’t know who told me this, but I bet he never had a swim over here……….) Frosts are not something we have to worry about which is why we are able to grow such wonderful, magical and mystical plants from all over the world that do not enjoy the mainland climate quite so much. Many of our plants and flowers come into bloom earlier and continue for much longer than their cousins on the mainland, and indeed some stay in flower all year round. Take for example the gorse. It is said, in higher circles, that when the gorse is in bloom, then kissing is in season. Here in Scilly you can always find a bit of gorse somewhere in bloom, so we are very lucky, we can kiss every day of the year. Mind you, it does make the old lips sore……. Well you try kissing gorse all year round!
Our wildlife is holding its own quite well due, in part, to the immense lack of population. I suppose the things we are most popular for are our North Atlantic grey seals and puffins. The grey seals (200-250) love to bask lazily in the sunshine on the myriad of rocks and islands and we are able to get very close to them in the pleasure boats for the visitors to photograph. Most of the seals are females and are quite happy with life, but the few bulls are not so cheerful when we come around and they quickly slither off the rocks and back into the sea. People often ask how to tell the difference between them when all you can see perhaps is their heads in the water. Well it’s quite easy. The bulls have larger heads and a big round nose. The females have slender necks, small pointed snouts, and wear lipstick……………
The puffins that we have are not too plentiful, about 150, but that is still a slight increase over the last twenty years. These comical little birds are to be seen between April and the 21st July sitting around on the water not far from the breeding sites doing what puffins do best – sitting around on the water. Once their chick has hatched out in the underground burrow, it is fattened up until it will eat no more and then the adult puffins leave us and head out over the North Atlantic for the winter. The chick, who remains in the nest for about another three weeks, lives off its own fat and will eventually become fully fledged and fly away to join the others way out to sea. The reason these jolly little birds are called puffins is because their wings are really quite small for the size of their bodies and so they have to flap their wings on average two and a half times a second. This makes them very exhausted and they can be heard puffin’ from a long way off!

The first quarter of 1994 has got off to a fairly poor start weather-wise. The winter was one of the wettest on record. This is not only very uncomfortable, but also very inconvenient because often in the summer, on not so nice days, visitors will often remark how much like the winter the present weather is, to which I would reply: “OH no its not. The winter is never as bad as this”. Now I shall have to find a new suitable rebuff………..any suggestions?
April was most certainly a very windy month. The gales began at the end of March and continued for a full fortnight and unfortunately very few of our Easter visitors were able to take advantage of trips on the pleasure boats as there were only 3 days during the Easter fortnight on which boats were able to venture forth. The storms and gales then abated and we settled into a fortnight of very chilly north easterlies; but by the time April came to a close, the weather had started to warm up a little, and for the world championship gig races at the beginning of May, it had settled down slightly but we had just a modicum of fog for the gigs to deal with. The May bank holiday came and went as one would expect here in Scilly with a vast number of gig-oriented personnel, rowing, singing, singing and rowing, with just the occasional pint thrown in for good measure.
For us here in Scilly, the world championship gig racing has become a landmark for the start of the summer and I am pleased to be able to thank all the people who came over to enjoy the weekend with us.

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