Where in the South West will you find an 18 strong close-knit crew who have mostly sailed together the equivalent of twice to the moon and back and upon whom over 2,000 islanders have come to rely?
Mariner Dave Redgrave will readily supply the answer because he is Captain of the MV Scillonian which links Penzance with the Isles of Scilly out in the Western approaches to the UK some 28 miles beyond Lands End.
This is the 40th year since the Appledore built ship was officially launched by a youthful Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall, back in May 1977 and Dave from Penzance has been at the helm for the past seven years.
“Sailing into these islands in mostly all winds and weather is never a dull experience because of the constantly changing vistas throughout the seasons,” he said as we cruised towards St Mary’s with the main island on the port side and the islands of Tresco and St Martin’s with its distinctive red and white striped day mark out to starboard.
“The bright yellow gorse followed by the purple heathers on the hillsides in late summer are breathtaking as are the dazzling white sandy beaches and bars around the islands all enhanced by the clarity of light,” said Dave.
At the helm as we manoeuvre slowly and skilfully around St Mary’s granite block quay head was Scillonian bosun Darren James of Penzance who started as a rating aged 24 and had been with the ship for 21 years.
Dave Redgrave later did a quick calculation and was able to tell me that the present ship’s company, whom he described as an extended and close-knit family, had put in over 200 years service to date.
Besides her regular ship’s company, MV Scillonian was also able to offer short spells of valuable top-up seagoing experience for up to six young deck and engineering cadets a year, Dave explained.
One deck below in the Purser’s Office I met Marcia Still who first came aboard as a member of the catering team eighteen years ago and has been Purser for the past eleven years.
She is responsible for all front of house passenger services including the catering and confirmed that being a member of the team was very much like being part of an extended family, so much so that she travelled on the same school bus as ship’s Chief Officer and relief master Peter Crawford.
Another long-standing member of the ship’s company is Second Engineer Steven George.
He joined the ship’s company on the Government’s Youth Training Scheme back in 1987, becoming a Motorman two years later, and took over as second engineer in 1994.
Boarding the Scillonian at Penzance is quite a hands-on affair for passengers who queue up on the quay to have their luggage labelled before it’s loaded into one of the ship’s handy sized containers which are then taken to the ship by forklift truck.
MV Scillonian, which is 68 metres long and has a 1,346 gross registered tonnage, is certificated to carry up to 498 passengers who are all in good company as those sailing before them have included former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had a bungalow on St Mary’s, and the authors Bill Bryson and Michael Morpurgo.