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Kilmore Quay to the Isles of Scilly

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What is the route?
This is a route from Kilmore Quay on the southeast corner of Ireland to the Isles of Scilly. It is a direct route passing to the east of the Saltee Islands to the deepwater anchorage of New Grimsby Sound, between Bryher and Tresco, in the north end of the Isles of Scilly.

Why sail this route?
Kilmore Quay Click to view haven is a good Irish Sea staging point for a departure to the Isles of Scilly. The picturesque fishing village has a small marina, a good chandlery with plenty of restaurants and lively pubs to await the best time and weather to the right arrival time in Scilly. These qualities are daylight with light weather conditions, see Coastal Overview for Land's End to Isles of Scilly Route location and with the passage being about 140 miles, berth to berth, it is well within day sail and a reliable forecast.

Likewise, as the course is almost due south, a little westerly shift off of the prevailing wind will help speed the passage and make it less of a beat. New Grimsby Sound Click to view haven, between Bryher and Tresco, is also the closest primary berthing location with secure moorings just over a ½ mile inside its protective heads and an anchoring location before that. Moreover, the north approach to it, and Scilly as a whole, has no outlying hazards.

What are the navigational notes?
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the route. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Clicking the 'Expand to Fullscreen' icon opens a larger viewing area in a new tab.

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The above plots are not precise and are indicative only.


Kilmore Quay with Little Saltee and Great Saltee offshore
Image: Michael Harpur

From Kilmore Quay safe water buoy the route passes to the west of the Saltee Islands. Passing 300 metres northwest of Mutroch's Rock, and Jackeen Rock lying to the northwest of the Great Saltee and then continuing west of their southern dangers the Brandies, Coningmore and Coningbeg Rocks as well as close west of the Red Bank shoal. From there it is possible to set a course across the Celtic sea directly for the 'Northwest Scilly' waypoint.

Star Castle Hotel on the west side of Hangman Island on 157° T
Image: Michael Harpur

The 'Northwest Scilly' waypoint is on the traditional range mark for New Grimsby on the transit formed by Star Castle Hotel on the west side of Hangman Island with a bearing of 157° T. Steering for the New Grimsby Sound Click to view haven Initial Fix, just under a mile along the transit and using the haven directions, will lead safely in.


Isles of Scilly
Image: Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson
Space Center

The southwest, west and northwest side of the Scilly archipelago take the full force of the Atlantic Ocean. The result is that these parts of the group are more weather-beaten and ragged with the western side of the group containing the greater number of isolated offshore hazards. This presents an uninviting aspect to vessels approaching from the north or west. Faced with this inhospitable coastline most newcomers to the Isles of Scilly favour the principal entry point Saint Mary’s Sound which is more suited to vessels approaching from the south and east. Saint Mary’s Sound has the comfort of presenting itself between two obvious island landmasses, replete with lighthouse, and lit marks for the principal hazards in the sound itself. However, vessels approaching from the north will find that this requires the island group to be rounded, adding about 15 miles to the journey and more complexity after an overnight passage. Then there is the possibility of additional tidal issues that can be experienced between the landmasses of Saint Mary’s and St Agnes, not to mention a longer trek into St Mary’s Pool Click to view haven via the Sound.

Round Island Lighthouse marking the north end of the Isles of Scilly
Image: Michael Harpur

Using New Grimsby Sound Click to view haven as the initial landing point of entry avoids all of these issues. Its disadvantages are that it has no lit marks for a night entry and an unmarked rock flanking the eastern side of the approach channel. These issues are not overly taxing during a daylight entry as the Kettle Bottom & Kettle Rocks are easily avoided and the daylight range mark assists in clearing them.

Yachts exiting passed the easily avoided Kettle Bottom & Kettle Rocks
Image: Michael Harpur

With these issues set aside, its advantages are readily evident. There are no outlying rocks or ledges northward of a line joining Shipman Head, its prominent steep to western entrance, and the prominent Men-a-vaur rock. Men-a-vaur lies close east of Round Island which itself is less than two miles from the arrival waypoint. Its lighthouse makes this entire section of the group positively identifiable.

Approaching the sheltering and steep to Shipman Head
Image: Michael Harpur

Positioned between two island landmasses it is a clearly defined location that has the comfort of a deep increasingly sheltered approach channel. With a castle on its eastern flank, it cannot be mistaken for Old Grimsby on the opposite side of Tresco. As an initial arrival location, it offers a very good berthing location, with visitor moorings.

Cromwell's Castle and the moorings in New Grimsby Sound
Image: Michael Harpur

Moreover, if St Mary’s Pool is key to the agenda, say for clearing in, a subsequent sufficient rise of tide could provide sufficient depth to use the Tresco Channel crossing the Tresco Flats Route location to enter St Mary’s Road from New Grimsby.

Yacht proceeding southward to St Mary's Road via the Tresco Channel
Image: Michael Harpur

Alternatively, should the arrival coincide with light weather and good conditions, it keeps open the possibility to take advantage of the auspicious window by adjusting course westward earlier and making directly for St Mary’s Road by discarding the Northwest Scilly waypoint and proceeding southward to the west of the Northern Rocks, the shoals and outliers to the west of Bryher and Sampson islands, to pick and use the North West Passage Route location instead. This leads directly into St Mary’s Road and onto St Mary’s Pool Click to view haven.

Yachts entering and exiting the North West Passage at Steeple Rock
Image: Michael Harpur

In all cases, as detailed in the Coastal Overview for Land's End to Isles of Scilly Route location, the key to a successful trip is departure timing and weather so that Scilly may be approached in light weather when there is good visibility in daylight. Leave ample time should the planned initial berth not be suitable, or comfortable, and an alternative is required. It is a less than 24-hour sail so ideally, it is advisable to set off in the morning so as to arrive at Scilly the following morning with ample daylight to arrive and get settled in. Tide is not a strong consideration in the Celtic Sea once away from the Irish and English coasts it is marginal and broached boat ways.

But, if the weather is rough, stay put and if it is a long broken spell perhaps enjoy some time cruising in the Waterford Estuary. Scilly has no single all-weather, all tide port of refuge that will provide safety in bad conditions and it is best to wait. On the other hand, those who do make this journey during the season and arrive in fair weather will have a wonderful experience. Speaking from personal experience, having only sailed the Irish Sea prior to this venture at the time, I was surprised to find overnight sailing in a t-shirt and shorts was real for the first time as opposed to fully deep ocean gear that had hitherto been the experience. Moreover, as the site’s imagery presents, mostly my own, with the white sands and crystal clear turquoise waters, one could be forgiven for thinking they had arrived in the Caribbean during a fine weather spell.


The complete course is 131.55 miles from the waypoint 'Murroch's Rock' to 'Northwest Scilly' tending in a southerly direction (reciprocal northerly).

Murroch's Rock, 52° 9.004' N, 006° 36.132' W
300 metres northwest of Murroch's Rock.

       Next waypoint: 0.64 miles, course 226.28°T (reciprocal 46.28°T)

Jackeen Rock, 52° 8.559' N, 006° 36.890' W
300 metres northwest of Jackeen Rock.

       Next waypoint: 2.87 miles, course 224.75°T (reciprocal 44.75°T)

Great Saltee Island, 52° 6.518' N, 006° 40.183' W
1¾ miles west of Seven Heads the southwestern extremity of Great Saltee Island.

       Next waypoint: 128.03 miles, course 174.76°T (reciprocal 354.76°T)

Northwest Scilly, 49° 59.080' N, 006° 22.022' W
One mile out from a line joining Kettle Bottom and Shipman Head and on the transit formed by Star Castle Hotel on the west side of Hangman Island with a bearing of 157° T.

What is the best sailing time?
May to September is the traditional UK Sailing season with June-July offering the best weather. The British Isles weather is highly variable, and the amount of bad weather varies quite widely from year to year. This is because they are islands positioned between the Atlantic Ocean and the large landmass of continental Europe. As a result, the entire area lays under an area where five main air masses meet and alternate:

  • • Tropical Maritime Air Mass - from the Atlantic

  • • Polar Maritime Air Mass - from Greenland

  • • Arctic Maritime Air Mass

  • • Polar Continental Air Mass - from central Europe

  • • Tropical Continental Air Mass - from North Africa

Depending on the movements of the jet stream, any and all of these air masses can come in over the isles, creating weather fronts where they meet and bringing with them all types of weather.

The prevailing winds for the British Isles as a whole are from the western quarter which generally blows for two-thirds of the year predominantly from the southwest. Gales from the westward are felt in all seasons, but from November to March, inclusive, they are most frequent and generally last three or four days. Of these, a southwest gale is considered to be the most powerful system. The winter period is largely characterised by wind and rain.

The fine summer weather of the sailing season is typically punctuated by the passage of an Atlantic depression that bringing periods of strong wind and rain, and sometimes poor visibility. These gales rarely cause surprises as they are usually forecasted well in advance. Good weather windows of 48 hours are easy to predict but any longer than that there's an increasing chance of change.

Fogs are frequent in all parts of the Channel and are formed both on the English and French coasts. In summer they only obscure the land in the morning and are readily dispersed by heat or a light breeze. But the moist haze, driven in by westerly winds from the sea, tends to linger and is only dispersed by strong winds. In the eastern part of the Channel, it is rare for the land to be completely free from mists. The only exception is when the wind is from the northeast which makes the mist free coastline highly distinctive from a great distance.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur eOceanic and Burke Corbett.

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