You’ll have only been in St Ives a matter of hours (minutes, even) before you hear the cry of “Boat trips to Seal Island!” from a man near the Lifeboat slipway. What is Seal Island, and why should you go there? Let us fill you in.
Seal Island is a small rocky inshore island 3.5 miles west of St Ives, towards Zennor. It’s home to a colony of Atlantic grey seals, hence the name.
Seal Island is actually the largest of a group of tiny islands called The Carracks from the Cornish word for rocks, kerrek. As well as the seals, the islands are home to anglerfish, dogfish, and sea anemones. A century-old shipwreck adds a bit of extra excitement to the tiny island.
If you’ve been lured in by that cry of “Boat trips to Seal Island!”, go with it The Dolly P & Yellowfin run boat trips to Seal Island from St Ives, which are a great way to see St Ives from a different aspect, as well as doing some seal-spotting. The boat trips operate throughout the day during the season (in good weather), departing from whichever point in the harbour the tide allows. We can’t promise a seal sighting – but you’d have to be very unlucky not to spot even a few.
By now, after decades of day trips, the seals are used to visiting boats, and seem undisturbed and even interested in them. There’s also a chance of seeing basking sharks, dolphins or porpoises; and every couple of years or so, there’s a humpback whale sighting around St Ives. The Dolly P & Yellowfin also offer trips to Godrevy Lighthouse and Hell’s Mouth, as well as fishing trips and private charter.
A century ago in 1916, the Enrico Parodi, a 103m long steel vessel on wartime cargo duty, struck Gurnard’s Head (a headland west of Zennor) in thick fog, while carrying a coal from Cardiff to Messina. She then sank off the Carracks while being towed to harbour. She’s still there, and is a popular diving site (for experienced divers only. Seek advice first).
If you fancy a spot of wreck fishing in St Ives, Bluefin runs trips.
You can also see Seal Island from the coast path. Head west from Porthmeor Beach, on a challenging but beautiful stretch of the famous path; and you’ll see the group of small rocky islands between St Ives and Zennor, about 200m off shore. It’s the largest of these “Carracks” that’s known as Seal Island. From there, you may as well carry on to Zennor, home of the famous carved mermaid chair in St Senara’s Church, as well as the Tinner’s Arms.
It’s a lovely walk for wildflowers in the spring, and great for bird watching in the autumn. Take your binoculars, as you may be lucky enough to spot dolphins or basking sharks, or even those famous Atlantic grey seals.