by Alexander Burton inDays out

A boat ride with August Rock Adventures

Dolphin watching in Cornwall...
In late September some of the CHC team were lucky enough to be taken on a tour of Falmouth Bay by rib. August Rock Adventures offer charter boat tours of the Helford River and Falmouth Area, and offer bespoke tours as far away as the Scilly Isles. Read on to hear all about our morning at sea.

We set off on the morning of the autumn equinox and have arranged to meet our Skipper Iain on the pontoon at Helford Passage. It’s early enough in the day for the quietness that covers the Helford River to still be in place, and wisps of morning mist still cling to the surface of the water.

A friendly wave from a rib weaving through the moorings announces the arrival of our boat, Harbinger. After hopping in we don our lifejackets and run through a safety briefing. We’re faced with two options for our trip, one heads towards Falmouth for an exploration of the harbour, another takes us out to sea in search of dolphins. With two ten-year-olds (and two very excited grown-ups) aboard there’s no question- so it is out to sea we go…

We make our way towards an oil tanker anchored out in the bay. These tankers are a common sight at the edge of the horizon seen from the seafront in Falmouth, so getting up close and seeing the scale was fascinating. As we pass along, Iain tells us the meaning of the term ‘Falmouth for Orders’ whereby large ships wait in Falmouth Bay for fluctuations in the price of their cargo or for instructions of where in the world to head out to next.

Flashes of white on the surface of the water beside the tanker are revealed to be gannets, huge birds which spear fish from the skies at speeds of up to 60mph. They swoop past the boat, giving us a close-up view of their blue bills whilst Iain regales us with snippets of insight into the wildlife of the bay. Iain lives alongside the Helford River and knows how to expertly navigate the area.

It isn’t long, however, before something else distracts us from the tankers and the gannets. Fins break through the surface of the water up ahead, and we spot what we’ve all been looking for. Hearts aflutter with excitement, we’re joined at sea by a pod of dolphins!

There’s a code of conduct for watching marine life in this way, which Iain at August Rock respects and adheres to like a true sea-going gentleman. One must never follow a pod of Dolphins, but simply pass on by. If the dolphins show interest, they’ll likely swim beside the boat to ride the bow-wave. If the dolphins do not deviate from their route, it’s safe to assume they have somewhere important to be and are best left to it.

The Dolphins are sighted

Luckily for us, the pod that we come across are feeling friendly, and take a keen interest in us. They race alongside us to leap from the water inches away from the boat, and at times there are so many of them that our necks swivel at dizzying speed to see as many as possible. These harbour dolphins are smaller than their bottle-nosed relatives. Their bellies are coloured a beautiful taupe, which we can see beneath the surface of the water as they corkscrew alongside us.   In time, the fins become fewer and further between and the dolphins, no doubt distracted by some other source of amusement, part ways from the wake of Harbinger, into the horizon.


As one pod disperses, another one take it’s place, and we spend 40 minutes in awe by the amazing show provided by nature. We all talk about how aligned with the environment we feel, and how precious and memorable this moment is.

And with that, we whizz along towards the Lizard – in search of more adventure. Before long we pass the Manacles, a rocky outcrop just below the water made famous by worried sailors eager to avoid it when navigating the waters into Falmouth Bay. Although no match for modern GPS (which Harbinger is well-equipped with) the yellow buoy which marks the rocks tolls a bell, beautiful and haunting in equal measure as it hits its note with each rolling wave.   As we race across the coast we spot Mussel Farms, Sea-salt pumping stations, and the harbour town of Coverack sitting idyllically against the sea in a flush of white-painted cottages with thatched roofs.   We pull into a cove and note how the texture of the landscape has changed from the soft greeness of the Helford River to something entirely wilder, and ripe for exploration from the water. On a warmer day, Iain explains, we might have been able to take to the water from the boat and had a moment of wild swimming in total seclusion. With the dolphins just out in the bay, there’s surely nowhere else to swim that would make you feel so connected to the world around you.   Making our way back to dry land after two-hours of fun, a calm point towards the horizon from Iain indicates what might just be the most thrilling part of the journey. A blowhole breaks the surface up ahead as a fin whale comes up for air. We spot it’s blowhole around four times, at five-or-so-minute intervals as the whale takes deep breaths and journeys below the surface.   Two very excited little girls and two equally enthralled grown ups land at Helford Passage almost entirely speechless- two hours on the water felt like deliverance into an entirely different world, a world beneath the waves – one seen from the land and heard about, but which never quite seemed real until a morning spent out on the water with August Rock Adventures.

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