As Chief Officer, Matt Wheeler is in charge of the cargo, deck and crew. He’s second in command and an integral part of the bridge team, who work together to ensure the safety of the crossing. We caught up with Matt to talk about dolphin spotting, wedding parties and transporting meerkats- all part of his job on board the Scillonian III!
What time does your day start?
We start at 7.30am to ready the ship for passengers. We get the stores on, the luggage and daily cargo like bread, milk, fruit and veg. The crossing takes 2 hours and 40 minutes berth to berth, during which I work with the Captain to look out for traffic like fishing boats and yachts, and keep an eye out for any wildlife too.
Do you see a lot of wildlife during the crossing?
Yes, most days! Paul Semmens [ Marine Guide with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust] is often on the ship, and he tells the passengers all about the seabirds and dolphins. We’ve seen minke whales, pilot whales and even a leatherback turtle- they’re about as big as your desk!
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve transported to the islands?
We take all sorts- diving gear, kayaks and boats. Occasionally we’ll take livestock like horses. We’ve had a few llamas, a seal pup and even meerkats on the ship!
What about passengers?
There’s been a group singing sea-shanties all the way to the Scilly Isles and back before! We also get quite a few wedding parties. Actually, the year before last, an entire wedding party got stuck on the A30. We held the ship as long as we could, looking down the quay to see if they’d make it, and luckily they managed to get on.
What’s the most important part of your job?
Safety. First and foremost you’ve got to get everyone over there safe. If you can show them some dolphins along the way that’s even better!
How could I become a Chief Officer?
You’ll need around ten years’ experience on a ship. We have a couple of interns working with us at the moment and we train up cadets too. Our close crew means cadets can get involved with everything.
What was your first experience on a boat?
I bought my first boat in Fowey; it was a 14ft clinker built boat and we used to go mackerel fishing in Mousehole, where I grew up.
Can you recommend any places to visit on the Scilly Isles?
Families will often ask me what to do and where to go, and I always tell them to go to St Martin’s. When the tide’s out there’s a lovely stretch of white sand, and when my girls were younger they’d be out there looking for little shells.
We know you don’t get seasick, but do you have any tips for people that do?
The bunks in the lower salon are good if you want to have a snooze, especially if you’ve travelled a long way. But you’re going to see much more from the open deck, and the fresh air helps.
I always say, sit down and relax; you’re on holiday now. Grab yourself a coffee or a beer and start your holiday!
The Scillonian III Passenger Ship travels from Penzance to St Mary’s up to 7 days a week, and you can book your tickets using our low fares finder.