Valued friends & guests: I was hoping we were not going to be bearers of bad news but it is with deep regret that we have no option but to suspend our April & May Spring Sailing schedule for 2020 until further notice.

For the ship & crew, this could not have come at a worse time as after a winter refit and overhaul,  the hard working crew has her fully commissioned, surveyed  and ready to go sailing.

My decision has not been made lightly, but as a hospitality business with no possible way of enforcing social distancing, the government have impelled us to cease trading (20/03/20).
As I am sure you are all aware, the government is telling “entertainment and hospitality premises to close temporarily”, that “people should only travel if absolutely
essential” and that these steps must be taken to “stop the spread of the virus
and protect the most vulnerable people in our society, and our NHS.”

Under this duress, and our primary concern being for the health and wellbeing of our customers and crew, we have no choice but to cease operating immediately.

We are already halting the start of the season hoping to operate as normal later on this year but the pandemic we are experiencing, unfortunately, makes the situation far from normal and difficult to plan ahead. We will be monitoring the situation daily keeping you in touch and up to date.

Whilst we have no way of knowing if government guidelines will be relaxed, we can look to the actions of other countries and expect, realistically, the situation will get worse before it gets better.

By acting now, and giving our customers as much notice as possible, we are
confident that we can ride out the difficulties ahead and be ready for a
rewarding full season of cruising in 2021. Next year we will be offering a
virtually identical itinerary, and so sadly our promises of Norway will be put over to the following year.   I am freezing prices and all dates will be very
Customers who kindly booked with us for 2020 will be given priority on
these future trips and will be transferred onto the 2021 cruises.

We feel this solution offers a fair alternative due to challenging circumstances entirely out of our control (Terms and Conditions, 14 d).

We will be contacting guests individually over the coming days and weeks but
please bear with us as we have a lot of people to contact, and those with
bookings earlier in the season will be prioritised.

Customers who cannot reschedule onto similar dates in 2021, or alternative
dates if available, are advised to seek reimbursement of deposits with their
holiday insurance provider. We always recommend holiday cancellation
insurance when you book (Terms and Conditions, 10)

Considered management of both the current worldwide crisis and our own
resources means we are as confident as can be that we will meet the challenges ahead and just sorry that due to extraordinary circumstances, we are unable to offer your planned holiday this year. The crew and myself always look forward to these cruises just as much as you do and value each and every one of you who sails with us, many of whom have become friends.

Bessie Ellen is currently moored in the river Fowey and although she’s had an extensive winter refit and work will continue through this crisis, as long as it is safe to do so, thus ensuring the vessel is in excellent condition for next season.
On behalf of myself, and the team at Venturesail Holidays, we hope very much to see you aboard Bessie Ellen in 2021

Sitting on the bow sprit

COVID 19 UPDATE – Voyage Deferals


We have been following the developing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic and regretfully have made the decision to cancel our voyages  up until Saturday 9th May. The current government’s advice to ‘avoid all unnecessary travel’ and the ambiguous recommendations about restaurants and pubs throws our sailing plans into a grey area at best. We cannot, therefore,  in all good conscience, continue with our sailing programme. Notwithstanding, along with that the current restriction placed on basic goods in supermarkets would make it impossible for us to victual the boat for the voyages.

Here is where we stand to date:

For those of you who have signed on for voyages up until the 16th May we will communicate with them individually today to make alternative arrangements.

For voyages following 9th May:

We hope to stick to our planned schedules for  as best we can.  However we are realistic that we will need to reassess on a regular basis in line with how things develop. In this instance we will be in touch with those booked on later voyages 8 weeks before their trip start to talk through options

Our decision making will be based on up to date government advice/legislation, email discussions with you as the guests and regular communications with our fellow boat operators whom we are lucky enough to be in constant discussion with. These are unprecedented times and we can only try our best to make the right decisions and endeavor to keep you up to date as much as we can as things evolve.

Remember,  that this is a uniquely difficult time that we are living through, its a situation demanding community spirit, empathy and togetherness. Check on neighbours, ring those that’d appreciate a phone call, support your local businesses in any way.

Stay present but keep dreaming for the time when we can continue our adventures.

Meet Bracken, New Crew for 2020

We are delighted to announce that Bessie Ellen has a new crew member joining us for 2020 and we would like to introduce you before you climb aboard. 


His name is Bracken and comes in the small and furry variety and will be Bessie Ellens  sea dog…. We obviously appreciate that although we are dog lovers, not everyone may feel the same way. If you have any concerns at all about travelling on Bessie Ellen with Bracken, please do let us know. We want our guests to have the best experience and if this doesn’t involve a sea dog, we completely respect that and Bracken can remain ashore at his second home.

His time on the ship will be spent in the Captains quarters and will not be sailing overseas. 

So, if you are allergic or worried about Bracken being on board, please us let know otherwise we will assume that you cannot wait for cuddles!”Bessie Ellen Bracken.jpg

Sail, Sea & Gastronomy on board Bessie Ellen

with thanks to Emma from Edinburgh Epicure


“Dolphins!” came the shout from Skipper Nikki Alford at the bow of Bessie Ellen. We were whipping along at a nifty 7.6 knots – a cracking pace for this beautiful Cornish ketch as she sliced through the Hebridean waves like scissors through silk on her merry way to Canna. Dolphins were in sight, and not just a few. Hundreds!

The sun is out, it is day 3 of my first (and by no means last) tall ship adventure, fulfilling my childhood dream of sailing the seas on an historic ship. The wind has toasted my cheeks red, the salty sea air is bone cold, my clunky million layers make me feel like the Michelin man and I’m wearing the Mountain Warehouse equivalent of a tea cosy on my head. I reluctantly had to put my sea bands on on day two because – guess what folks – I ain’t no pirate. (yet). But I am as happy as a seagull with chips. On crack.

Bessie Ellen is a 114 foot long, traditional Cornish wooden trading ketchoriginally built in Plymouth in 1904. Lovingly restored with painstaking attention to detail and craftsmanship by its skipper, the inspirational Nikki, she now sails all year round – in Scotland and Cornwall over summer, the Canaries and beyond in the winter months. She is a seductive beauty and the very image of all romantic dreams of seafaring escapism. I board on the 18th May – excited and buoyant – with 11 other ship nuts, lovers of the sea, or just curious adventurers, looking for something different.

We are from all walks of life – from the older Extinction Rebellion-ist couple to the single go-getter like me in their 30s, the old-handers on their 10th trip and the newbies like me getting giddy over reef knots and wet weather gear.

Bessie Ellen Whisky Macs
Skipper Nikki and welcome Whisky Macs on day one
Inside Bessie Ellen
Our cosy home for the next 6 days

In our first hour on board, as ice-breaking patter is exchanged, we hoist our sails: mizzen, main, stay, inner jib, outer jib, fly – tall ship mantra poetry. We learn to make fast and coil ropes and sheets, get our safety brief, realise the wind is non-existent and the sea flat as a pancake and take the sails down and pack them away – a second lesson right there. One hour in and I want to jack in my day job and run away to sea. And we’ve barely left Oban harbour!

After whisky macs and rum and gingers on deck in the early evening mist, we huddle in the warm glow of lanterns, around the below-deck’s communal tables, with our hobbit-like bunks – each with it’s own pretty curtains for privacy and ridiculously comfy bedding – dotted around the main area. We’re here for the low down on our next six days’ passage, the likely weather, what wildlife we will encounter. Island names are rattled off like an exotic tongue – Rùm, Canna, Muck, Eigg, Staffa, The Dutchman’s Cap, Iona, Mull, Coll, Ulva, Gometra… it’s a lullaby to bask in as the waves gently sway us. All the while in the background Pete, Olly, Owain and Alex – our super crew – bustle about laying the tables, setting out wines and beers, tidying the deck and making ready our first (of MANY) sumptuous and indulgent meals on board: oysters (local, obvs), venison, celeriac mash, roast everything, apple pudding, cream. We subsequently learn that over the course of our 6 day voyage, 28.5 packs of butter are used. This is the James Martin school of sailing gastronomy. I mean, who wants a green-juice spa retreat, when you can have this?!

Alex surveying another restaurant-worthy, butter-filled dreamy meal on board!

Back to day three. The dolphins surround us like a rabble of jumpy sea puppies, swarming on all sides of the ship as they playfully swoop and splash through the waves, chasing each other under the bowsprit and challenging us in a speed contest. I’ve never seen one dolphin let alone multiple pods – their smooth backs shining under a beaming sun as they dash in and out of the sea spray.

Olly – whose other talents include mustering dreamy cakes, fresh bread and sinfully good homemade sorbets from a galley kitchen the size of a teacup – is also our on-board paddleboarding guru and wild swimmer. So it is no surprise that as soon as our dolphin posse arrive, he is hopping overboard to paddle out with them. Cue a series of hilarious snapshots. The paddleboard overturns, out goes the rescue dinghy. The rescue dinghy punctures. Olly then has to pump the dinghy alive as it shuttles back to the ship, looking like a carrot-topped coyote from the Hanna Barbera cartoons furiously trying to blow up Roadrunner with an ACME dynamite pump. All the while the dolphins continue their mad dance through the waves. Could I be happier? I don’t even know – I am delirious with mad-lady grinning by this point and as high as Digby from Trainspotting on sea air and life.

Olly on his paddleboard. Plus dolphins. Mucho dolphins.
Off the coast of Canna, the dolphins come to play!

On the southern tip of Skye, sailing past Soay and into Loch Scavaig, we find our anchor for our fourth night – the Black Cuillins peaks fiercely defending the isle like coal and smoke–coated icebergs. The lobster-red sun is dipping behind the crags, signaling our safe haven. Here, under a candy-coloured sky, the water tranquil and frequented only by plump happy seals and the odd tiny fishing boat, we drop anchor and head ashore for an evening stroll. This is Mordor, overseen by the great eye of Sauron – although in this case more a protective force, radiating sheer wild beauty.

I swim in freshwater Loch Coruisk with fellow ship nut Kathrin, with whom I have especially bonded on this trip. The water is placid, icy, refreshing and delicious. The mountains surrounding us whispering laments. That evening, back on Bessie Ellen, I – accompanied by a ragtag of fellow travellers – sing a bastardised version of the Skye Boat Song, knock back a dram and scatter my Dad’s ashes overboard. Four years after his passing. For a fleeting moment I wish he were here. He would be so proud, he would have loved to sail this same sea. I am grateful in that second for every single moment of my life, for everything achieved and everything yet to come.

Anchor at Loch Scavaig, on the southern tip of Skye
Loch Coruisk, Skye – perfect wild swim spot

Our days pass simultaneously as slowly as dripping treacle and as fast as light. Suns rise and we are out on deck, bellies filled with bacon, eggs, eggy bread, piping hot coffee, steaming porridge and fresh rye loaves. We hoist sails, get our course for the day and take turns on watch – steering Bessie Ellen to our next exploration point. We play tag against other ships, exchange life stories or simply marvel at the Hebrides’ quiet beauty as we sail past jutting rocky outcrops and staggeringly beautiful islands. We send the boys out in the dinghy with a bucket to collect lobsters and crabs from Sandy – a trusty fisherman spotted off the coast of Muck. We feast on lobster salad at lunch and a rich, creamy bisque under a balmy, wind-whippy sun. We drink tea as the ship lists and rolls pleasantly past Ardnamurchan. We anchor in coves and whizz ashore to marvel at Iona’s great abbey, Lunga’s comical puffins and chattering razorbills, Gometra’s “art gallery” – a craggy bothy standing sturdy and proud on this empty, wind-swept island crammed with seagull skulls, shell mobiles and watercolours by an anonymous visiting nomad.

Alex, Owain and Olly answer our millions of questions and indulge us in navigation tips, climbing the rigging, repeated rescuing of us when we get waylaid exploring on shore, crazy anecdotes and endless good humour. Pete, a font of too many Dad jokes and a mine of historical and sea-faring knowledge surprises us each and every meal with yet more gourmet treats.

We swim in the morning, plopping off the side of the ship into freezing crystal waters, hangovers to the fore (well, mine at least), dreams still swirling in our brains. We swim in the evenings either in pebbly coves or seaweedy waves. Time on deck is marked by the movement of the sun, and calls of “dolphins!”, “minke whales!”, “lunch!”, “jibe!”

Nights are cosy, hunkered down around a gastronomic feast, the air filled with mariner’s stories, anecdotes and jokes and swapped snippets of life, wine-induced giggles and silly games, belly laughs and then tranquil, happy silences on deck as the stars hum above us.

Puffins on Lunga
The tropical waters of Iona
Castle Gylen on Kerrera

The final night arrives and I can barely remember the day I came on board. It’s like aeons have gone by and I’ve rewritten the life plan. I make a mental list of what I need to do to get back on board as soon as humanly possible, before tucking into yet another terrific dinner of Melanzane Parmigiana (a Pete speciality), far too much wine and a tot of Cornish-made Rathlee rum– a barrel of which is on deck “maturing” in her whisky casks as she is rolled across the oceans on a six month voyage to bring her a unique flavour.

We do a “pub quiz” recapping our escapades on board and revelling in the lifetime’s worth of stories we’ve amassed even in such a short time. We have strolled all over Kerrera, our final stop on land before arriving back in Oban – marvelling at the endless seascapes from the lonely turret of Castle Gylen and the graceful bulk of Bessie Ellen as she sails around the headland to meet us on the other side of the island.

Bessie Ellen in all her glory, from the bow
Coffee and walnut cake, made by Olly and one of the 28.5 pats of butter consumed on board
Lobsters from Sandy, caught off the coast of Muck. Ready for bisque!

A sail on Bessie Ellen is no mere holiday. No mere thrill seek. It is a moment of spirit-filling, unadulterated happiness and zen suspended in time. Palms raw from pulling ropes, skin stinging from spiky salt air, hands numb from steering in Scottish spring time and adrenaline pumping with joy at every glance across the waves. It is the childhood fantasy, a real life that continues to go on, lived by adventurers, whilst you are back at your office desk questioning it all. It is me, booking my next passage barely three days after arriving home, dazed, sea-leggy and grinning like Wallace and Gromit drowning in Wensleydale (looking like it too, as I promptly reinstate my gym membership and hurl myself into the sea for mad swimming dashes).

Don’t wait around for someone else to tell you about it, go and make your own voyage. Sails can be booked on Bessie Ellen via Venturesail Holidays(set up by Nikki) with early bird discounts currently available for early 2020 trips!

Scottish island beach

Our Summer Up Here in the Highlands

Well, it’s certainly different to last year weather-wise and apart from a few low pressure systems tracking through we have been blessed with warm sunshine and light winds.  I loved coming back to Oban, and after the rusty red cliffs of Gomera and the Canaries, our winter base and the grey ocean of our voyage home, the emerald green of Kerrera as we arrived into Oban lifted our spirits – home for the summer!

May was wonderful, the sun shone and the summer breeze was gentle, allowing us to discover new anchorages normally open to the weather systems and getting up close to the puffins on Treshnish. As always, these small, well-dressed birds are the the highlight, preparing the nests and arguing softly with the rabbits that try and inhabit the burrows.

We have barbecued langoustines on the beach in Coll as the sun set over the Atlantic, swum (yes, promise) in the icy waters of Vatersay, and our 10 day voyage out to St Kilda was wonderful, visiting all the more inaccessible islands.

Southern Hebrides

After crossing the Minch to Vatersay, we met up with the Hajcutter, Eda Frandsen and sailed together to Mingulay, a rare treat. Walking ashore around the old village in the warmth of the spring sunshine, one could imagine a happy and contented community which once inhabited this island. I met a local man and his son who were visiting the family grave on an annual pilgrimage. He told us which pile of stones was the old blackhouse, explaining in his soft sing-song dialect it was his grandfather’s, one of the last islanders who requested to be relocated to Vatersay after the young men joined the herring fleets, returning home less and less as the boats followed the shoals around the coasts of Europe. The elders struggled to keep the island productive, with few young men to do the arduous work and finally in 1912 left all together to Barra and Vatersay. To me, with its white sand, turquoise sea and soft green slopes, Mingulay is something special.

Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys
Heave her head round to the weather
Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys
Sailing homeward to Mingulay

With weather so calm and little left of the Atlantic swell, a voyage round the west side of the islands to watch puffins and the great Fulmar in their element. The sun shone and the seas sparkled but you know that these dark cliffs are a place where no man can survive once the wind blows – this is the birds’ place, free to skim the waves, soaring into the skies to nest on precipitous ledges. Nothing short of wonder here.

Puffins in the eastern Scottish isles

Monaco Isles & St Kilda

The high pressure also brings fog, and the day I planned to sail through the sound of Barra, a rock strewn channel, the fog came down thick. Sailing slowly through, the western shores brought clearer weather to head onward for the Monachs, bird and seal paradise. Man does not belong here either, like the cliffs of Mingulay, nature takes over and one feels an intruder into the animal kingdom. A visit here, the force of nature shows how we should be able to live in harmony with all nature – but it will be a long road before that day!

Kilda rises out of the ocean, her cathedral cliffs offer up the secret Village Bay ringed with dwellings along with thousands of cleats (stone structures for drying birds). Again, it’s a bird world here where once again, humans are just a touching visitor. It’s only the wild sheep and ocean birds that can survive here once the winter storms set in. Today it is mild and warm, a perfect chance to cruise close to Stac Lee, the largest gannet colony in the world. Slightly Mordor-esque, we are centre stage in a theatre of rock where the Skua is the bad guy, robbing the pure white gannet of her meal. Battles on the wing, ending in squabbles on the water, these bird wars never fail to amaze.

Minke whales in Scotland surfacing


I must tell you about our encounter with a Minke – late afternoon rounding Ardnamurchan, the cry of “whale” came from the fore-deck. Sure enough, a large Minke was surfacing through the mercury water. We stopped sailing and just cruised silently and the whale came to Bessie Ellen and swam below the keel, alongside and around for about 20 minutes! Just wonderful! And it was a big whale too, probably 15 metres. This has been the closest we have been to a whale since the Canna whale a few years ago. Maybe I am not looking in the right place but no basking sharks have been sighted this year. Otherwise, plenty of common dolphins and bottlenose are about.

Life is not all about the wild ways, this year is the first to have had so much music on board. Quite unexpected, two of our guests were pipers, so every day the sound of bagpipes (well played by the way) rang out over the water. The seals loved it – swimming in close to the boat, doe-eyed and enjoying the songs of Scotland. Robbie brings a different tone, his French songs stretch into the night as the malt whiskies are passed around as the sun goes down. The horizon is never dark now, midsummer and it is pretty cold. The crew have tried to swim every day but the chill north wind has made even the toughest of us shy away from the cold waters. I last swam the other day in Muck, our new favourite island where there is a charm and tranquility that possesses the shores. We buy lobsters and crab from Sandy and the craft shop/cafe is the go to place for knitted hats and socks – and of course cakes.

Today, after two weeks of unseasonal winds, we set off  once again to St Kilda and I hope the Shiants too!

Last Minute Availability

If this inspires you to sail along with us, then I have a few berths left in August: 4 – 10 August and 25 – 31 August. See you on board.

Sailing the Bessie Ellen around Cornwall

Biscay – Sailing South to Cascais


I came up on watch this morning just as we rounded Cape Finisterre in Galicia, breathed a sigh of relief that the corner had been turned and a new course of 180 (S). A misty dawn, the sky filled with spray from the vast Nw’ly swell crashing on the rocky shore. Small fishing boats harvesting the sea greet us with waves and cheers – Galicia, the maritime blood of Spain.

It seems weeks ago that we left our home of Fowey and started out on the first leg of our journey to the Western Canaries. Ophelia and Brian managed to hold us up for a while, sitting out the first in Falmouth then making a mad dash across the channel with some big seas but a good wind to carry us over to Ouessant. In fact, so fast was our passage that the chosen port of Camaret to escape Brian was bypassed and the crew headed on round the Point du Raz and into Concarneau.

Concarneau – an old fishing town and “Ville Close” to you and me, a walled city offering protection and a good berth for a gale. A good French friend of many years, Clementine, whom I sailed with on Anna Rosa, organised a secure berth with the port officials and our enforced visit began with a beer in the charming  square. The bustle of life here is seriously diminished now – few fishing boats adorn the quays and there seems very little happening now the tourist season is over. Not to worry – more room for us in the Hotel Grand Voyageur that became our rendez-vous for a cider and a laugh – although Karina could not resist a chocolate crêpe.

Four days waiting for a window in the weather and spirits tend to get low – it is always difficult to explain to those not used to a life at sea that they would not like a strong gale in Biscay and 6 metre seas. They see the adventure of it all, the challenge but perhaps not the responsibility. Sailing also incorporates the art of travelling and exploring new cultures as much as trimming a jib or standing watch. Those times will come and they did, we set off at a storming rate, all sail set with a stiff F5 and slipping along at a fair 8.0kts.

The favourable breeze did not last, and come sundown the Iron topsail began her steady rhythm. Gentle rolling and a night as black as pitch set in while dolphins jostled for a ride on the bow wave. One sight of which you can never tire, these silver darts as lit by the bioluminescence that abounds in these waters. The crossing of the continental shelf saw them bid their farewells and our ship sailed on towards the Spanish coast.

Monday was a frustrating day, opposing winds and a huge swell left by Brian set into Biscay, we tacked a few times trying to find the most comfortable course, but really not worth the effort.  Life was a rolling deck!  Tuesday and the world was perfect – now in the warm sunshine with good sightings of three large whales and countless dolphins.  The mountains along the coast rose up in the sunrise only to disappear in the midday haze.  By evening, the lights of Coruna lit the horizon, but our enemy, the swell was back, the ship wallowing in the vast troughs with little or no wind.  The main sail is taking it well, but the strain on the gear in such conditions makes me worry – all this rolling about and flapping.   Maybe you ask why the sail is up?  To reduce the rolling even more.  The slab of canvas reduced the motion – at least a little.

Wednesday morning, today and bread is baking in the ovens and a new course of South – Cascais is closer but we still have 240 NM to go and planes to catch.

Bessie Ellen Winter 1910 Sail Cargo

log book, bowsprit and old photo

As most of us are preparing for the mad Christmas mayhem during the months of December,  I took the opportunity to look back through Bessie Ellen’s old log books to see what was going on in 1910. Although this is the season of good cheer and all that, this book shows our little ship plying her trade through the Celtic sea to Cornwall.

An excerpt from 106 years ago reads:

’30/11/1910 …for the Shipper Acton’s of Kinsale, Eire, Bessie Ellen loaded 95 ton of oats for a Mr Tonkin of Penzance, arriving 2nd December 1910.’ Judging by the tonnage, I would imagine that the cargo was loaded into sacks rather than as a bulk cargo. Oats are a relatively light cereal cargo and in damp weather (rain, snow) or heavy seas, the cargo must be protected from moisture, since wetting or damp may ruin the consignment. I have no record of the weather that year, but it seems the ship made a slow passage down to Penzance, the distance being only 200NM. Looking at the timing of the passage, perhaps she was up against prevailing SW’lies that are the norm at this time of year.

The above entry for cargo shows Bessie Ellen loading 113 tons of copper ore in Penzance for the shipper Bennello, for a Willam Forbes, the consignee to be discharged in Swansea.

Nowadays with the fantastic web, we can find out so much, and maybe, just maybe, the copper was for the descendants of William Forbes, 1756.  The son of an Aberdeen merchant, he began work as a coppersmith and won a government contract to sheath ships’ hulls in copper. With the fortune he made (equivalent to over $1 billion in today’s terms), he purchased the estates of Callendar and Linlithgow near Falkirk.

Back to our Bessie Ellen. She remained in Penzance for 28 days, perhaps loading the ore, or the Master, John Chichester returning home to Braunton to spend Christmas with his family before sailing from Penzance on 30th December, arriving in Swansea for discharging on 1st January 2011.

Although the voyages were not that fast, they were pretty reliable and at no cost to the environment. The wind was free, and still is, and whilst we may not carry copper or oats these days, we are fully aware of our impact on our oceans and our voyages reflect that.  Today we support and sponsor many sail cargo initiatives focussed on sustainable shipping, community and a fair economy, bringing back the use of our free wind.

Bessie Ellen black and white

 New Dawn Traders is co-creating the Sail Cargo Alliance (SCA) to support a new and growing community interested in shipping ethical cargo under sail. Beyond building viable trade for these sailing vessels, the SCA is committed to setting the highest standards for ethics across the supply chain. This is an alliance of ship owners, brokers, producers and anyone interested in working together in a healthy transport culture.

If you are looking for that elusive gift for someone this Christmas, there can be nothing more festive than a bottle of NEW DAWN rum – with proceeds going toward supporting this worthwhile cause.


Goodbye Caledonia


Photo: G Sunter

Today, Bessie Ellen safely arrived to her old home here in Logstor, Vesthimmerland, after a voyage of many parts. Our last voyage crew of the season joined their ship up near Fort William for a week passing through the Caledonian Canal, then across the North Sea, finally entering the Limfjord to depart at Aalborg

The first day started with incredible rain, so wet we were all soaked by lunch.  As the day wore on, the highlands lit up with glorious sunshine for us to pass the 9 locks of Neptunes Staircase to the canal proper.  A fast transit meant Bessie Ellen was able to get through Loch Lochy (Had the Scots run out of names when naming this one?)to end the day at Laggan under the emerald hills.  Despite a few midges the night was still and the voyage crew relaxed into the roll of handling the ship.  Day 2 .  Wound our way through the canal and into the mystical Loch Oich(see photo )a day so still the reflections of mountains and water made it hard to navigate.  A lunchtime descent at Fort Augustus and across Loch Ness  – no monster to be seen anywhere in the hot sunshine.  We are enjoying ourselves on the canal and may retire from the sea – so relaxing.

Day 3 Inverness and the call of the sea.  Out we shot into the moray Firth  setting sail passed the bridge the horizon stretched away to the east under clear skies.  Bottlenose dolphin and their young joined us to say goodbye to Bessie Ellen.  The night passed mostly under sail as the lights of old herring ports twinkled out to Starboard, Macduff, Buckie Portsoy, all quiet in the warm night.  By daybreak the wind had increased to 30 knots and steering was pulling the ship to weather so the mizzen and flying jib came down.  On she rolled – 8.5 knots ripping along, sweeping past oil rigs, not using a drop of their black blood to move her.  At night the structures appear as  futuristic cities, vast and imposing, feeding off the earth.  Onwards we sailed until the wind died and the vessel became shrouded in fog.  Thick fog, so thick the navigation lamps lit up the night, our world became small and tense, looking out for other ships also   creeping towards new harbours.

With no wind at all the engine was started, places to go, timetables to keep and planes to catch and with 55NM to go the wind just could not fill the sails enough.

Day 5 Dawn broke and the fog started to lift creating pastel skies you seem to get in the East.  Nothing like an island dawn – still and silent.  A low coastline emerged then the chimneys and windmills of Thyboron broke the skyline.  Now we were in the land of shallow water and sand, not deep water and rocks of which I am so used to.  With voyage crew steering, told to stay inside the channel marks or we will go aground – and no tides here to help you out.  The sun was bright now – and hot! All sails were set and the crew tacked up Nissum Breeding and on through the bridge, reaching at 6.0kts towards the high bridge connecting Mors to the mainland.  Uneasy with the height of bridge and mast – just doesn’t look 29 M!! the ship falls silent – expecting to touch at any time.  Then we are through with a big sigh and headed for Nykobing for the night.  Our voyage crew have sailed all day, and as the sun sets our voyage seems to have come to an end although still 14 nm further to our departure destination it seems fitting to relax and remind ourselves of the past week with so many parts.

The ship is quite now, all ready for the next band of merry souls – here for racing the Limfjord with a fleet of traditional sails.  Here’s to fair winds boy’s!

Feis Ile with Bessie Ellen – Festival Programme



Islay Whisky Festival 2016 – BOOK HERE


After several successful voyages to the Islay Music and Malt Festival the tall ship Bessie Ellen has again scheduled a trip to coincide with the 2016 event commencing 21st May until 29th May 2016. This year Nikki the Captain and owner would like to extend a warm welcome to your Whisky club and invite members to come aboard and get hands on sailing a traditional sailing ship as well as sampling some of the best Island malts made.

Possible Itinerary ( subject to weather )


Day 1

Join your ship Bessie Ellen 16.00 Oban North pier. After a Highland tea set sail for Loch na Cille in the Sound of Jura, passing the famous whirlpool of Coryvreckan. Anchor over night.

Day 2

After a hearty breakfast, visit the mediaeval chapel at Keills to see the remarkable collection of ancient grave slabs within. Back aboard help set sails for a gentle sail up the stunning sound of Islay to anchor in Loch Tarbert, Jura. Here you will see seals, red deer, eagles and even wild goats. View the spectacular raised beaches, 15 m above sea level that remain after 10,000 years. Dinner will be at anchor, along with a whisky tasting later on.

Day 3

A short sail to Port Bunnahabain on Islay for the Caol Ila open day. Local music, oyster stands and of course the definitive Caolo Ila tasting tours throughout the day. For those that still have the energy, a taxi will take you to the Ceilidh where local dancers perform reels, tales from the Isle and you can join in and Scottish dance the night away in Port Ellen’s Ramsay Hall. Return to the ship in Port Ellen.

Day 4

A leisurely start to your day, with a choice to sail or walk to Laphroag Distillery. This original distillery produces one of the most peated of all malts, and today is open to the public for tastings along with local music and food. Program to follow. A late evening sail will take you round the East of the Island to anchor at Aros Bay and a traditional dinner of Highland food. Local seafood, venison and a highland whisky dessert will be on the menu tonight.

Day 5

A mid- morning start and leave Islay behind for a day, sailing to Colonsay and Oronsay. Here we hope to see dolphin and Minke whales. The ship will berth at Scalasaig in the evening and there will be a chance to walk over the island to the stunning bay of Kilchatten before returning for a dinner aboard with music and song.

Day 6

Morning tour is booked with Kevin, local island entrepreneur and enthusiast who once owned the hotel here. Colonsay is home to Kiloran Gardens an extensive woodland featuring big-leaved rhododendrons and a wild yet tended feel. In the bay nearby there are the remains of a Viking grave where a skeleton of a man and his horse amongst various artifacts were discovered. On your return, you will join the ship for lunch under sail to visit the small ancient monastery on Oronsay. For those that enjoy foraging, a prawn catching party will try for tonight’s supper. Return to Scalasaig for a pub evening in the hotel with beers and ales produced on the island.

Day 7

Back to Islay and your captains favourite, the Bunnahabain distillery. Today, the distillery manager Andrew Brown talks us through a tasting of 5 specially selected whiskies. You will have a full distillery tour and a chance to buy some of the best and smoothest drams. Sail to Ardbeg.  Tonight we treat you to a whisky nosing with whisky experts Eddie and Jo from the Whisky Lounge.

Day 8

The finale of the Feis Ile today and the whisky of the day is Ardbeg, another heavily peated whisky, but one of the oldest distilleries on the island. Join in the fun and games and tonight you get the opportunity to win a Bowmore Tempest single malt aboard the Bessie Ellen.

Day 9

Your final morning aboard your ship. Disembark from 10.00 at Port Ellen. You may return from either Port Askaig by ferry to Oban, Port Ellen for Kennacraig or alternatively fly from Islay to Glasgow direct.


The Captain and crew wish you bon voyage.

Soraidh Hebrides

Farewell to the Hebrides and all the other magical places we have been this summer.  Although the weather was not perfect, all our guests company made up for the rain with smiles and good humour.  Oban our host port has been more than welcoming and we say goodbye to all friends here.  It somewhat feels more like home than Cornwall.

At 1700 this afternoon, Bessie Ellen will set off to home waters of the Westcountry where we will stop in Fowey for the shipyard before heading on down to Northern Spain for some late summer sun.  The forecast is not looking great even now, heavy rain later tonight and winds from the South West which makes sailing hard given that we only have six days!  Never mind, what ever happens we always have a good adventure.