Early Season Sailing


So much has happened since last time I posted, and rather too long!  Spring went very fast, helped along by good weather for maintenance and the arrival from the West Indies of our shipmates aboard sail cargo vessel Tres Hombres.  Our first sail was to join them at anchor in Polkerris inside gribben head, the sail down to Falmouth with them where they received


a fanfare welcome and had organised events running all week.  Down in the hold,  Rum from Dominican Republic, molasses, Grenada chocolate and coffee beans all waiting to be discharged in a European port.  Falmouth to Amsterdam and beyond.  Lucy Gillam from New Dawn Traders has imported the rum into the UK and will continue to ship goods by sail when and where she can.  The ship looked great and our crew had a tour given by the crew and captain Lammert.  One of our old crew was also on board, Sam from two years ago, now been sailing all winter aboard Tres Hombres.  Its wonderful when you get to meet up with old friends and crew wherever you may be but can lead to late nights and headaches.

Now it was our turn to really get sailing, and with a pure stroke of luck Easter winds blew us down to Scilly and back. Our welcome there was as good as ever with an alongside berth after Scillonian had left and a visit from Fraser & Becky Hicks who run Sea King from St Mary’s.  Although hard hit by the winter gales, there was surprisingly little damage to the islands.

Heading Eastwards, we had some great sailing visiting the old cornish harbours of Polperro, Cawsand and Charlestown.  Basking sharks have returned early this spring. Numbers were seriously down last year, but on a short stretch of coast from Fowey we say some really large ones. Our guests this week were really game for trying their skills at setting sail and navigating. One lad, Dave who had never sailed before was up and down, sailing off the anchor and just really having the best time.  He could not believe how much fun you can have aboard a tall ship and has now applied for deckhand. A special guest also featured this week, Classic Yacht TV were aboard to film an episode about Bessie Ellen and the work we do now to keep our heritage alive.

Now, after a short passage, I am sitting in Holyhead marina contemplating the voyage past. After the lovely summery weather all spring, the West wind gods blew up a short gale and Bessie Ellen had to wait for it to pass.  Two nights passed before we could attempt Lizard point but the wind was becoming fair later.  Bit rough mind, but we finally anchored at midnight for a rest before an early start round Longships and Lands End and away on up towards St George’s Channel.


The wind abated and we stormed along under full canvas until the wind died off Milford Haven, so with 50 dolphins in the full moonlight we took it slow up towards Port Dinallaen.  Warm sunshine abounded and there was absolutely not a breath of wind to sail so we lay around seeing canvas and varnishing for the afternoon. To end the day, the small pub Ty Coch, opened just for us in the last of the evening sun. Bliss!

Spring, Varnish & Brightwork



We have been so lucky last week here in Fowey, Cornwall, spring has really begun with cloudless days, warm sunshine and the woodlands bursting into life beside the ship.  Bessie Ellen is lying alongside a pontoon in the river with an old building which was once a pilchard cellar for salting barrels of the silver darlings before shipping to the Mediterranean. Fish cellars were built, away from the town and other settlements, to process and store the fish. The sites were chosen for their ease of accessibility by water. The fish were stacked in the cellars and either pressed into barrels using huge oak beams, smoked or pickled in brine. Another of these cellars was at Brazen Island, and parts of the pits used to collect the fish oil still remain. Its sad the fish are not here in their vast shoals any more, but they are returning slowly and are now fished in a more sustainable method using smaller boats and cotton filament nets.

As we work on setting up the new bowsprit rigging of new whisker booms and guys, tarring rigging and varnishing, the air is full of bird noises.  Mallard and swans visit for any morsel of bread, the ever present gull and the rather prehistoric cormorants entertain us with their diving and popping up all over the place with beaks full of wriggling eels or small fish. Early afternoon brings the herons as they return back to their nests. Mobbed by gulls, their barks and squawks ring out over the river  and just epitomises life on an English river.

This weather brings out the varnish brushes, scrapers and sandpapers.  There is much discussion over brightwork, but we seem to have reached a good and fairly maintenance free solution.  All our spars and pin rails and what we call heavy use woodwork is treated with Tonkinois, a french manufactured mix of natural oils with added hardeners.  We use this because of it is easy to repair and apply, plus it has a good fire rating. (Does not burn easily)

This varnish does not give a huge glossy finish, but is good for our native timbers and lasts well. I must add that it is not so good for tropical oily woods such as teak or mahogany.

The aft cabin roof, planked in Douglas fir has a harder, more glossy finish.  The choice here is Hempel Classic as all our paint products are Hempel and it keeps things more simple.   Hard enough to take the traffic but not great against sun, this area needs to be redone about every four years and takes a good week to strip, sand down and add enough layers to build a shine.  This photo shows five coats and we should do at least two more for a good high build.

Application of both these varnishes is relatively easy, you need a good quality brush and some natural gum turpentine  to make the products flow off the brush and blend a little more easily.  A trick I have learned from Denmark is adding a little liquid driers.  This really helps in cold or damp conditions which we get in the early evenings at this time of year but does not affect the final finish in any way.

If you would like to ask any questions regarding your own varnish projects, then please do get in touch and we can try our best to assist you to reach a perfect finish for your brightwork.

Bessie Ellen Birdwatching Week


Are you interested in birdlife? Then perhaps voyage BE310514 is just what you are looking for. This year we have professional  guide  Dave Paynter who will join us on this voyage only, for a week of discovering  all birds both native and migrants that live here in the western isles of Scotland.

images-2Dave has been the Reserve Manager at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire for over 30 years, as well as the physical management of the reserve he runs an extensive visitor engagement calendar of walks, talks and tours enthusing thousands of visitors with the wildlife that surrounds them. He has extensive knowledge of Waterfowl, Seabirds and Birds of Prey with previous jobs on Skomer Island and Skye; this has also allowed him to develop as a keen botanist and all round naturalist. He has had a lifetime passion for Scotland especially the Western Isles and has travelled extensively there. More recently he has been exploring the area by Sea kayak and in 2011 a big Birthday treat fulfilled a lifetime ambition by introducing him to classic sailing with a voyage on Bessie Ellen. He describes this as probably the very best way of exploring this amazing landscape and seeing its wildlife up close.

imagesAmong the species we are likely to see are: Sea Eagles, Golden Eagle Auks, guillemot and puffin Corncrake Wheatear May is the breeding season, so do make sure that you bring your field glasses to really get involved.  We do carry some bird books on board but bring your own if you have a chosen favourite.

Interesting Puffin Facts


Bessie Ellen loves puffins so much that this year we have moved to start voyages earlier in Scotland just so we can see more of them during the breeding season. We will be visiting Canna, Lunga and Shiants to see both the puffin and guillemot in their millions, as they feed and nurture their young on these remote cliffs._MG_1697

Photo courtesy of G Hudson

Atlantic puffins, dubbed “sea parrots’, are small seabirds that belong to the Auk family and sport large, brightly-colored beaks on their substantially-sized heads.
For most of the year, Atlantic puffins live on the open ocean, with a range spanning from the eastern coast of Canada and the northern United States to the western coast of Europe and northern Russia.

Puffins are specially adapted to living on the open sea. Waterproof feathers allow them stay warm as they float at the ocean’s surface or swim underwater. Diving as deep as 60 m (200 ft.), they swim by flapping their wings as if flying through the water and use their feet to steer. There, they hunt herring, hake, capelin, and sand eels. Atlantic puffins are also excellent fliers. Flapping their wings at up to 400 beats per minute, puffins can reach speeds of 88 km/h (55mph).

April to mid-August is breeding season for puffins. When a puffin is around 3-5 years old, it will choose a partner at sea to mate with for life.

It is thought that the birds’ colorful bills and feet, which fade in the winter and brighten in the spring, help puffins assess potential mates.

Puffins create burrows, about 90 cm (3 ft.), in rocky cliffs either in the soil or between rocks. Often, couples will return to the same burrow year after year. At the back of the burrow, they build a nest lined with grasses, seaweed, and feathers. After the female lays a single egg, both parents take turn incubating the egg for about 40 days.
Once the chick hatches, the mother and father will take turns bringing it fish to eat several times a day. Atlantic puffins have the ability to carry several fish in their beaks at one time. They push the fish to the back of their mouth with their tongue, where ridges at the top of their bill secure the fish in place. This allows puffins to keep their mouth open to catch more fish without losing any in the process. In general, they can hold around 10 fish in their beak at once.

Conservation Status
With 6 million alive today, Atlantic puffins are not endangered. But some populations have been drastically reduced. Puffin colonies are threatened by overfishing, which causes a shortage of food for adults to feed their young.

Happy New Year

 The Bessie Ellen - 27/08/2013Greetings from Charlestown, Cornwall.  We have been blown into the new year with gales and rain with still no sign of let up, but at least we are afloat and sheltered inside the lock gates here in port. Work starts today with maintenance to blocks and rigging as we move on into spring and the start of sailing in March.

Two new crew join today, George and Freddie who sailed back from Denmark in December have signed up for the season to learn more traditional methods of sailing other than yachts. Both have good skipper experience from working in the Med for a charter company in Greece last season but I think they will experience a very different type of sailing aboard a traditional tall ship.

First on the list will be servicing around 60 wooden blocks (Ash).  For the last three years they have been aloft in sun, wind and rain and now need stripping down for greasing, revarnishing and checking for defects, i.e wearing on the cheeks.   Although an easy task, it can be long and drawn out as the varnish will need good drying temperatures, not what we have at present.  To reduce the chemical and polluting effects, we are using a Tung and linseed oil mix that penetrates the wood and provides a good shine, plus it is easy to repair when worn.  Stockholm tar is added to colour the mix and help the waterproofing.  Stainless pins are greased and new copper plates are set over the holes.  I have a large collection of penny and ha’penny that are just perfect for this job and they have a sailing ship/ Brittannia on the coin face.

Rope wise, each halyard and sheet will be end-for ended where possible. New splices turned in and served and parcelled in the traditional manner with spun yarn or tarred marlin.

Using our strong ties with Denmark, many of our rigging products are sourced there.  If you are looking for belay pins, hoops, blocks or other wooden items,  can recommend H.J.  Jacobsen for a fast and efficient service and not ridiculously priced!

Now we have the time, i hope to update the blog weekly to give tips and advice to any boat owner also contemplating maintenance, and if you would like to get some hands on experience, then give us a call and come down to try traditional skills for yourself.

An update from Svendborg

planking 3Launching day arrives and today sees a beautiful contrast  to yesterdays heavy rain, with warming sunshine, crisp air and a cobalt blue sky. Having spent three weeks on the slip at Ring Andersens’ shipyard  Svendborg, our ship is ready to make a splash in her new livery of green anti-fouling and tarred topsides.

The carpenters have renewed three planks on starboard side.  Why three?  Due to the age of the pitch pine, now over 100 years old,  it had become brittle, losing much of its  resin and strength.  The seams were also far too wide to caulk, and the trick of caulking in bandsaw blades was unthinkable this time. One of the planks held all the chain plates so the main shrouds were released and all the bolts driven out to allow access to plank and frames.

Afloat  again  and its time to re-rig the shrouds by tensioning the lanyards through the deadeyes to the chain plates. So it’s out with the handy billy and some applied muscle with accompanying grunts. The important thing is to get the tension just right. Not too loose or too tight and of course even on both sides.  Once set up with the mast straight, a racking seizing is laid onto the lanyard to hold the rope from slipping then finished with a cowlick hitch.  Today we work with a modern spun yarn instead of the more traditional tarred marlin, it lasts longer and doesn’t break so easy.  Luckily for us we have the help of Oda who has recently come from the training ship Georg Stage who has a keen interest in traditional boats and rigging.  Niels, a long   standing crew member has also arrived from Copenhagen to give a hand h ere and there.

So while we are busy  down in the yard, Pete’s work is to pull a crew together for the voyage home in a few weeks time. The plan is through Kiel canal, past Cuxhaven then down towards Dover before we turn west to Cornwall and our winter berth, Charlestown harbour.

On our arrival in Charlestown in early December we will be organizing a series of events  over the winter months, these will include open boat days, work shops highlighting traditional skills, presentations, lunches and possibly public Christmas dinners.

Scilly post

49 55′ N   006 19’W

Preparing for sea.  Our voyage crew are ashore on Tresco being given a guided tour by Will Wagstaff.  With the weather we have been having, this place is better than the Carribbean, the sand so white and azure sea.  Yesterday we took a picnic lunch on St Mary’s provided by our chef,Pete.  Homemade quiche with chilled white wine, salmon and potato salad all went down surprisingly well.   One of our old Scillonian crew made a fabulous birthday cake for one guest so after all that food  we slept on the sand with the birds singing in  the spring sun.

Tonight will be a different story.  Forecast E’ly 5-6.  I suspect a long voyage back to fowey but well worth it.  Bessie Ellen will sail with double reefed mizzen, full main and three heads’ls, hoping to make 6.5kts, arriving Fowey Sunday morning.

Windy days

I think nothing can be better than dropping anchor in a sheltered bay after a good stiff breeze.  Today, St Mawes is that bay after a very fast passage from Fowey.  With 3 reefs in the main and two headsails,  our top speed was 8.3 kts and only three crew on board to enjoy it.  We roared passed the Dodman with numerous white horses scattered across St Austell bay.  Round the headland there was a little more shelter but still a quartering wind to push us along.  Finally, sails down underneath St Anthony’s and a quiet arrival to the anchorage.  Now, wheres the tea!

If you would like to come and try tall ship sailing, we are in Falmouth until 3rd June offering days out in the river, or shorter voyages at 4 hrs.  See Classic Sailing for more details.

May Bank Holiday

This weekend, come and join in the maritime fun in two of our finest West Country ports.  On Friday, Bessie Ellen will lead the fleet on the opening day of the Fal River fest from King Harry ferry to the ancient port of Falmouth.  This will be the start of a whole week of events in the estuary, including the pilot cutter review hosted and sponsored by Classic Sailing of St Mawes.  Bessie Ellen will be sailing daily so come to Events square by the Maritime museum to book your place on board.

Early Saturday morning, Bessie Ellen arrives at the Barbican, Plymouth, her home port and where she was built over 100 years ago to provide the backdrop for the Pirate festival.   This magical weekend full of fun and piratical antics will include an on board pirate themed cookery demonstration by our old chef, Sam Bagshawe.  On the menu will include Pirate juice, Pirate fish and a Pirate cake.  Of course full costume attire will be worn.  Open ship all day will give an insight into ships of the past and fun for all the family.