Stuart from Rathlees hands the rum barrel to NIkki

Bessie Ellen sets Rathlees Rum A’Rockin!

When Bessie Ellen departed Cornwall she took with her a barrel of Cornish distilled Rathlees Rum in her cargo hold where it will remain for the duration of her sailing season.

Heading north with Bessie, the barrel will spend its time gently rolling with the lull of the waves, spending the summer months cruising around the Hebrides and out to St. Kilda. This constant movement allows the rum to absorb the flavours from the wooden barrel – which will also experience a couple of dips in the sea, soaking up the sea salt to leave a lingering taste of salinity on the lips when drunk. Additionally, this particular barrel has travelled across from America where it previously held Tennessee Bourbon, adding an extra flavour level to the finished product. Delicious!

As guests of Bessie will be aware, this isn’t the first time the Bessie Ellen has transported cargo, in fact it is the very thing she was originally built for back in 1904 and remains an intrinsic part of her spirit to date. In the words of Nikki, “Transporting cargo is a part of Bessie’s heritage and we continue to embrace the idea of slow travel as an eco-friendly and non-commercial way of supporting locally sourced premium goods. Rathlees Rum is a high quality Cornish product and we are excited to be a part of their story.”

On Bessie’s return to Cornwall, the barrel will be unloaded to produce 50 bottles of outstanding sea-age, cask-strength rum, at 50% proof. Bottles can be pre-ordered via their website – This will be a distinct limited edition rum, perfect for connoisseurs and lovers of the drink.

Rounding off the year will be an exclusive ticket-only event held in December on board Bessie whilst she is moored in Charlestown. Attendees will be able to sample Rathlees rum whilst dining on Latin themed food. For more information register your interest on the Rathlees website.

Bessie’s Adventures from Cornwall to Scotland

Sailing the Celtic Seas

The first major voyage of the summer started in Fowey, finishing up in Oban 520nm North. Leaving Cornwall’s warm spring sunshine we headed off at the tail end of Storm Hannah. Rounding Dodman with gusts still above, 40 knots, I decided to return to Fowey and leave the following morning on the tide and with a fair wind to round Lizard and anchor off Mousehole for the night.

Rendez-vous at sea

Over the VHF I hear a familiar voice of Arian aboard Oosterschelde, having sailed through storm Hannah from the Azores a night in the Helford was needed to recuperate and restock. We traded white flour , apple cake and coffee for a bottle of Geneva, a photo opportunity for both ships before sounding horns and heading off East and west.

Celtic Sea

As the sun came up so did the anchor, with all hands turning too, setting sail and settling into watches only to be met with the sailors enemy, fog! A little wind and fog, a rolling swell from the storm encouraged the crew to hand sail and motor as the wind died away completely. Upon reaching ST Davids head, a decent SE breeze sprung up and soon Bessie Ellen was charging along under full canvas just as in her working past over 100 years ago. The wind stayed fair until dawn on Wednesday by which time I believed with a good tide and engine we could reach Islay by nightfall. Once again fog banks loomed ahead which made our progress a little slower but with careful navigation we reached Mull of Kintyre where the sun broke out and all of our Hebridean Isles spread away before us.

Row the boat

After a long passage, nothing seems more satisfying than a walk and a pint – and of course a wee dram. So while Bessie Ellen held station off Port Ellen, Owain ran the voyage crew inshore with the plan that they would meet us at the anchorage off the beach, a short walk around the bay. All this went well until our gear in the outboard broke so the only thing to was row 200 yards to the beach. With much hilarity nearly all arrived safely back on board, however still missing two of our party – lost in a haze of whisky somewhere on Islay. Tony, who had been left in charge of troops, looked slightly sheepish but found out the escapees were hidden in the hotel, being entertained by Californians no less!

Amazing Ardbeg

After a good nights sleep and in bright sunshine, our voyage crew sailed off the anchor under the skilful helming of Jeff, who’s great uncle Percy Lamey was skipper of Bessie Ellen during the 20’s and 30’s following the death of John Chichester. A walk and a whisky was in order with Ardbeg being distillery of choice, this involved a walk to Kildalton cross which was further than expected so our band of sailors opted for a coffee within Ardbeg’s walls. With pure Islay hospitality the manager offered all our crew a free dram as they were from Bessie Ellen.

With the final leg underway, our ships company tacked all the way up Jura towards Oban and I am happy to report that this merry band of sailors handled all the tacking unassisted by the crew. Hungry, tired and out of water after 10 days Bessie Ellen pulled alongside Oban after 530 nm happily back home in her summer waters.


How John Chichester bought Bessie Ellen

Across the water from Plymouth lies the small village of Turnchapel, with the small peninsular of Mount Batten leading off it. It was here, in Clovelly bay that William Samuel Kelly, a shipyard owner, had his premises. It was in 1904 that he commenced the building of Bessie Ellen – she was being built as a “chopping block”. This was a project to keep the shipwrights busy in the time of a slack period, meaning that Bessie Ellen took two years to complete before being ready for launching towards the end of 1906. William Kelly had built Bessie Ellen for the Newfoundland trade; with a fine clipper bow and a transom stern she had the appearance of a fast sailer.

It was in the summer of 1906 that John Chichester, a ship owner captain arrived to pick up a cargo in his little ship, the Julie. Whilst in port, he heard mention of a 150-ton ship that was being built over the water in Mount Batten which he duly went to inspect.

When John had decided on buying the ketch, the shipping firm of Clarke, Incledon and Clarke approached him, asking if he would like to go into a partnership of the vessel. John declined though he did borrow some of the capital from Harry Clarke, Harry being his brother -in-law. Bessie, John’s wife also provided some of the funding. With his finances secure, John went back to Plymouth with his son Jack to buy the ship. During the journey on the train, father pulled out a bag of gold sovereigns and said to his son” I don’t suppose you have seen them before, and I doubt you will ever see them again” at which the bag went back in his pocket until his arrival at Williams yard where he laid them on the table and paid for his ship.

Although finished at the end of 1906, John withheld the launching date until January 1907, an apparent gain of a year regarding her age. John’s two daughters, Ellen 13, and Bessie 11 performed the ceremony between them, Ellen naming the vessel Bessie Ellen, and Bessie breaking the wine bottle on her bow. (Today in possession of the Chichester family is the postcard of Plymouth Hoe. Dated January 3rd 1907 it contains the message to his wife Bessie, saying that he was sending their children home, their part being done.)

Thus, after registration in Barnstaple, Bessie Ellen became the beloved ship of the Chichester family.


Discover the Treshnish

Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world and I would like to introduce you to some of my top locations. This month the focus will be on the Treshnish group consisting of islands and rocky outcrops. More information on all Scottish islands can be found in the island bible “The Scottish Islands” by Hamish Haswell Smith.

Just a few miles to the west of Mull, the archipelago of Treshnish lie in a turquoise sea that even tropical islands would find hard to beat (save the temperature).  Now uninhabited, these islands are home to large seabird colonies and the month of May is the best time to visit with guillemots, fulmar razorbill, and of course the endearing puffin.

Puffins in the hebrides

Lunga is the easiest to land on and is the highest, providing magnificent views stretching over the sea to Rum in the North with Iona and Jura’s peaks in the South. Nestling under the hill amidst the braken lie the ruins of old “Black Houses” once home to Donald Campbell who, with his family left in 1824 – the group is now owned by National Trust Scotland. The evocative Bac Mor or Dutchmans Cap, the distinct shape formed by an ancient volcano cone, with the flat plain surround was created from glassy lava fields. I have sailed round Bac Mor a number of times but there seems to be no real safe place to land. Rocky shores strewn with kelp along with the constant surge of the sea coming in from the Atlantic makes scrambling ashore quite tricky. Perhaps this year the weather will be calm enough to allow some of us to scramble ashore and reach the top.

Fladda is just like its name, a flat volcanic plateau where sea caves ring to the song of the seals who’s eerie mournful cry seems to belong here in this deserted and desolate place. The surrounding waters are teeming with puffins , thousands of them, fishing for sand eels in the clear waters. Puffin numbers are on the decline, either because of overfishing, or climate change, every year we notice fewer numbers.

Close to the Mull shore, Cairn na Burgh More believed to be where the monks of Iona buried their library for safety during the reformation of1560 – this treasure has never been recovered, but should you find them, these wonderfully illustrated books would be worth millions. Up on the top of the island lie the remains of a medieval castle and a chapel. There is a story stating that Maclean of Lochbuie was imprisoned on the isle for feuding. For company he was accompanied by the ugliest woman on Mull, but this did not stop him giving forth a son who won back his title! It is also believed that the castle is where the Maclean clans unwanted wives were imprisoned.

Lunga remains a favourite anchorage due to the tranquility of the place. The flora and fauna , chattering sea birds, vibrant colours of wild flowers, bluebells and pinks clinging to black cliffs on a warm May day, makes the island feel like a little bit of heaven. It is not all good news though, the ever present plastic pollution is rife and last year Owain and I struggled ashore at the far end of the island to collect the waste visible on the beach. We found drinks cans from America and Canada, large swathes of fishing nets, fish boxes and fenders, the pair of us carried as much as we could but it was hard to get the dinghy close enough to the shore to gather the rest to take back to Oban. It is so daunting to see the amount of damage we humans have done and the size of the operation needed to make things right for nature once more.


Bessie Ellen delivering cake for Ross Edgley

The Day We Met Ross Edgley

This autumn’s massive achievement award has to go to the phenomenal Ross Edgley. Yes, you may have heard of him as he just completed the Great British Swim, a 5-month odyssey to swim the entire 2,000-mile coastline of Great Britain.

Ross swam 12 hours a day using the tidal patterns to help him along, to swim against some of our tides would have made him go backwards! Sleep patterns were broken, as he would swim for 6 hours then sleep for 6 hours, and never the at same time. Edgley didn’t step on land for 5 months, but slept aboard Hecate, a James Wharram cat, built by Matt Knight, skipper and swim route planner for the epic.

As you can imagine, just being in the water all that time would really affect your body. For food he ate loads of carbs and while swimming he would eat soft foods from piping bags, just snip the end off and pump in custard. He had enormous trouble with salt water, after some months parts of his tongue started to break off and he would find them on his pillow. Salt-water sores and jellyfish stings are all up there in the daily grind of the Great British Swim.

Ross and his team finally finished on 4th November after 157 days. Bessie Ellen and her crew were lucky enough to catch up with them in August…..

Bessie Ellen with Ross EdgleyIt was the most fabulous day in early August when Bessie Ellen was honoured to take a small part to encourage Ross on his swim and meet up with him after he rounded Ardnamurchan Point. I had been in contact with Matt – the skipper of support boat Hecate – since the team had arrived in Scottish waters, really hoping we could make a rendezvous somewhere. Tight schedules on both boats made it somewhat difficult to arrange but finally, after hearing Matt on the VHF talking to Stornoway coastguard, I knew he was close. After a brief chat with our guests about changing the days plans (we had intended to visit Muck) we set sail from Kentra bay and with all sail set, stormed out into the Sound. Sunshine and clouds with a strong breeze sent the sea spray flying, and far to the South I could make out the shape of Hecate’s hull. I called up Matt on the radio and told him of our plan to sail close under full sail and then come up all standing beside Ross. With a plan in place, I asked for volunteers to swim with Ross to which two of our delightful ladies jumped at the chance.

Bessie Ellen guests swimming with Ross Edgley

I could see Ross, as the orange swim float was visible for quite some distance, along with the support boats and paddle boards. Altering course we bore down on Ross and once 30 metres from the swimmer, the crew swung round head to wind and dropped the heads’ls and tops’l. Our two swimmers, in just a swimming costume, (no wetsuits for these heroines) were taken out to join Ross. He was over the moon as our swimmers stayed with him for over 10 minutes in real cold, deep water Chatting and laughing with the girls, he stated his appreciation of being joined for a swim, that these moments filled him with energy to continue his mad venture.

After their incredible swim, our intrepid girls came back aboard, now totally in love with Ross, to get warm with a well-needed hot chocolate from the galley.  Our generous cook sent up two fresh lemon drizzles to give to Team Ross, surely they needed it more than us. As the boats drifted apart, we set sail again and wished them all well, for the next 100 miles were surely going to provide some of the toughest challenges on the whole coast, both mental and physical. So now at the end of his challenge, we are thrilled to have seen him and been touched by his courage and stamina. Congratulations Ross, from Bessie Ellen’s crew.

Swim Facts:

  • 1752 nautical miles swum, the equivalent of 85 channel crossings
  • 157 days at sea
  • 209 swim sessions
  • 0 days sick
  • 610 bananas consumed
  • 18Nm longest swim
  • 7 knots top speed
  • 504,732 calories burned
  • 314 Red Bulls drunk
  • 3 million swim strokes
  • 5 rolls gaffer tape for broken skin
  • 3kg Vaseline against chafe
  • 37 jellyfish stings.
Bessie Ellen Porto to Bristol sailing

Cargo Under Sail 2018

Its been over 8 years since Bessie Ellen ventured forth to carry cargo under sail, but this year the opportunity came up to sail down to Porto from Cornwall at the end of the season to gather the harvest of wines and olive oils and almonds produced in the Douro region of Portugal and sail home across Biscay in time for the Christmas markets.. Our start from Fowey with a green crew, some who had never sailed, set a course to cross the channel in thick fog. With imminent gales, the ancient port of Concarneau provided us with a good jumping off point to cross Biscay. And cross we did, escorted by numerous dolphins, Bessie Ellen cam out the starting gate at a rate of 9.0 knots with the wind under her skirts, sailing starlit nights and sunny days until we reached Spanish shores. A brief run ashore in Baiona, renowned for Francis Drake attempting to take the town as well as the port that supplied Columbus with a crew for Pinta on his voyages to the New World.

The following morning before daybreak, we had a window to set off down the Atlantic coast in fairish weather but a big big swell to our destination of Porto. This part of our journey we shared with my old crew mate Dave Redhead along with his wife, Tor and their children. as they continued on their journey around the world on their steel ketch Sea Lion. A very slow start under engine with massive waves breaking over the bow, but our welcome into Porto was exciting and a delight to meet the wonderful people of Portugal. Our loading berth was in Afruada on the south bank of the Douro which is a charming port, air heavy with the scent of wood burning barbecues and sardines provided us with the perfect setting to hand load organic olive oils and wines from the small farms and fincas lining banks of this great river.

The crew loaded all our cargo by hand, two large wooden barrels of wine, sacks of nuts and chestnuts, olives and the oil. With the weather in our favour we turned for home which was a peaceful passage up to Finisterre and Corunna, where we decided to anchor and wait out the coming blow for a few days. Our departure in the evening was quiet as we sailed, double reefed under the lee of the cape, however, as the ship pushed on into Biscay, it was evident the gale had not ceased. At around 0100 hrs, a call from the Captain for all hands, the mainsail had blown out and with a big sea running it took a while to stow. Daybreak and a calmer sea, we took the mizzen sail from her mast and set it on the main. Once again, a severe gale was forecast and once again a course was set for Concarneau for shelter before heading homewards across the channel.

Sail cargo is never easy, never has been, demanding much of men and the ships they sail. But it is important at what ever cost to us in our time as awareness increases about the cost of shipping to our seas and how we can make transport, and modern day living, more sustainable.

Puffins in the eastern Scottish isles

Farewell Highlands – Home to Cornwall

A quick round up on our last days in Scotland, and Autumn/Winter plans – stay tuned for another blog post detailing our seasonal highlights.

Yesterday it rained all day, that typical Scottish rain they have a word for “Dreach” and just so wet that after a thrilling sail round Ardnamurchan, we gave up trying to do any more sailing and went below to read and eat cake. However, this morning is totally different and after a quick breakfast, it was an ideal opportunity to discover Rum. Some of us headed for the hills on the Croft 3 walk, up along the hill where the Rum ponies graze, out to the wilder landscape with fast flowing rivers and heather clad mountains. Others stayed around Kinloch, peering thorough the castle windows at the opulence and faded elegance of this Edwardian house. Leaving the anchorage bound for Muck, it was with a wistful heart to see the mountains of Skye and Rum, today, looming bright in the glittering sunshine for the last time this year. I am already longing to be back where the fulmars and shearwaters play.

You will see that we are running a few October voyages, so may see some of you again. On our return I will be heading for the shipyard in Polruan to replace pipework, batteries and get a new mainsail made up along with countless other smaller jobs. On completion I will head for Charlestown or Padstow Christmas markets, so if you are around do come in for a coffee, it would be lovely to reminisce voyages with you.

Western Isles of Scotland

Gourmet Galley | Danish Dreamcake

Many of you are asking about our recipes and where they come from, and this summer I have often made a cake that we ate in Denmark all the time. Made by Karen Thomsen, her Drommekage would be devoured by hungry sailors in minutes.  So here is the recipe ideal after an autumnal walk. Happy baking!

Drommekage or Danish Dreamcake


For the dough:

75g butter (2.6 oz.)

100ml milk (3.4 oz. or 1/2 cup)

125g all-purpose flour (4.4 oz.)

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs, at room temperature

125 gram sugar (4.4 oz.)

1 vanilla bean, seeded

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the topping:

150g butter (5.3 oz.)

250g brown sugar (8.8 oz.)

50ml milk (1.7 oz. or 1/4 cup)

200g shredded unsweetened coconut (7 oz.)


Preheat oven to 195 degrees C (380 degrees F). Spray a 9 x 9 inch baking pan with baking spray. Add 1 tablespoon flour to pan, shake flour around pan to coat bottom and sides, discard excess flour, set pan aside.

In a small saucepan add butter and milk, warm over low heat until butter is melted, set aside.

Sift together flour and baking powder, set aside.

In a large mixing bowl add eggs and sugar, beat on high until mixture is pale yellow and very thick (5-10 minutes). Add vanilla beans and salt and beat until well incorporated. Add 1/2 of sifted flour mixture to eggs and, with a spatula, gently fold the flour into the eggs until smooth. Add 1/2 of butter mixture to eggs and gently fold in. Add remaining flour and then butter, folding it into the eggs. Pour dough into prepared pan and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into middle of cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the topping. Add butter, brown sugar and milk to a saucepan. Melt while stirring occasionally, bring to a boil and then add coconut, simmer for 1 minute longer. Remove pan from heat.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, turn the oven temperature up to 210 degrees C (410 degrees F). Add tablespoons of filling to the top of the cake and smooth it out a little. (Do not pour all of filling onto cake all at one time). When oven has reached the new temperature, place cake back into oven and bake for another 4-5 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool in the pan on a baking rack. Enjoy!

Bessie’s New Venture

Over the last few years the success and popularity of my little ketch, Bessie Ellen, has grown at a fantastic rate, and a number of other vessel owners have approached me requesting assistance with their own marketing. It became apparent that in order to continue to manage Bessie Ellen, as well as other vessels, I would have to work with my marketing company to come up with a solution that was not only best for myself and my own customers, but for other ships too.

The solution that allows us to move forward has turned out to be a new agency, and so VentureSail Holidays was launched at the beginning of this year.

VentureSail is a partnership directed by myself, Nikki, along with Jo Downie & Phil Gendall, who are both from strong marketing backgrounds and based in Cornwall. We will be working together, allowing us to create an agency that will offer you great service, fantastic ships, and an exciting range of amazing destinations.

The benefit to our customers will manifest itself with a prompter response, a seamless booking process and more back office support. (I am often at sea and don’t always get a phone signal). If you have a question or query, there will be a customer service team in our office in Cornwall to help you out. You can still find all our voyage information as usual, as Bessie Ellen will still maintain her own website, newsletters and social media, but with the admin connected to VentureSail Holidays. VentureSail will also have its own website with my voyages on, as well several other ships and their trips too. There is no added cost in booking through VentureSail – but a lot more support around your booking.

I do, of course, understand the importance of “the personal touch”, and in this respect I would like to make it clear that I am still always available to take calls and receive emails directly if you prefer.

If you’d like to learn more about VentureSail, and have first access to all offers, new ships and new voyages, make sure you sign up to the newsletter, which you can do by clicking here.

So from Phil, Jo and myself, we would like to welcome you all aboard our new adventure. Have a nose around at and we wish you many happy holidays at sea with us!

Skipper, Nikki Alford

Dolphins in Scotland

Homeward Bound

Throughout March, Bessie Ellen & her voyage crew, journeyed 1300 NM from Tenerife to Fowey and Nikki offers a brief insight into the voyage.

Departing from the main city of Santa Cruz with a good quartering breeze, our brave little ketch handled the huge swells with relative ease, eating up the miles leaving the snow covered peak of Mount Teide far astern. We knew we were in for a fast passage with SW winds pushing us on towards the Portuguese coast. Also in our minds was the fact that our sunny days with sparkling blue oceans would soon be far behind with only colder and grey covered skies as we journeyed onwards.

Canary Islands sunshine header

Arrival in Cascais one evening gave us some concern when we were denied a berth in any of the ports surrounding Lisbon, all due to the expected gale over the next days. In desperation, Nikki contacted an agent who soon secured a place in the very comfortable Cascais Marina. Always a delight, Cascais is one of our favourite ports, with her quiet narrow streets and sandy beaches on the seafront, it’s not hard to be stuck here to wait out a gale. Our second leg would take us from the Mouth of the Tagus following the coast up to Finisterre, and then across the dreaded Biscay. This leg we had a bit of a motor sail as light winds to start with the forecast of a coming gale from the North made us hurry on a bit.

Rough Seas in the canaries

A brief stop was made in La Coruna where it poured with rain for a day, and then onwards across the Continental Shelf. We started off with an uncomfortable sea close inshore that soon dissipated into flat calm for a few days. Some stunning encounters with dolphins elated the voyage crew for hours as they raced under the bow in spuming foam. And yes, the skies were grey and it was so cold, night watches passed slowly but at least for the most we were dry. An overnight stay in Camaret was most welcome before our final night passage across the channel – it could not have been more perfect with such clear skies and a good breeze, voyage crew, happy in their work looking back over the last weeks together as Bessie Ellen stormed into Fowey under all canvas, happy to be home.

We are now looking forward to our Scottish voyages, which start in a couple of weeks – we make our way to Oban on the 28th of April, with our first Hebrides tour beginning on the 12th May (there are still two berths remaining on this trip if you fancy a last minute adventure). We do only have a few voyages with spaces remaining, so head over to our voyage schedule to find out which ones.

View of Scottish isles from Bessie Ellen