Bessie Ellen St Kilda VentureSail

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 www.venturesailholidays.com 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

view of the sunset in the Canary Islands as viewed from Bessie Ellen credit Gemma Turner

Sail Training from Tenerife to Portugal

Ship Ahoy!

It’s the end of the winter season, and our ship Bessie Ellen is preparing to get underway back to her home waters of Cornwall. There is excitement for the ocean passage ahead, route plans are being addressed – will it be North to Madeira, or Northeastwards to Lanzarote to avoid the worst of the Portuguese trades? Right now, the crew are high up in the rigging, tensioning, tarring, and overhauling all the gear, checking for weaknesses – we know all too well that things always go wrong at night and in the worst weather! This time of year can be tricky too, avoiding the spring gales that sweep across the Atlantic, but the ship is well found and the route will keep us inshore, giving the possibility to shelter from the gales along the Spanish & Portuguese coasts.

Bessie Ellen crew

Working a ship 24 hours a day can be tough, and although the watches are relatively short, either 4 or 6 hours, it is incredible how tired you can get. As the weather becomes colder after the heat of the Canaries, paired with constant moving of the ship, sleep is easy and deep.   The further we travel homewards, the galley becomes a favourite hangout, helping bake the daily bread or giving the cooks a hand prepping the meals. For the deck watch, time passes looking after the continuous chaffing of gear, working aloft to protect spars and rigging, regular rounds and checks, along with updating forecasts and routes. Coffee is important, and the pots are always full of a steaming brew. Moments of beauty as the sun goes down below the horizon, moonlight on water and stars above, the evocative rolling of the waves as they lift our world onwards.

Perhaps this life belongs in another time, little communication with the outside world – no phones or Instagram here. Embrace it, and maybe this is your opportunity to enjoy a potentially life-changing experience, whilst gaining an insight to life on the blue ocean. Perspectives change, and you become aware of more important issues; friendships, adventure and challenges while experiencing a glimpse of the past.

crew working on Bessie Ellen

So should you feel the pull of the waves, the desire to slip away to sea, then come and join Bessie Ellen as she travels from Tenerife to Cascais. 

If you are between 18 and 25 and would like to apply for a berth then please contact us at nikki@bessie-ellen.com and be ready to sail from San Miguel Marina in Tenerife on Saturday 3rd March and finishing on Wednesday 14 March. The voyage cost is £400 (meals inc.), and flights and insurance should be purchased separately by the applicant (insurance is a must!). 

seamanship training

Bessie in Scotland by Alex Hawley

Hebridean Sailing – A Guest Log

Fliss joined us in the summer of 2017, and has written a summary of her time on board Bessie Ellen. Take a look and discover what could be in store if you choose to join one of our Scotland voyages.

“As I walked from Oban train station to Bessie Ellen, I couldn’t help but feel excited, and maybe a little nervous too. I didn’t know what to expect. Nikki welcomed me aboard, helping me down the ladder and introduced me to the crew, before leading me down below to find some of the other guests tucking into homemade fruitcake and gallons of tea and fresh coffee. After some quick introductions and scoffing of fruitcake, I chose a bunk. They’re built into the hull and surround the communal dining area, and are much more homely and comfortable than I was expecting! When all the guests had arrived, and we’d had a tour and a safety talk, we quickly uncoupled from the dock, ready to begin our adventure.

Puffins in the hebrides

One of the most cracking things about Scotland in the summer are the long evenings. We sailed off shortly after 4pm to reach a small cove on Mull by nightfall. That night, in the evening sun, we barbecued. I couldn’t believe my eyes when plates upon plates of seafood – squid, scallops, langoustine, homemade bread, garlic aioli – began to appear up on deck, and this was just the starter! We barbecued the seafood, buffet style, as Bessie Ellen trotted along at a steady pace.

Putting away the sails was a job for everyone and we made everything ship-shape before heading down below for dinner which Pete, the chef, had been preparing all afternoon. Osso Bucco, I discovered, is a dish with beautifully tender hunks of beef in a rich tomato-based stew. I didn’t know what I expected from the food, but this certainly surpassed any expectations I had. The crew took care of all the washing up, so we could sit back and relax, whiling away the evening with wine and good chat, getting to know each other a little more. Some were couples, a few were single travellers like me, and many were just pairs of friends seeking a unique adventure together. We bedded down for the night at a decent time, satisfied and excited for the week ahead.

Common dolphins off Scilly

Nikki was keen to get going the next morning to make the most of the day, so we all piled up on deck and got to work setting the sails after a hearty breakfast. The big breakfast was a necessity: everything is done by hand on the Bessie Ellen and the ropes are very heavy, taking at least 3 people on each rope to pull up each sail. It all looked so complicated, but the crew were fantastic at showing us what to do and very patient too. It was a bracing start to the morning in the chilly island air, but we were soon underway, sun starting to beam down as we trimmed the sails.

We sailed up the Sound of Mull at a steady pace – Scotland really is something else. I got to try my hand on the helm, and the feel of controlling this magnificent tall ship made me fall in love with Bessie Ellen all over again. Around midday, after some more tea and a slice of lemon cake (made that morning), we were joined by a pod of inquisitive dolphins, playing in the bow-waves for a good forty minutes before heading off again. This was a wonderful experience and the first of several wildlife encounters over the week, which included puffins, sea eagles and porpoises.

Eating on deck of Bessie Ellen

Lunch consisted of alfresco dining style up on deck; homemade focaccia, an enormous cheeseboard, charcuterie board, beautiful salads, olives, smoked salmon. My mouth is watering just remembering everything. Nikki and Pete truly make the most of having fresh fish readily available; over the week we were treated to haddock kedgeree, langoustines, and salmon. One evening we put the fishing lines over the side at anchor and had a feast of mackerel baked with butter and rosehips. There were a couple of vegetarians on board, and I was often amazed at the beautiful food presented for them too – Nikki and Pete make a point of catering for the guests’ every dietary requirement, so there’s little need to worry about going hungry.

I’d forgotten what it was like to be truly calm – but not in a ‘splurged out out next to the pool’ kind of way. This was a different calm; a more mindful calm. Our days were comprised of optional tasks like setting the sails, scrubbing the decks and helming, mixed in with visiting castles, exploring little islands, and swimming off white sandy beaches. Each day held such rewards, and life outside of Bessie Ellen seemed irrelevant. Feeling her race along the white-topped waves at 7 knots, heeling at thirty-five degrees, doing what she was designed to all those years ago is as peaceful as it is exhilarating.

7 days later, we docked back at Oban. Filled with sadness, heartfelt goodbyes and emails were exchanged before going our separate ways. As the train wound its way through those spectacular views once more, I couldn’t help but wish I’d stayed longer. So, I turned my 3G on for the first time in a week and booked my next voyage, there and then. See you next year, Bessie Ellen!”

Scotland wildlife and scenery

Christmas in Tenerife

Christmas in the Canaries

I see you are all having a pretty cold winter in Northern Europe! Here in the south of Tenerife, the sun continues to shine daily and temperatures rarely drop below 19 degrees. Warm, dry weather for us means maintenance, and one of the reasons for journeying to this part of the world is to spend hours varnishing and painting without the threat of rain or damp getting in to our hard work.

collage of maintenance work done on board bessie ellen

For the last three weeks, Karena, Niels and myself have been sanding and scraping back hatches, bulwarks bowsprits and winches and I must say Bessie Ellen looks gleaming. Well done guys. Sailing starts again on Saturday and we have a new crew, Felix from France who sailed with Bel Espoir and Etoile Polaire. He joins for a few months before heading for Belem.

Three weeks have disappeared since Christmas and New Year holidays – which were fabulous, both voyages. The Christmas voyage took us over to La Palma to explore Taburente volcano, a hard walk of around 3 hours cresting the top of the island, magical and clear – you feel on top of the world. Christmas was night swimming with stars in the sky and below, the dark nights illuminate not only the skies but the bio-luminescence too. It glows extraordinarily bright, so to dive into the dark waters and create explosions of stardust is just one of those things you have to do.

Christmas in Tenerife

The Crew welcomed New Year in San Sebastian – as usual the Gomeran sprit was ready to party. After a super dinner on board and plenty of party games and Cava, the hour came to leave and join the crowds ashore. The first to arrive, Niels proceeded to hand out mojitos to get the party started. The live band kicked off with some funky salsa and the new year was brought in with a fantastic firework display over the bay. Dancing continued most of the night with some of our stalwart crew coming home around 4. However, the rest of the week was pretty relaxing in the bays of Gomera, swimming and sailing in 38 knots of wind!

Canaries houses

I am looking at the calendar and realising it’s not so long before we begin the journey home to Fowey. Time has passed so fast here, but we are excited to see our home shores again.
Ocean voyages are the reason for sailing – each voyage becoming a unique experience on the blue wandering sea. Days pass along with the rhythm of the swell that rolls by and Bessie Ellen’s routine of watches, maintenance, food and sleep takes effect and carries off all the threat of the modern busy world. Bessie Ellen will leave the islands in early March to cover 1200NM, heading for a short stop in Madeira, before turning towards Cascais for a crew change. From Cascais, the ship will sail as the weather allows, heading out into the ocean to tack agains the prevailing North wind before reaching the Westerlies of Biscay and onwards towards the channel. Of course at this time of year the winds can be changeable, but the crew are young, strong and willing, and the ship’s satellite communications give regular updates of weather. If you have never experienced life aboard a ketch at sea but think you may like to join us, do please give me a call to discuss if the voyage is suitable, as we do have places available to join.

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.

Summer 2017 Round Up

Well, here we are on our way south to the Canaries after being back in Fowey for a fortnight. We’ve had quite a season in Scotland – a longer one than normal but well worth the extra few weeks. Back home in Cornwall we made final preparations before starting our journey to Tenerife for the winter. One afternoon Bessie Ellen was slipped at the shipyard in Polruan for caulking and painting. The crew, Karina and Jonny Barley, a local Polruan lad went through the rig while Pete organised the new menus for the voyage south. There seemed so much to do before we left but we’ve got everything ready in time, so I thought I would recap some of the summer as I have neglected writing for quite a while.
Dolphins in Scotland
Dolphins at Breachacha
It’s hard to know where to start really. So much goes on every week throughout the year, but one of the real highlights has to be a display of bottlenose dolphins in Loch Briachacha, Coll. During an early evening in May, these wonderful creatures came into the small bay and performed for us over three hours; leaping, diving and seemingly genuinely interested in us standing on deck chatting with them. I couldn’t get over this display – it seemed if I knocked on the hull with a belaying pin, the sound transferred through the hull and charmed them to perform more. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it, and as you can imagine, I’ve seen my fair share of dolphins from on board Bessie! If you take a look at Octobers Coast Magazine, Sian Lewis captured the moment perfectly. Then, on our final voyage in September, the same pod joined us in Staffa and escorted us down to Iona, which felt like a proper send off from our friends.

Other wildlife highlights included a super display of young eagles tumbling together off Ulva, and our own seal in Canna harbour who, while Adam was fishing, was intent on being given the catch. I don’t know why he didn’t fish himself, but the seal would wait until I fed him from the ship (Video from Nikki). Basking sharks were harder to place this year, but sailing across the Minch one calm evening, I believe a humpback breached not half a mile from the ship. Minke whales and a close encounter with a very large stag were also unbelievable moments for those that were in the right place at the right time – as Bessie often seems to have the luck to be!

The Brazils, a family of music
Music and the sea often go hand-in-hand, and this year we were treated to some very special guests who came aboard with a multitude of instruments to entertain. With an accordion, mandolin guitar and even a large penny whistle, the father and son duo played beautifully during the voyage. Performing an array of traditional melodies, both during sailing and entertaining us in the evenings, they taught us to sing chorus for a range of tunes. The saloon was soon alive with the notes of “ Little Pot Stove” and many others, everyone thoroughly enjoying the Brazils’ obvious talent for music.
Dinner in the saloon of a tall ship
Sailing with Eda Frandsen in the Outer Hebrides
Although there are a number of other traditional boats working in the Hebrides, it’s a rare moment that we sail together. This year our voyage crossed paths with Eda Frandsen, owned and operated by some friends of ours from Cornwall. From the anchorage at Canna Harbour, we sailed together over the Minch to Loch Skiport, South Uist on a decent reach, arriving just as the mists and rain descended off the slopes of Hecla. Upon reaching a safe harbour, both guests and crew enjoyed a lively Ceilidh down aboard Bessie Ellen, stomping out a very rough Strip the Willow late into the night. The following day it was all hands on deck, setting sail for a race up the inside of the Hebrides to Harris. We flew: 7-8-9 knots the topsail was set, storming up the coast with a bone in her teeth. At the end of the day, both ships settled to anchor off Ensay’s white sand beach on the Atlantic coast. Although cloudy, a few brave souls chanced the icy waters to swim to each others’ boats, but the biggest surprise was Pete! Our chef, after squeezing himself into an undersize wetsuit, took the plunge and swam over to Eda, only to be hauled onboard by James, utterly exhausted. He swiftly declared that there would be no more swimming till the Canaries!

Discovering new places – Loch Tarbert and Duich and a brief stop at Camusfearnna
This season, with longer and more frequent voyages than ever before, our adventures took us to new places that have quickly become firm favourites. On a chance circumnavigation of Skye, with the weather closing in, a decision was taken to anchor down by Eilean Donan castle. This impressive building has been the star of many movies, including Highlander and one of the Bond films. The guests were so taken by their shore visit that I missed the tide for passing Kyle Rhea, so we instead set off down Loch Duich to anchor under the 5 Sisters of Kintail. The following morning, when the early morning mists hung below the mountaintops creating a mystical atmosphere, we were all taken aback at the spectacular scenery. Who needs to travel far when there is such an amazing landscape on the doorstep?

I found another gem within Loch Nevis, where we came across Tarbert, a small, beautiful bay with a good anchorage. Tarbet offers a short walk over to Loch Morar, which boasts the title of deepest freshwater loch in Europe, and is said to be home to Morag, a loch monster that lies in wait for victims. We didn’t see her this time, but some of our tough guests risked it and bravely swam in the dark and icy waters of the loch.

One place I have always longed to visit is Gavin Maxwell’s island of Sandaig in the Sound of Sleat. Here, on a perfectly dreich morning, I had the opportunity to get ashore and wander the paths where Mijbil and Edal were so at home. This place, a place like no other I have visited in the islands, lay utterly peaceful in the quiet of the morning – the brown brook babbled and the winds in the tree tops gave a strange air to this memorable place. Where the house once stood now stands a memorial stone to Gavin, and under the tree, the otters grave surrounded by shells gave a fitting resting place for Edal.

Scotland wildlife and scenery
Oban new pontoons
It is with long awaited excitement that Oban now has a North Pier Marina. This will make life much easier for all our customers (and us), as we will no longer need to negotiate steep ladders and climb over berthed ships to reach Bessie. Argyll & Bute council commissioned the concrete Pontoons in July, and they have already been a great success to all the charter vessels operating in Oban.

Instagram & Facebook
Social media has become a huge part of our lives, and most interest is generated through images and videos taken from on board Bessie. As I am notoriously terrible at taking pictures, perhaps I may ask anyone who has travelled on board Bessie to send us theirs? It’s a great help to be able to give a real picture of what life is like on board the ship. Thank you!

Lowlights
You may have noticed a substantial lack of news during June. Unfortunately, poor Bessie Ellen suffered a fractured propeller shaft during tour month – a long sail-training event for MAST charity. It was during our weekly maintenance checks in Greenock that a hairline fracture appeared in the flange, where the shaft attaches to the gearbox. Carefully, we made our way motorsailing back to the Clyde to find a ship repair yard that would be able to undertake the job as fast as possible.

The schooner Johanna Lucretia very helpfully carried all our trainees on to Belfast, and continued for Bessie Ellen in her absence. Eventually, a suitable yard was found in Garvel Clyde, and they were on the case immediately. On the morning of our arrival, the damaged piece was removed without having to have a lift out. With that done, it was still a week to turn a new shaft, even though it was only 2ft long, arriving just in time for Bessie Ellen to head on back to Oban to continue her charters.
Puffins in the hebrides

Gourmet Galley | Fish Stew

So many of you have asked us to share our recipes with you, and this one was a favourite dish this year. Nikki made it up, but it is essentially a Mediterrenean fish dish, making the most of the fresh seafood available to us.

Fish Stew

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 Onions

1 bulb garlic grated

Stick of ginger, grated

1tbsp ground coriander

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

White wine or vermouth – I use 1/2 bottle

2 cans passata

2 tbsp tomato puree

Any white fish or shellfish that your fishmonger has on offer.

To finish

12 langoustines

1 kg mussels

Large bunch flat leaf parsley chopped

  • Fry your onions and garlic with the ginger with a good plug of olive oil until soft.
  • Add the dry spices, cook out for about 2 minutes staring constantly.
  • Now chuck in the passata, puree and wine, the amount should be to make a good sauce and really depends on you – reduce down for about 40 minutes.
  • Skin and bone your fish, and place it on the sauce and cover with foil to steam through until firm and not over cooked.
  • Before the end of cooking, throw the mussels and langoustines on top and steam for a few minutes until cooked through, then throw on the parsley before serving.
  • Best with local boiled potatoes with butter!

Dinner in the saloon of a tall ship

Retracing Brendan’s Footsteps

Martha and Sarah recount their recent voyage with Bessie Ellen

Within half an hour of boarding Bessie Ellen, we found ourselves peeling the potatoes for dinner over the side of the ship. After being educated on the finer points of carrot dicing, we were treated to tea and cake before being introduced to our fellow sailing companions for the week on a voyage from Oban to Liverpool. All of them were solo travellers – some of whom were regular sailors with the ship.

Once the safety briefings were completed, the ship’s complement was divided into three watches and given our first lesson about the rigging in preparation for the nightfall ahead. Before we knew it, on shaky legs, we found ourselves out on the bow sprit – whilst underway!! This was our baptism of fire to prepare the jibs for sailing – the names of which we’d only learned moments ago.

The night ahead proved to be a hairy one, and there is nothing like jumping in at the deep end especially when you are at sea (notably all hands being called on deck at midnight to reef the mainsail as the winds increased off the mountains of Jura).
Sunset from tall ship Bessie Ellen in Oban

Over the week we found ourselves singing together in the bars of Islay, taking warm and welcome showers in Bangor (NI), eating ice creams in Peel and watching the TT motorbike races in Douglas. I was even asked to cut the cooks hair on deck, as he said the wind was in the right direction. By this time we felt like seasoned sailors, despite the fact we were occasionally still being cursed for picking up the wrong rope.

If you want a holiday away from the usual, a week (or two) on Bessie Ellen will be just that. Test your bow from stern, port from starboard – you will soon be corrected if you are facing the wrong direction. Our passage voyage was a hands on adventure and with great crew, fabulous food and lots to learn and was endless fun.

P.S Blog writing interrupted by skipper putting us to work. Happy Sailing!

NAUTICAL TERMS:

Old Salt – geriatric sailor

Hallyard – The rope next the one you are holding

Bare Away – We are passing a naturist camp

Dog watch – Crufts

Fully reefed – The result of too many splits

Mizen – where we are on Friday night

Euan – Looe, Cornwall

C0-authored by Martha, 28, a teacher from London, and Sarah, 30, a scientist from Liverpool.

Volcanoes on the edge of the Atlantic

A voyage in the Canaries aboard Bessie Ellen is so far away from the usual winter sun packages. You will be amazed at just how much diversity there is here in the far western group of islands offering you a very different winter  break.

Situated 180NM off the coast of Morocco, the western islands of Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera and El Hierro rise out of a sparkling cerulean sea and provide a a second home to Bessie Ellen. I have spent many winters here, and would be thrilled to sail with you to discover your own Canary Adventure.

None of our voyages run to an itinerary but if I provide an introduction to what you can expect, you will then be able to create your own unique experience

All the voyages will start and finish in the modern marina of San Miguel.  Chosen for its proximity to the airport and the shelter of the waters, it provides an ideal location as an embarkation point, giving a gentle start to your holiday.

Dolphin sailing next to Bessie Ellen

Whales and dolphins are abound here and none are more easy to find than the Pilot whale.  Not a true whale, but a species of dolphin, these quiet and gentle mammals are easy to spot in the calm waters under Tenerife.  As you set sail, the whales come close to the ship in large pods of up to 20.  They float or “log” on the surface in these groups, diving up to 2000 ft to feed on squid that live at great depth. Other whales of the larger species can be found to the south of Gomera and include Brydes, Fin and Sperm whales. Supper happy dolphins are easier to spot, the playful bottlenose form groups around the Masca cliffs, providing a great chance for you to photograph these incredible creatures in still, crystal clear waters. Spinner and Atlantic spotted dolphins tear out of the waves alongside us as under full sail, Bessie Ellen reaches up to 9 knots sailing between the islands.

The islands shelve very quickly into the sea and provide little in the way of snorkelling reefs, but there are a few spots to spend some time drifting on the swell, watching jewelled fish swim along the white rocky bottom.  If you are lucky, there are some spots where you can swim with manta ray and turtles.   

Sunset in the Canaries credit Gemma Turner

Leaving the glittering sea behind, it’s time to travel inland to visit some of the greener islands, and to get there, we sail.  Whether you are a seasoned sailor or have yet to set foot on a boats deck, part of the thrill of your holiday is taking part in hauling up sails and handling the ship’s Helm (wheel), learning some navigation and watching the ocean miles slip away. Over the horizon lie new lands ready to welcome you to their own ocean paradise.

My favourite island is La Palma, so green and unspoilt by commercial tourism and retaining the historical towns of 400 years ago.  There are two ports to choose from here, Tazacorte in the west where the banana plantations reach the shore and the black sand beaches offer inviting cool waters to swim after a hot day; or the more genteel capital of Santa Cruz, a typical  colonial  merchant town strung out along the shore, flanked by green mountains which soar up into the clouds. Although a little cooler, the city is a great place to wander through, sample some local wine and cheese or even take part in one of the many festivals held here.  A typical stopover here will include a day up at the top of the massive crater for a decent walk and stretch of the legs.  The crew hire a van and drive you to the very top of Taburiente, 2,400 meters above the sea.  This outstanding national park provides some great walks of different distances and levels of difficulty.  I know the area well now and choose the easier route passing round the edge of the caldera where the views are vertical to the sea below.  On a clear day you can even see Bessie Ellen in the marina. At the end of a 2 hour hike/ walk, the crew arrive with a picnic lunch before driving you back down the mountain, through the cloud forests of juniper and laurel. Take a brief dip in the waterfall before heading back to the ship for a dinner of something amazing from the local markets here.  Now, if you are not well and truly tired, and you should be, there are plenty of salsa bars in the towns to enjoy until the small hours.

View of the Canary islands

I am a great believer in the ship as a mode of transport set to arrive at unique places and explore. Gomera is one of these little gems of islands where you really feel you can relax.  I call it flip-flop island, a place where life runs at a much slower pace.  The island is small and public transport routes, combined with well structured walks, mean you can see much of the island in one day.  The top of Gomera is ringed by the cloud forest.  Stone peaks named by the Guanches with mythical names rise up out of terraced hillsides.  Palms and canes rustle in the breeze as you pass by on well worn tracks and, if you are lucky, you will hear the local whistling language, a language of trilling notes used as a way of communicating between the deep ravines and valleys.  From the lush green at the top, the landscape changes as you reach further down towards the sea becoming dryer and less fertile.  Cactus and lizards bake in the sun and the sea surrounding you, beckons for a swim.

As with La Palma, there are two very different places we visit.  The small town of San Sebastian is just delightful and is steeped in history – Columbus stopped here on all his explorations to the new world to take water and little his fleet.  He also had a lover here which may explain why! Life in town is simple, the gaily painted streets lead to a shaded square which seems to be the hub of local life.  Nothing can be more pleasing than watching the world go by here…that is if the crew let you! San Sebastian has become the beach of choice for our internship game of Frisbee. Played out on the sand at the edge of the bay, the townsfolk cheer as the Bessie Ellen arrives for a highly competitive game that is a cross between frisbee and rugby. Not for the fainthearted, and perhaps after a few bruises it’s time for a swim and a cold beer.

Sitting on the bow sprit

Sailing round the coast passing scorched red cliffs, the next stop is to explore the 18th century tuna factory, nestled at the bottom of a steep barranco. The ruined buildings are worth a visit and the fishing from our deck is just perfect. Sometimes we barbecue here as the suns rays bathe the beach in hot sun till late in the afternoon. Onwards to Vueltas and Valle Gran Rey, or valley of the great King.  And it is here, once the anchor is down you can dive out of the rigging into those velvet waters, cooling off after a hot day.  Snorkelling with manta rays is great here, plus there is the opportunity to walk up the verdant valley to steep cool waterfalls.  Once night falls, the stars here just glisten against the black sky.  The cool air is perfect to lie and gaze aloft, taking pictures and understanding ancient constellations. Why not indulge in a midnight swim under this starlit sky, which is mirrored with the stars below as the bioluminescence bursts into life and we float on an ocean of space.

El Hierro is far to the south and with the prevailing wind this island proves hard to reach. Restingua at the southern end made headlines recently when the underwater volcano erupted continuously for about 5 months. Now it has settled, this small community is a quiet place and it is here we get the best fish. Giant fish, wahoo and kingfish nearly two meters long chase brightly coloured lures. Tuna and bonito are exciting to catch and perhaps with help to land it will be your fish dinner today! Flying fish leap joyously from the waves, a sliver of silver against the onyx of the lava. Above though, a totally different world awaits. Small farms with sheep and goats range the lush green valleys, and it is this island that provides all the others with vegetable produce not imported. The bus runs from Puerto Estaca and along with children and chickens, the ride is exhilarating.

So, that’s my Canary life, but there is always more to explore and share with others, so if you find this your kind of adventure, why not give me a ring to talk over possibilities?

Lunch in a Spanish square on the Canaries