Sail, Sea & Gastronomy on board Bessie Ellen

with thanks to Emma from Edinburgh Epicure

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“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?!

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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.

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Olly on his paddleboard. Plus dolphins. Mucho dolphins.
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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.

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Anchor at Loch Scavaig, on the southern tip of Skye
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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.

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Puffins on Lunga
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The tropical waters of Iona
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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.

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Bessie Ellen in all her glory, from the bow
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Coffee and walnut cake, made by Olly and one of the 28.5 pats of butter consumed on board
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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!

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 – rathleedistilling.com. 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

Ingredients:

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.)

Directions:

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!

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

Whale!

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.