How to service (serve) a rope



The arts of a sailor such as serving, splicing and knotting is fast becoming a dying art, skills are lost, tools are harder to come by, and sailors seem to have less & less wish to whittle or turn out their own   Drugged by the power of smartphones, social media, the fo’c’sle has become a very different place than when I started life at sea 20 years ago.

One of the first arts we would learn was serving a splice.  Aboard sailing ships much of the wire rigging would be parcelled and served, rope eyes and strop-blocks all dressed smartly in turns of marlin. Today, even though materials are modern and hardier, serving is still an important task to learn, finished off with a waterproofing of linseed oil and tar offering the appearance of a well-dressed ship.


Set up your work between two points and heave taught.

Worming the rope is to fill up the vacant space between the strands of the rope with spun yarn in order to render the surface smooth and round for parceling.

Parceling a rope is wrapping old canvas round it, cut into strips two or three inches wide according to the size of the rope.

The parcelling is put on with the lay of the rope.

The service is of spun yarn, put or hove on by a wooden mallet; it has a score in the under part according to the size of the rope so as to lay comfortably on the rope.

The serving is always laid on against the lay of the rope, a man passes a ball of spun yarn taking the turns well out of it at some distance from the man that is serving the rope; when the required length is put on, the end is passed under the last 6 turns and hauled taught before cutting off.


Our Gourmet Galley : Paella


It goes without saying that on arriving at a foreign port, a trip to the local market is a must, and in Galicia each stall is piled high with wonderful ingredients not found at home. The fish stalls display an array of strange looking fish, shellfish and seamonsters, all looking so appetising that you cannot help but buy a little of everything. For example, our chefs bought: calamari (squid) langoustine (big prawns) almejas (clams) and mejillones ( mussels) to go along with chicken for our Paella.

Preferably you need a large paella pan and a burner

This recipe serves 18, so adapt to the number in your party.


18 chicken thighs, 2 whole garlic, 4 onions, 2 whole chorizo sausages, 1 pack paella seasoning (saffron, white pepper cumin & paprika mix), 1.5kg paella rice (long grain works just as well), 2.5 litres stock, 1 bottle white wine, 3 large squid cleaned and cut into rings, 2 kg prawns, 2 kg clams, 2kg mussels, 1 large bag frozen green beans, 3 red peppers sliced


  1. Fry chicken pieces in olive oil until brown and nearly cooked through. Add a good handful of chopped garlic along with some chopped onions and chorizo, fry for two minutes or until soft.
  2. Add your rice (a good handful per person) then add the stock and wine to cover the rice along with paella seasoning. Leave to simmer. You can add more stock or white wine if necessary.
  3. About 10 minutes before the rice is cooked, add all your shellfish to the pan along with some green beans and sliced red pepper. Keep stirring until cooked, adding more liquid if required.
  4. Serve with a good sunset!


Soraidh Hebrides

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

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




Off to St Kilda

All crew reported back aboard.  The last of the stores are stowed and the weather is looking like it may be a bit kinder to us this time.

Our aim? To get to Kilda under sail and as of the forecast this morning I think we will make it this time.  The ship will  anchor overnight in Tobermory before heading off towards Castlebay on Barra.  The plan seems to be at the moment, a morning in Barra before heading off early afternoon the 68NM to St Kilda.  The window is short, Tuesday and early Wednesday before the weather starts to turn against our favour again.

This year it seems that few of the charter vessels here have managed many voyages out here as the weather has been so dreadful. Never mind, the beauty of Scotland is that is is fantastic in amy weather and always a sheltered haven to hide in.

Photos from Hirta I hope later in the week.4a2ba0_e3b3fd1a2eca4bc0b158102f78be16ec.jpg_srz_980_496_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz

Tempted by Tall Ships?


Irene is heading for Belfast’s maritime event of the year and you could be there too.
For three days, Irene will join in the celebrations for the gathering of Tall Ships before they set sail on a voyage to Norway.

If you have never experienced the sight of these vessels under sail now is your chance. You can stay aboard in comfort and assist the crew to haul sails and steer. Our wonderful chef, Rachel will provide you with exquisite meals and home baking to keep you fuelled up

Ireland’s hospitality is renowned and guaranteed you will find music, arts and song wherever you explore.

If you are interested in learning more, or wish to book this voyage, click here for more details.

Last minute spring deal


Now only £290  24 April –
Sun 26 April, Falmouth – Falmouth

Take one of the best sailing areas in Cornwall, add a few ounces of sunshine, a 100 tons of tall ship a dose of fresh air along with  a pinch of salt water and stir for a great weekend afloat.

Join me, Nikki and my crew as we get going into the new sailing season and summer. This weekend we have special guest and mariner Topsy Toner who will be telling stories and explaining the not so dark art of celestial navigation.

Navigation using planets and stars is as old as ancient Greece, but with the arrival of GPS and the more recent computerised navigation software we are finding the more traditional methods of navigating using a sextant to position fix are becoming replaced by newer and quicker technology.

Topsy will be explaining the uses of the sextant and how it works along with practical demonstrations and classes during the day. Throughout the evening he will go through some of the finer points and hold discussions around the table. The classes are not compulsory and will run for those of you who are interested alongside your traditional sailing experience aboard Bessie Ellen.



Apart from teaching, Topsy is also a master of the Mandolin and Banjo, so do bring your instruments to join our evening sessions.

For more information or to book in click HERE


New Job Listing



First Mate Position Minimum Qualifications Required:
  • Yachtmaster Coastal Commercially endorsed.
  • STCW 95
  • Power Boat Level 2
  • Diesel Engine Maintenance

Applicants should hold a recent ENG1 and a CRB certificate.

Both Bessie Ellen & Irene has a vacancy for a Mate for the 2015 charter season.

The posting will run from January to September in UK Coastal waters including Scotland with the possibility of a placement extending to a winter in Canary Islands.

You must be a team player with and a positive attitude, strong work ethic and outstanding people and leadership skills.  An interest into traditional vessels and rigging is important.

Crewing a tall ship is rewarding but very demanding. The applicant must be prepared to work regulation hours performing a wide variety of tasks under conditions which are sometimes physically and mentally challenging, and the work must be done with a smile on your face.

You must be willing and able to interact with passengers, as well as your shipmates, in a positive and appropriate fashion.

You will have a wide range of sailing experience on various types of vessels with a good knowledge of sailing techniques under all weather conditions both inshore and offshore.

Sail handling and navigation experience


Please apply by email along with a current C.V including references to:

Christmas Fair


Today  we get a day out and away from our desk.  We are off to a Cornish Christmas fair, helping to support local business and encourage you to buy local.  It’s  important you know.  

Drop in and catch the crew at Pencarrow Christmas craft fair. Bring the kids, learn how to tie ‪‎monkey fist‬ and buy your loved one the best christmas present, a day sail on Bessie Ellen and Irene, Sailing Ketch. 1907. Oh and get free gold coins!

Gift vouchers are available for Easter day sails from Fowey or summer sailing in Mounts Bay from Newlyn in association with Eat Drink Sleep hotel chain at The Old Coast Guard to include a lobster lunch.

We Will Remember Them!

During this time of remembrance, we should also take a moment to reflect on those brave mariners  who perhaps did not join up to serve in the Forces, but continued to sail the ketches and schooners full of cargo round our coasts to keep the country working. Coal, wood, salt, clay, trade around the coast did not stop, could not stop!


Aboard Bessie Ellen, loading and discharging cargo under Capt. Chichester carried on with son Jack as crew, and on Sunday August 4th while the ship was being towed from Kingsbridge to Par, war broke out.  On reaching home soon after, papers were received calling Jack for military service.  Capt John took the papers to the Customs house where he sent for the recruiting officer.  After a strong argument, the Captain declared his son Jack indispensable and threw the papers back at the officer.

Jack continued working aboard the vessel until Good Friday 1917 when he fell foul of the law for wrecking but that’s another story.


The First World War had a mixed effect on West Country shipping.  Until 1914, John Chichester always took the family on a summer cruise to Plymouth or Cowes, sometimes even France, but of course these excursions had to cease at the beginning of war.

Memoirs of the period confirm that the extra demands of a war economy on the national transport system kept the vessels busy and freight rates high.  A voyage record for 1917 for the ships covered by the Mutual Assurance Association shows that at least then, when unrestricted U-boat attacks were at their highest, the Braunton fleet was largely employed in the Irish Sea, with only a small number of the ships crossing the channel to France for the more lucrative cargos.  Only two Braunton Schooners were lost that year.  Several vessels  were laid up probably due to crewing shortages and because of the shipping boom afterwards, many of them were not brought back into service.

I have in my possession Bessie Ellen’s complete cargo log of her working life under sail.  From here I note a few dates of interest and quote from this log:

  • 08.09. 1914- Sailed from Glasgow for Alexander Cross & Son 145 tons of Manure in Bags to Barnstaple for a Mr Carter Arriving 19.09 14

From that point, the vessel was laid up until March the following year whereafter she continued to trade in the Bristol Channel and the Cornish Coast.


20.09.15 Vessel Laid Up until April 1916.  We would suggest winter weather and small crews could be the reason.

19.10.16 A. Cross shipped from Glasgow 142 tons Manure for Barnstaple, arriving 10 days later 29.11.16.  Was this due to weather conditions so late in the year?

10.11 17 – Sailed from Lydney with 136 tons of Coal for Barnstaple arriving  by 12.11.17

12.11.18 – Sailed from Cardiff with 142 tons of Coal to Fremmington arriving on 13.11.18

During all this time, Bessie Ellen was under sail alone but sail had its drawbacks.  Captain John traded to Goodhorne with clay on a regular contract, having a rendezvous with a steamer which visited London docks every three weeks.  In late 1915, the bad weather made Bessie Ellen a day late so Captain John had to wait there three weeks for the steamers return. It was this that confirmed the decision to turn to auxiliary power.

Today, the hull of the vessel is 85% of original timber.  Well built ships and strong men continuing in a dangerous livelihood  has meant that today we have a freedom and a continuing  living heritage in both Bessie Ellen and Irene for us all to enjoy their history.