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!

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


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.

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

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 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