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.

Two Trading Ships Together for 2015!

Exiting news.  After a break of nearly 100 years, Bessie Ellen & Irene will be sailing together again next season. The operators of Bessie Ellen  and Irene have got together and designed a fresh and variable sailing programme for both ships, offering everyone who love the sea and shore to get on the water in 2015.
These two vessels are a pair of the last remaining examples of the schooners and ketches of the West Country, which in the latter part of the 19th century and up until the 1930’s carried cargo around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Europe. These sailing ships became the livelihood to many families of the small towns and villages in the South West, such as Par and Fowey, in Cornwall, Appledore, Bideford and Braunton on the Estuaries of the Taw and Torridge in North Devon. Not only did these towns supply excellent seamen and captains, shipyards grew up to build and maintain the large fleet, sail makers and blacksmiths for repairs, chandlers, brokers and merchants gathered to supply the ships with cargoes. In fact a large percentage of the community was somehow involved with sailing ships and the sea.From Scotland to Scilly, water and whisky, maritime festivals and fairs, these two ships from a period now long gone still survive to give us all a reminder of life at sea during the last great age of sail.

From daysails in Cornwall, family holidays to Scilly or adventures to St Kilda, there is something for us all in this maritime nation! So, if you or a friend are itching to go, why not give us a call now or book a sail with these grand old ladies.1240624_10151870157822813_1363988030_n

Bessie Ellen a traditional sailing tall ship

Practical Seamanship Training Scheme

Traditional Sail Training Course 2015

Spring 2015 will see the launch of a crew training scheme aimed at young people who wish to learn all aspects of sailing, maintaining and the running of a large sailing vessel with a view to future employment in the maritime sector. With two ships in the fleet, Bessie Ellen and Irene, each original West Country Ketches, 4 training berths are available for a seven month placement commencing in March and ending in September.

Training will take place aboard these working charter vessels both in the boatyard and at sea with charter voyages to Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland. Each placement will cost £8,000 and will include external courses, accommodation, wet weather gear& personal rigging kit. Meals and bedding are provided.

Training  Modules
  • Sail making
  • Rope work & Rigging
  • Navigation & watch keeping
  • Welding & Spar making*
  • STCW95 courses *
  • RYA Coastal skipper practical *


Applicants should be aware that they will be joining in with the general running and maintaining of working ships and the undertaking of crew duties and responsibilities alongside the professional crew.

On completion of the course, we will endeavour to find placements for you on tall ships across the world or entry into training colleges here in the UK to help get you started and further your career.

Please forward your CV including references to

If you have any queries or questions about the course, please feel free to contact us.

*  These courses are outsourced and are subject to time restraints and availability.

The Bessie Ellen - 27/08/2013

2015 Season

Sitting in a gale in La Coruna has provided me with the time to sit down and publish next years sailing adventures and I truly hope that there will be something for both old salts and newcomers to experience both the ship and the fantastic ocean wildlife & coastlines. Scotland once again will feature for the majority of the summer, but next year you have the opportunity to visit Southern Brittany for some spring sunshine during the Semaine du Golfe in Morbihan.

The Irish sea beckons with a number of trips passing from Scilly and beyond the North Channel andt this year we hope to repeat our visit to Rathlin and Giants Causeway.

We have chosen to offer short and longer voyages again this year as the mix proved very popular last season.  Whatever the choice, I am certain the wildlife will abound in the Isles of the West.

We hope to provide you with an experience you will never forget, both on board and ashore, so give me a call if you would like to book or discuss which voyage is most suitable to your tastes.

Gale now ceased!




A Deckhands Perspective

2013-07-10 21.27.44

“What are you hoping to get out of this experience?” It’s a perfectly fair question, but not one I was altogether prepared to answer. I told Nikki, “Sailing experience, with an eye on a possible career change,” but I’m not certain that’s the full answer.

The cuticles on all my fingers are torn up and streaked with dried blood. When I wash the heads, using a vinegar/water solution so I don’t damage the woodwork, the cuts burn. My muscles are sore, which isn’t surprising, considering I left a desk job to come aboard, but I’m an athlete and it’s been four days… Hopefully, my body will adjust to the climbing and squatting and pulling in the next few.

On my first voyage we circumnavigated the Isle of Mull, exploring caves, viewing puffins, and tromping up to Gylen Castle, which has a grim history reminiscent of A Game of Thrones. That was tourism, though, and while those small trips were fun – in fact, they are the purpose for many visitors – those trips weren’t my purpose. This is a tour ship, but it’s also a living community, a century-old trading ship worked and maintained by a small crew. The experience of working a vessel is what I am here for, and despite the physical strain and the foibles of literally learning the ropes, I’m experiencing a sense of satisfaction that I haven’t in a long time.

I can’t pronounce, much less spell, some of the knots I’m using: the bowline, clove hitch, reef knot, sheef (sp) shank (?), and slip knot. We coil clockwise “halyards”, “lines”, and “sheets” – not “rope”. We lower the main sail “throat” first, followed by its “peak”. All these words, which I struggle to remember in a pinch, are becoming a part of my daily vocabulary. Aboard the Bessie Ellen, I am trading a comfortable office for sea spray and “dreek” Scottish weather; swapping the summer sunshine of my home in Istanbul for rain and fog and cold; and leaving behind the bustle of 23m people for a small boat with fewer than 20 passengers and crew, sailing remote islands that feel like they’re locked in the 19th century.

The Bessie Ellen - 27/08/2013

It’s jolly good fun.  Today will be the start of my second voyage with the Bessie Ellen. More learning and cleaning and work awaits. Tonight, we’re bound for Loch Buie, continuing our search for good wind to sail and eagles to watch. Sometime in the course of all this excitement, I hope to find an answer to Nikki’s question, but I get the feeling that I don’t need to be in a hurry to do so.



Heading out again soon.  Rain and thunder on the way, but it has been so hot here in Oban the last days. Looking at the forecast of South easterlies, we will take Loch Buie for eagles  as an anchorage, before heading towards Islay again to pick up the cargo of Bruichladdich for Drogheda.

Ballycastle and Rathlin are on the way and I hope to make it to Warren Point where Bessie Ellen used to trade years ago. See you on the Boyne Friday morning.