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.
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.
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.
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!”