Well, here we are on our way south to the Canaries after being back in Fowey for a fortnight. We’ve had quite a season in Scotland – a longer one than normal but well worth the extra few weeks. Back home in Cornwall we made final preparations before starting our journey to Tenerife for the winter. One afternoon Bessie Ellen was slipped at the shipyard in Polruan for caulking and painting. The crew, Karina and Jonny Barley, a local Polruan lad went through the rig while Pete organised the new menus for the voyage south. There seemed so much to do before we left but we’ve got everything ready in time, so I thought I would recap some of the summer as I have neglected writing for quite a while.
Dolphins at Breachacha
It’s hard to know where to start really. So much goes on every week throughout the year, but one of the real highlights has to be a display of bottlenose dolphins in Loch Briachacha, Coll. During an early evening in May, these wonderful creatures came into the small bay and performed for us over three hours; leaping, diving and seemingly genuinely interested in us standing on deck chatting with them. I couldn’t get over this display – it seemed if I knocked on the hull with a belaying pin, the sound transferred through the hull and charmed them to perform more. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it, and as you can imagine, I’ve seen my fair share of dolphins from on board Bessie! If you take a look at Octobers Coast Magazine, Sian Lewis captured the moment perfectly. Then, on our final voyage in September, the same pod joined us in Staffa and escorted us down to Iona, which felt like a proper send off from our friends.
Other wildlife highlights included a super display of young eagles tumbling together off Ulva, and our own seal in Canna harbour who, while Adam was fishing, was intent on being given the catch. I don’t know why he didn’t fish himself, but the seal would wait until I fed him from the ship (Video from Nikki). Basking sharks were harder to place this year, but sailing across the Minch one calm evening, I believe a humpback breached not half a mile from the ship. Minke whales and a close encounter with a very large stag were also unbelievable moments for those that were in the right place at the right time – as Bessie often seems to have the luck to be!
The Brazils, a family of music
Music and the sea often go hand-in-hand, and this year we were treated to some very special guests who came aboard with a multitude of instruments to entertain. With an accordion, mandolin guitar and even a large penny whistle, the father and son duo played beautifully during the voyage. Performing an array of traditional melodies, both during sailing and entertaining us in the evenings, they taught us to sing chorus for a range of tunes. The saloon was soon alive with the notes of “ Little Pot Stove” and many others, everyone thoroughly enjoying the Brazils’ obvious talent for music.
Sailing with Eda Frandsen in the Outer Hebrides
Although there are a number of other traditional boats working in the Hebrides, it’s a rare moment that we sail together. This year our voyage crossed paths with Eda Frandsen, owned and operated by some friends of ours from Cornwall. From the anchorage at Canna Harbour, we sailed together over the Minch to Loch Skiport, South Uist on a decent reach, arriving just as the mists and rain descended off the slopes of Hecla. Upon reaching a safe harbour, both guests and crew enjoyed a lively Ceilidh down aboard Bessie Ellen, stomping out a very rough Strip the Willow late into the night. The following day it was all hands on deck, setting sail for a race up the inside of the Hebrides to Harris. We flew: 7-8-9 knots the topsail was set, storming up the coast with a bone in her teeth. At the end of the day, both ships settled to anchor off Ensay’s white sand beach on the Atlantic coast. Although cloudy, a few brave souls chanced the icy waters to swim to each others’ boats, but the biggest surprise was Pete! Our chef, after squeezing himself into an undersize wetsuit, took the plunge and swam over to Eda, only to be hauled onboard by James, utterly exhausted. He swiftly declared that there would be no more swimming till the Canaries!
Discovering new places – Loch Tarbert and Duich and a brief stop at Camusfearnna
This season, with longer and more frequent voyages than ever before, our adventures took us to new places that have quickly become firm favourites. On a chance circumnavigation of Skye, with the weather closing in, a decision was taken to anchor down by Eilean Donan castle. This impressive building has been the star of many movies, including Highlander and one of the Bond films. The guests were so taken by their shore visit that I missed the tide for passing Kyle Rhea, so we instead set off down Loch Duich to anchor under the 5 Sisters of Kintail. The following morning, when the early morning mists hung below the mountaintops creating a mystical atmosphere, we were all taken aback at the spectacular scenery. Who needs to travel far when there is such an amazing landscape on the doorstep?
I found another gem within Loch Nevis, where we came across Tarbert, a small, beautiful bay with a good anchorage. Tarbet offers a short walk over to Loch Morar, which boasts the title of deepest freshwater loch in Europe, and is said to be home to Morag, a loch monster that lies in wait for victims. We didn’t see her this time, but some of our tough guests risked it and bravely swam in the dark and icy waters of the loch.
One place I have always longed to visit is Gavin Maxwell’s island of Sandaig in the Sound of Sleat. Here, on a perfectly dreich morning, I had the opportunity to get ashore and wander the paths where Mijbil and Edal were so at home. This place, a place like no other I have visited in the islands, lay utterly peaceful in the quiet of the morning – the brown brook babbled and the winds in the tree tops gave a strange air to this memorable place. Where the house once stood now stands a memorial stone to Gavin, and under the tree, the otters grave surrounded by shells gave a fitting resting place for Edal.
Oban new pontoons
It is with long awaited excitement that Oban now has a North Pier Marina. This will make life much easier for all our customers (and us), as we will no longer need to negotiate steep ladders and climb over berthed ships to reach Bessie. Argyll & Bute council commissioned the concrete Pontoons in July, and they have already been a great success to all the charter vessels operating in Oban.
Instagram & Facebook
Social media has become a huge part of our lives, and most interest is generated through images and videos taken from on board Bessie. As I am notoriously terrible at taking pictures, perhaps I may ask anyone who has travelled on board Bessie to send us theirs? It’s a great help to be able to give a real picture of what life is like on board the ship. Thank you!
You may have noticed a substantial lack of news during June. Unfortunately, poor Bessie Ellen suffered a fractured propeller shaft during tour month – a long sail-training event for MAST charity. It was during our weekly maintenance checks in Greenock that a hairline fracture appeared in the flange, where the shaft attaches to the gearbox. Carefully, we made our way motorsailing back to the Clyde to find a ship repair yard that would be able to undertake the job as fast as possible.
The schooner Johanna Lucretia very helpfully carried all our trainees on to Belfast, and continued for Bessie Ellen in her absence. Eventually, a suitable yard was found in Garvel Clyde, and they were on the case immediately. On the morning of our arrival, the damaged piece was removed without having to have a lift out. With that done, it was still a week to turn a new shaft, even though it was only 2ft long, arriving just in time for Bessie Ellen to head on back to Oban to continue her charters.