Month: February 2018

Wildlife Spotting at Sea

Canary Island sailing with dolphins

Wildlife is a huge part of our voyages. Whether you join Bessie Ellen in St. Kilda, Scotland, or the Eye of the Wind in the Caribbean, there’s always plenty to spot. Discover what to expect from different destinations – whatever the journey, a pair of binoculars and a camera are packing essentials!


Most of our Scottish voyages are touring the Outer Hebrides, and even making the journey to St. Kilda a couple of times a year. It is not unlikely for dolphins to follow you on your voyage, leaping and diving in and out of the water alongside the boat, and if there are rocky outcrops or secluded beaches around, make sure your eyes are peeled for seals too. As your ship gets closer to land, have your binoculars at the ready as there are often red deer grazing the coastline of some of the more uninhabited islands. Our Scottish voyages also offer a good chance of meeting a puffin colony – especially earlier in the year when it is their breeding season.

If you get really lucky, there are a few once-in-a-lifetime wildlife watching chances. Golden Eagles soar through the skies of Scotland, while whales frequent the waters. Humpback, Minke and, if the odds are in your favour, you may well be able to catch a glimpse of a killer whale. There is a small community of 7 Orcas in the Western Islands of Scotland – so when you near the Small Isles on a still, calm day, look out for their dorsal fins gliding through the water.puffins in Scotland Bessie Ellen


Cornish waters are abound with marine life, from sea bird colonies like guillemots and razorbills to seals and porpoises. Look closely and you may see a hug dorsal fin slicing through the water toward you – but don’t panic, Cornwall is home to a large number of Basking sharks that are of no threat to humans, but make for great wildlife viewing. You should also watch out for the incredibly odd-looking Sunfish, that often bob to the top of the waters and lie flat, catching the suns rays.

During Summer and Autumn, whales arrive in Cornwall, feeding off the huge numbers of fish that follow the plankton to our waters. Minke, Sperm and the second largest species of whale in the world, the Fin whale, all cruise through Cornish waters. We also have large numbers of Leatherback Turtles that visit the Cornish coast but they’re a tough spot so keep your wits about you!

Seabirds in the Hebrides

Canary Islands

Whales and dolphins are abound in the Canaries, and none are more easy to find than the Pilot whale. Not a true whale, but a species of dolphin, these quiet and gentle mammals are easy to spot in the calm waters under Tenerife. As you set sail, the whales come close to the ship in large pods of up to 20. They float or “log” on the surface in these groups, diving up to 2000 ft to feed on squid that live at great depth. Other whales of the larger species can be found to the south of Gomera and include Brydes, Fin and Sperm whales. Supper happy dolphins are easier to spot, the playful bottlenose form groups around the Masca cliffs, providing a great chance for you to photograph these incredible creatures in still, crystal clear waters. Spinner and Atlantic spotted dolphins tear out of the waves alongside us as under full sail you will reach up to 9 knots between the islands.

The islands shelve very quickly into the sea and provide little in the way of snorkelling reefs, but there are a few spots to spend some time drifting on the swell, watching jewelled fish swim along the white rocky bottom.  If you are lucky, there are some spots where you can swim with manta ray and turtles.

dolphins in the Canary islands


Dolphins, turtles and humpback whales regularly frequent Caribbean waters, alongside reams of tropical fish – making for astonishing snorkelling. Of course, there are hundreds of species of birds all over the Caribbean that are often difficult to miss thanks to their bright colours.

Sharks also glide through the Caribbean reefs, so look out for the harmless Nurse shark, and the Blacktip reef shark. The reef sharks are timid, but are the second most common shark in the Caribbean and are often spotted by divers and snorkelers – however they are totally uninterested in humans!

Eye of the Wind in Cuba

The Solo Sailor on Holiday

Solo sailing on board a tall ship

At VentureSail, all our voyages are different to the next. However, one thing they all have in common is that they are all loved by solo travellers. Discover what one Bessie Ellen passenger thought of her journey from Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, back to Cornwall.

‘When joining 1904 trading ketch Bessie Ellen on her ocean crossing sailing from the Canary Islands to Cornwall, I deliberately didn’t invite any friends or family. I wanted it to be “my thing”, that I knew I would enjoy and I didn’t want to concern myself with whether they were having as good a time as me. But, as to be expected, there is a definite amount of uncertainty and anxiety about committing to a holiday that holds a few unknown factors, like a sailing trip – and this is magnified slightly by the thought of being totally absent of familiar faces. However, once underway we are encapsulated in our own world, and all worries evaporate.

Before joining, simple questions spring to mind, like:

  • What will the food be like?
  • Can I charge my phone?
  • Is there space for privacy?
  • What will the bathroom facilities be?
  • Will I get on with the other guests?

These are all natural queries and concerns before embarking on a voyage at sea, and despite being more than happy to travel alone, it can be comforting to share the experience with others.

Single traveller sailing on board Bessie Ellen

Fortunately (and, as I would later learn, not unusually), I had nothing to worry about. The rest of the guests consisted of mainly singles or couples, with a few seasoned sailors on Bessie Ellen – a sure sign of an excellent experience. One of the things you don’t consider before leaving is how much the other guests will add to your experience. There are people from all walks of life, backgrounds and cultures on board, and to have them share their breadth of life experiences and stories makes for such interesting, diverse discussions that will broaden your own outlook and opinion on a range of different things!

On a slightly different note – the bathroom facilities are much better than I was expecting for a sailing vessel. They are large and spacious, with plenty of room to shower and change without getting everything wet.

The food on board was of professional standards. Bessie Ellen has a galley equipped so well that the meals we ate were incredible – pork that had been slow-cooked for 12 hours, fresh seafood from local markets, and more cake than you could imagine.

Bessie Ellen carries two generators that give the boat the same amount of power as a normal household, so there’s plenty of electricity for charging all manner of portable devices – most importantly cameras!  The generators aren’t running all day, but there are enough power sockets for everyone on board, but make sure you remember to bring UK plug adaptors.

The other thing that many people are concerned about is about getting enough “me time”. The idea of being on a ship (even a fairly large one) conjures up images of cabin fever – but have no fear. Alone time can be plentiful on board if you wish. Bunks are spacious, so you can bed down with a book or just some peace and quiet, but the boat is large enough that there is always somewhere you can relax. Take advantage of the large on-board library that of course feature plenty of maritime literature as well as novels and even a few rare editions.

The ability to relax is also due to the fact that it’s up to you how much you get involved. Get stuck in and learn as much as you can take on board, or just grasp the basics and instead revel in the feeling of being surrounded by wildlife and the steady, comforting rocking of the waves.

For Bessie Ellen, skipper Nikki hand picks all the routes and destinations based on the extensive knowledge that she has gained after many years sailing the areas. This means you will definitely get the best views, the best wildlife, and best ports possible – there’s no trial and error on these voyages. Having said this, if you have somewhere that you want to visit, it’s simply a case of mentioning it to the crew who will then try their absolute best to make it happen.

Sailing on Bessie Ellen as a single traveller provided me with just the right mix of adventure, excitement, relaxation and natural beauty – it covers all bases and makes for a perfect solo holiday experience.’