The New Year is often the perfect time to get away from it all and relax after weeks of frantic festive happenings. I headed out on a quick and easy flight to Tenerife and was instantly calmed by warm winds and sun on my face. Bessie Ellen was waiting in the marina, with a welcoming crew and a galley full of delicious looking produce that skipper Nikki had just picked up from the local market. I wasn’t the first to arrive and over fresh cake and coffee my bunkmates for the week introduced themselves, and quickly we all started getting to know each other. Interestingly, most were single people like me who wanted to “do something new”. There were a few returning guests however, one who had been on Bessie over 12 times!
After a safety briefing and some basic sail training from the very friendly crew it was time to eat and sleep, so we could head out early the next morning before the strong Canarian winds kicked in. It was surprisingly easy to sleep in the little bunks, they are much bigger than they look, and with an eye mask, earplugs and a couple of gins – I slept like a baby!
Setting sail early next morning we all took positions on deck to receive instructions from Nikki and her crew. After a few hours of putting the sails up and down, pulling on ropes and working in small groups all the sailing language was already becoming quite familiar. I felt like I’d achieved something by making fast without hesitation and eagerly coiled ropes because it was actually very therapeutic. I was, however, wishing I had bought some gloves, as the rope is hard and us desk workers have very soft hands – fortunately Nikki has plenty of spare pairs!
I’d been to Tenerife for a few sun holidays before but seeing this volcanic island from the water really does give you a very different perspective. There are vast expanses of dramatic rock formations dotted with pockets of villages and resorts for sun hungry visitors. Being on the water you are so removed from the ‘tourist’ scene that you forget you are one too, and you can just enjoy the beauty of the islands as you sail along the shoreline. I hadn’t realised there was so much wildlife to spot in the Canaries, and to see pilot whales and dolphins swim alongside us was a really magical experience, as was the phosphorescence in the water during the night swim.
Each day, we sailed for five or six hours, allowing us time to enjoy the company of our fellow guests or take a moment to sunbath on deck. Nikki wanting sails trimmed, a stint on the helm or putting another helping of delicious homemade cake in front of us occasionally interrupted this! There was no fixed destination plan as the weather dictates everything, but on this trip we made our way over to La Gomera – the second smallest island in the Canaries, about eight hours sailing from Tenerife. We anchored up near Valle Gran Rey and San Sebastian and were taken ashore in the dingy so we could take a good look around the beautiful towns and villages. Some of the guests even hired a car and spent the day seeking out the rainforest that’s hidden in the centre of the island.
We spent New Years Eve in San Sebastian, dining on board with a mouth watering seafood paella, playing silly games then wandering into the town square to join the locals for fireworks and salsa dancing until the early hours. It was such a fantastic atmosphere and certainly a very different way to ring in a New Year!
When you weren’t sailing, chatting, eating or sleeping a lot of fun was to be had jumping off the boat for a swim. This was only allowed when Nikki had anchored and was safe to do so. The water was fresh to say the least and there was much competition for the best diving from the rigging – Pete, the cook, had his swan dive down to a fine art. The crew were not only great at effortlessly helping Nikki run the boat, but were very involved in all the fun and took time to get to know the guests.
It was my first time on a sailing holiday and being away by myself for New Year’s so I was very unsure as to what sort of holiday I would be having. From the off everyone was so welcoming, the boat felt safe and comfortable and any inhibitions about sharing bathrooms very quickly disappeared. I was blown away by the food on board; Nikki and Pete are fantastic cooks and every meal, whether a buffet style lunch on deck or 14 hour cooked pork dinner in the saloon, was delicious! I really don’t know how they manage to do it with 12 guests, but each day they made fresh bread and cakes and whipped up desserts worthy of any top London restaurant.
Winter sun is always a tonic for me, but this experience gave me something truly special; new friendships, an understanding of sailing traditional boats and a chance to completely switch off to my everyday life. Boat life might not suit everyone, but if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, sun, sea and laughter – I can highly recommend a trip on the Bessie Ellen.