Category: Sailing Adventures

The history of Pilot Cutters and how these traditional boats are still sailing today

Agnes under sail classic boat sailing Cornwall

Imagine, it’s 1837 and you are the captain of an enormous wooden merchant ship, sailing into dangerous waters full of sandbars and submerged rocks, attempting to reach port after a lengthy voyage. Your vessel is fully laden with a precious cargo of cotton and tobacco and both your crew, and yourself, are utterly exhausted after weeks at sea, wishing nothing more than for someone to take the helm from you in these last, most difficult moments.  Reaching for your brass telescope you scan the horizon for a certain something that gives a glimmer of hope, then finally you spot it: a boat, perhaps 50 feet or so, making towards your starboard bow at a galloping pace. Exhaling a huge sigh of relief, you instruct your men to ‘heave-to’, able to relax at last, for the pilot cutter is here. 

This may sound a little dramatic but pilot cutters were often the saviours to larger vessels needing to head into port. Swift, agile sailing boats they had experienced sailors at the helm, each equipped with in-depth knowledge of local waters and able to safely guide the bigger ships safely into harbour, often through treacherous waters. Operated as a freelance service, pilots would strive to lead as many ships into port as they could to ensure a hefty profit. The more nimble the vessel, the quicker a larger ship could be reached which in turn meant that faster vessels became more profitable. 

Originally based on single-mast fishing boats, pilot cutters evolved a deep hull shape, a gaff rig and a long bowsprit with room for jibs in order to increase speed and manoeuvrability. The design of the cutters changed rapidly between the 17th-19th Centuries, sped up by the increased competition for business. 

Constantly outdoing other pilot cutters, of which there were many, was a top priority. Like all competitive evolutionary traits, survival favoured the fittest – and in this context, the pilot cutters not only needed to be fast and nimble, but they also needed to strike a balance between speed and crew size – more crew meant a higher wage bill.  Many of the smaller cutters working the Bristol Channel could be operated with just two crew; the skipper and the apprentice. In some cases, if there was a ship to be brought up river, the skipper offered his services as a pilot, leaving the cutter in the hands of the apprentice to sail it back.  

However, speed and agility weren’t the only requirements – ‘seaworthiness’ was also an essential part of the design brief. Off the coast of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly pilot cutters would fill their berths with experienced pilots before waiting out in the Western Approaches, often for several days, patiently anticipating approaching vessels. As soon as tall masts loomed on the horizon, the Captain would drop the knowledgeable Pilot off to schooners, brigs and barques to sail as fast as possible, ensuring they were first to arrive and offer their services.

As ever, times change and the arrive of maritime steam power saw the role of the traditional wooden cutter change indefinitely at the start of the 20th Century. Many traditional pilot cutters were sold off as private yachts to make room for the faster, more manoeuvrable steamboats. Yet the name ‘cutter,’ with its connotation of the provision of a maritime service, lived on and is still used today for customs boats in both the UK and the US. 

Proving that the legacy of the Pilot Cutter is strong, Cornish Shipwright Luke Powell has dedicated much of his time over the last 20 years to faithfully reconstructing numerous Scilly pilot cutters.  Luke has also established the Truro-based ‘Rhoda Mary’ Shipyard where, along with his team of skilled shipwrights, he has recreated a  replica of the Falmouth pilot cutter “Vincent” using only traditional wooden boat building methods. 

These fantastic traditional boats offer a thrilling sailing experience to both the novice and seasoned sailor and VentureSail are thrilled that both ‘Pellew’ and ‘Agnes’ will be part of our Cornish sailing charter fleet. Sailing on the very waters on which they plied their trade so many years ago, both vessels provide the opportunity for guests to taste a little bit of history as these nifty wooden boats skim their way across the waves, imagine a larger, tall-masted wooden vessel is in their wake. 

View Pellew’s voyages as she sails the coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Hebrides.

Sail with Agnes as she explores Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

First time Sailing in Devon

Escape sails up

Adam recounts his sea tales from his first time sailing experience on Escape exploring the South Devon Coast.

Having never sailed before I was expectant of my first sailing experience but not really sure what for! A fully crewed Devon sailing holiday seemed the perfect start to my non-existent experience.

The full English breakfast from the Sloping deck in Dartmouth, had done little to settle the nervous energy in my stomach. We were standing on the edge of the harbour wall in Devon when we first caught sight of what would become our floating home for the next three nights; Escape, a stunning Norwegian classic wooden yacht.

With everyone and their luggage safely aboard, introductions were made and safety briefings given. The plan, according to the Skipper Andy, was to sail southwest, stop off in Salcombe to explore and continue onto Yealm before heading back to Dartmouth. Once the bunks had been settled and everyone had familiarised themselves with the boat and her rigging, we were off.

Fortunately, we were blessed with one of the best weekends of sunshine this year so shorts, t-shirts and plenty of sun cream were the order of the day.

We had soon rounded Dartmouth castle, clear of the mouth of the River Dart and were now out in the ocean making for Salcombe, my nervous energy and the harbour left behind us. Not knowing how I would fair at sea, and not knowing the least about ropes, sails and charts was something I needn’t have concerned myself with. Andy was our laid-back guide on this fully chartered boat and with his help, I was soon hoisting sails and ‘making off’ ropes.

We gently bobbed toward Salcombe taking in the views of Devon from the sea. As the water ebbed away, so did the time, with the phrase ‘lost’ at sea beginning to take on a new meaning. Over the next few days, this feeling became more profound and the checking of digital gadgets gave way to the intriguing sights provided by the binoculars; wildlife, mesmerising scenery, and the other ‘sailors’ travelling through the lenses.

Tacking and jibing up and down the Devon coastline for the first time was equally as fun as it was enlightening. When we had used up all of the available wind, sails were dropped, ropes were tidied and we entered into Salcombe town via the mouth of the Kingsbridge estuary.

Devon Coast gorse

Salcombe was incredibly picturesque, with a relaxed and carefree spirit reminiscent of being back home in certain towns of Cornwall. Only to be reminded of the difference when the cream teas were brought up on deck and the debate over cream or jam first ensued!

Anchoring at dusk in the tranquillity of Yealm we were welcomed by the clearest of skies to observe the stars. Being woken by the gentle lull of the hull in the morning, I was now familiar with the smell of warm pastries and coffee simmering throughout the saloon and climbing above deck to appreciate our totally unspoiled surroundings, has to be the best way to wake up!

The final stretch of our day sail back up the coast allowed us more time to relax, sample more cooked on-board delicacies (including full English breakfast), and for me to learn some more about sailing aboard this Classic yacht. Andy happily fielded all of my questions and took the time to show me some basic chart reading and navigation.

It was during this stretch back up the coast we were joined by an inquisitive pod of Dolphins playfully ducking and diving under the bow of the boat. With the final highlight for me, helming the boat back into Dartmouth harbour affording me the opportunity to revel in the pride of piloting such a vessel. Something I had never expected to do on my first sailing holiday in Devon.

After a night in Dartmouth, the usual selection of pastries, cereals, yoghurts and fruit followed in the morning and with heavy hearts, we packed our bags and made our way above deck to say our final goodbyes.

Setting foot back on dry land and searching for what day and time it was confirmed we had in fact only been aboard for three nights. It certainly felt longer; confirming my suspicions that she isn’t just Escape by name, but also by nature.

Sailing Devon’s beautiful creeks & bays

Devon coast

Niki Alford, skipper of Bessie Ellen and co-owner of Venturesail gives her insight into her favourite sailing grounds around the beautiful South Devon Coast.

If there is one goal for 2020 it should be getting out on the water for a long weekend right here at home in the UK. Even if you have never sailed or stepped foot on a boat, there is just so much to explore along our shores and rivers that will delight and inspire you no matter what the weather. And the best thing is – you don’t even have to know how to sail.

I’m going to take you on a tour of the South Devon coast, exploring secret coves, bustling harbours and quiet estuaries on board our fleet of Devon-based traditional craft. Along with their welcoming and knowledgable, the captains and crew are there to give you the very best of times, both onboard and whilst exploring the shore and feeding you wonderful food!

DEVON CREEKS AND BAYS

Protected on both shores by two dominating castles is the historic merchant port of Dartmouth is by far the most picturesque in the whole of Devon. The old town overlooks the Rover Dart, tumbling picturesque timber-framed houses line narrow cobbled street housing delightful; independent shops and galleries. The wide River Dart winds through rural Devon farms and woodland before arriving at the very hip town of Totnes. If you are joining Escape or Our Daddy in Dartmouth, it is well worth starting in Totnes (better parking and train links) and taking the River Ferry down the River Dart. Both boats run coastal exploration weekends and day sails from Dartmouth so it is worth taking time to wander the streets to discover some 600 years of history.

I prefer to anchor than berth overnight in the harbour. It’s a real chance to “get away from it all” and Devon has two of my favourite beaches to drop anchor. The long sweep of the golden beach at Blackpool Sands is a perfect backdrop to watch the sunset with the boat murmuring at her anchor. Further up the coast to the South of Berry Head is St Mary’s Bay and no doubt a favourite of our third Devon-based boat, traditional trawler Pilgrim of Brixham. With clear waters of crystal blue, St Mary’s is a marvellous spot to dive over the side and explore ashore.

As always the British summer is never always sunshine and sparkling seas, but what we do have are sheltered secret places away from rougher seas. Our Devon harbours, rivers and creeks just scream “Explore me”, with each bend opening to another seemingly new world to discover. Old oaks bow down to the river’s edge, Herons like statues stare in dark water while families of ducks and swans cruise in the tranquillity of river life. Even as a beginner to boats, it’s a wonderful feeling to take the tiller, gently potter along under sail and enjoy the calm and quiet.

Of course with all this activity and fresh air, food is an absolute high point and what better county in England produces such fine fare. Sharpham, up the River Dart, produces some outstanding cheeses of course best washed down with local apple juice or ciders from nearby villages. Stoke Gabriel is surrounded by organic orchards and of course, must absolutely finish with a Devon Cream Tea.

Whichever boat you choose, whether sailing up the River or out to sea, this coast really is perfect for those wanting to try something new or simply see Devon from a different view.

View our Devon sailing experiences >

Off-grid Sailing Holidays

Narwhal arctic sailing

Gone are the days where a holiday is a true holiday – away from everyday life, a break from modern technologies. Think back thirty years when contact was made through the hotel receptionist, mobile phones weren’t glued to our hands or held like radars to find the G’s and you begin to wonder just how we are supposed to take a break.

With the lure of the internet, working holidays, emails and phone calls are far too quickly packed into the suitcase and allowed to follow us on our worldwide travels. So begs the question – when do we really get a chance to truly switch off and how do we do it?

Off-grid holidays to remote places and awe-inspiring locations are fast becoming a popular choice with travellers and what better way than a sailing holiday. With offerings of fresh sea air, destinations off the beaten track and the chance to share the experience with select like-minded individuals, we can’t think of a better way to holiday. Sure, the phone will be there to take beautiful photos of amazing locations but by the time the first day is out and signal still evades, you’ll sink back into that cherished holiday mode and fall into the cycles of nature. You’ll be sailed away from the man-made constraints of time where the clock rarely gets checked, mealtimes structure the day and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can settle into off-grid life.

Norway Bodo Narwhal

The best bit about being on a boat with full board is that the home comforts, hot meals and cosy beds are all still readily available. And did we mention the amazing locations that boats can get to? The off-the-beaten tracks little trodden by the tourist trade and perhaps not even walked by humans at all. Uninhabited islands free to roam and explore. Secluded coves and hidden bays where all you hear is the sound of the waves lapping the hull and birds circling above.

Wonderfully, truly wild wildlife that remains still intrigued by human contact and can even be known to come closer for inspection. Puffins in the Hebrides are fascinated by the arrival of our small sailing boats and look to investigate, ready to pose for photos. Some of our skippers even take the plunge and swim with the local marine life and if you’re brave enough, you can join too! The beauty about arriving under sail to these off-grid holiday locations means that there is little interruption to the local wildlife populations – no noisy ship engines and bustling crowds to spook them away.

So escape the every day, switch off and recharge your batteries. Choose an awe-inspiring location like Scotland and the Hebrides with off-grid locations like St Kilda, away from the crowds. With our boats Bessie Ellen, Zuza, Cherokee and Narwhal all offering sailing holidays off the beaten track. Perhaps try the breath-taking sailing grounds of Norway and Svalbard where you can really immerse yourself in off-grid holiday destinations that will leave you with stories to share, memories to savour and sea salt in your hair.

Read more here about what the Guardian has to recommend on Off Grid Holidays

Twister’s Canarian Adventures

Twister-diving-1280

Blogger and photographer Lizzie Churchill joined Twister and her crew for a week of winter sun sailing in the Canary islands, read on for her full article about her island adventures!

With a fleet of 10 ships covering the seas of the South West, Isles of Scilly, Caribbean, Canaries, Baltic’s,  France and  Faroe’s as well as the Arctic and Atlantic, Venture Sail really do offer an enviable amount of sailing expeditions for anyone interested in testing their sea legs. Having previously sailed and worked with Venture Sail back in August onboard Johanna Lucretia in the Isles of Scilly, I was fortunate enough to be invited back to tick off my second ship in their ever-growing list to begin an adventure of a lifetime. So with 24 hours pirating experience in the bag, it was time to level-up, grab my passport and head off to the Canaries!

Here, I was glad to step into the 25ºc heat and head to Marina San Miguel to meet Twister the captain and crew and become familiarised with the area and ship. 

Sunday; we left San Miguel for our first day sailing and ended up setting the bar pretty high for the rest of the trip – all within 24 hours! 

Having only sailed once before I was excited to see Twister at full sail and encounter the speeds she was so well known for. What’s funny now is that what I’d deemed ‘tippy’ on this particular day was absolutely nothing compared to what we experienced on Wednesday, but non-the-less we sailed 6 miles off coast and back with water coming in at the sides and a ‘heel’ that kicked our sea-legs into action whilst learning the ropes, and testing our sailing skills. It was then, just as I was discussing how tippy the ship was, Captain Yp suggested I harness up, climb the jib-boom-net and capture the ship ‘in action’ from the very very front. So of course, I did! – much to the concern of Anna below who also shared my concern for how ‘tippy’ our current situation was! It was great fun though and an amazing way to see the ship at full sail! Returning towards Los Cristianos we followed the magic 1,000-meter depth mark notoriously known for spotting whales as they feed and sailed right into a pod of seven Pilot whales! At this point, I could barely believe what was happening having just had a tonne of ‘firsts’ thrown at me before this incredible moment then topped it all off. In hope to then see them a little closer AND capture some shots from the water, 3 of us then hopped into the ships dingy with first mate Julian (or Thor to Anna and I) and did a few laps of Twister to get those hero shots in full sun before all climbing back on board and taking the most refreshing dip in the sea. I mean, could this day seriously get any better? It turned out…YES. 

Moored off San Juan we all dried off, changed, then had our first group outing to the nearest bar on the beach, watched the sun go down and sipped on the strongest cocktails known to man, whilst further discussing the day. Back on board after dinner our conversation had turned to the ocean phosphorescence that commonly occurred in these waters; knowing they were present along the Helford in Cornwall, I was aware of the phenomenon but hadn’t actually seen it in person, and so with that I launched myself to the side of the ship only to be greeted with, I kid you not, glowing and flashing specs in the water below! As you can imagine it took all of 2.8 seconds before we’d all returned to swimwear and were diving in, disturbing and further illuminating the phosphorescence around us under the clearest, most star-filled sky I’d ever seen.  The most unforgettable moment. I only wish I could have captured it but alas, it will have to remain a team Twister memory.


Monday – Wednesday we sailed to Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera, and stayed for two nights so that we had a full 24 hours on the Island before sailing further round to Playa Da Santiago for one last night pre Tenerife Crossing. It was another insane few days where the people, places and lifestyle continued to make a mark on me as I realised just how fortunate I was to be sailing in such a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by water and good souls. The rugged, raw and unforgiving landscaped of La Gomera fascinated me along with the lifestyles they had on an Island that felt like nowhere else I’d ever been; Its beauty was incredible — the colours, light, communities and entire environment just so unique and I was so glad to be experiencing it with the people I had surrounding me. People often say it’s like living in a bubble when you feel so cut off and secluded from the Norm, but it was much more than this to me, it was the best form of escapism I wasn’t aware existed.  In a situation where you spend literally the entire waking day in the company of the same, like-minded people, it’s no doubt great relationships will be formed but having only spent two days together these people became like family. The ship became like a home and as a team we continually worked together sharing chores and duties as a community of our own. 

I was also surrounded by the sea, constantly. From 8:30am where we sat for breakfast each morning until we rolled into our beds at night, we were outside. ALL day. Fresh air and the sea; a fail-safe recipe for happiness right? My ‘blue mind’ was thoroughly nourished and bursting at the seams. 

My curiosity and adventure had also been nourished with a full day to explore the Island of La Gomera. We walked the town, hopped on a bus to The National Park, took in some INCREDIBLE views, lost sight of the horizon as the clouds came in level with us and managed to jump in (get rescued) by our hero blondes to explore San Sebastian after too. 

So Wednesday, we went in search for wind in what turned out to be the tippiest day of my LIFE and what an experience it was sailing along, up and down some pretty epic swell; I think we’d clocked 11 knots at one point before we reaaallllyyyy began to heel. It was during this ‘trip’ that Anna and I had decided our state of ‘panic’ whilst sailing would be determined by the actions of our extremely experienced and unflappable crew. It’s hard no to worry a little when your sailing experience is rock-bottom, water is rushing in, we’re sat at a comfortable 30-45º and traveling at 9 knots but when Nicole is sat READING, Julian is out on his chair and Benjamin’s flicking through a magazine on an unsupported bench we couldn’t have been in too much trouble and was certain we were all safe. When Julian put his chair away however, coffee mugs are flying, the boat was under water, the waves are devouring the ship and Nicole looks up to take photos and videos I had a feeling this was a little more extreme than we were hoping for. Having heard about their crossing to Tenerife from Amsterdam, I had 100% faith in the crew’s competence so continued to document and laugh in shock as we ploughed on through the infamous accelerated wind zone of the Canaries



With our last full day and the realisation of heading back to ‘civilisation’ hanging heavy over me, I took every opportunity to absorb as much sea-life as possible and went for a post-breakfast dip before we set sail one last time. I wasn’t so sure I was ready for land again. With another 34 mile crossing and some decent wind half way between the Islands we had some great sailing again that kept the crew on their toes as well as some calm seas that meant Anna and I could climb one last time onto the boom-net, keep an eye out for dolphins and generally take in the sights and serenity as we hung above the ocean.

Once again we’d had another beautiful lunch prepared for us by the super talented (and funny) Chef René and if that wasn’t enough, he’d also been baking a farewell cake ANDprepping for the Captains dinner; a beautiful ship-side bbq and spread crafted by past and current Twister Chefs – and it was perfect.

I honestly can’t describe how much fun I had this week, the amount of belly laughing that took place, the humour, jokes, stories and memories made were some pretty special moments and It wouldn’t have been the same had it not been for the team on Twister. It was an escape like no other that I didn’t realise I’d needed so much until I was there living it. Thanks to Jo for inviting me, Yp who made it all happen and ‘got it right’ so very often, Anna for being my roomie, side-kick and all round partner-in-crime, Julian & Marloes for being the best blonde rescue team and crew, Ben & Gawel for your many funny conversations and help and of course to our ship love-birds Nicole and Andreas who taught me so much. So if anyone is looking for a sailing holiday, look no further. I myself will certainly be after another ‘fix’.

Yp, Anna, Julian, Marloes, Rene, Benjamin, Gawel, Andreas, Nicole, Nigel and Jan I can’t thank you all enough for being the best family of shipmates and for well and truly making Twister feel like home for the week. 

Lizzie
x

Read more exciting tales from Lizzie on her blog! – http://lizziechurchill.com/blog/page/1


Delightful Devon Sailing

ESCAPE dartmouth

Naomi from the VentureSail booking team discovers the delights of sailing in Devon .

Growing up in Cornwall I thought coastlines couldn’t get any better. I’ve travelled a lot internationally and always came home to the Cornish Coast with a sigh of relief. Then I went sailing along the Devon coast and realised, perhaps, just quite how bias I had been! I am not saying they are “better” (loyally Cornish!) but I would say a happy extension of the Cornish coastline and more dramatic. Higher cliff lines loom, with a lot more greenery, gently giving way to quaint inlets and harbour towns, with crystal blue waters – almost like the Scillies. There are many more coastal features here than in Cornwall with arches and stacks forming fascinating headlands.

Brixham itself is such a dear little harbour town. With its colourful houses and quaint cottages, it’s definitely a scene for a postcard! I had a wander here before I boarded and all the locals are really friendly. There is a sense of “lost-in-time’ here, a relaxed atmosphere that seems to be getting lost in this increasingly modern world.

Sailing alongside Berry Head near Brixham sees a dramatic limestone headland which has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty. With my binoculars at the ready, I couldn’t believe the birdlife that called these sheer cliffs home! Colonies of kittiwakes are something I’d been dying to see and I was certainly not disappointed. I had read that the Lighthouse on Berry Head was on one of the highest points on the British Isles; I was not prepared for the size and scale of this cliff line – totally breathtaking.

Sailing into Dartmouth and Kingsbridge you are greeted with the silhouettes of their Castles marking each side of the river mouth. Totally picturesque on both sides of the river, each town spills down onto the waterfront, dotted with colourful houses. We stopped in Dartmouth for the night and what a lovely town it is. We walked through with the skipper and had a drink at the yacht club, before going onto have a cream tea in a 16th-century building now cafe – The Sloping Deck.

Next we were headed for Salcombe. Dolphins swam with us for a good hour or so as we continued our sailing down the coast and we were lucky with good weather so it made for perfect sailing! Arriving into Salcombe was really stunning. The town is tucked in and around the inlet, with local fishing boats lining the shore. This little inlet was a paradise for “life on the water” from SUP’s to children practising in dingy, kayaking to classic boats.
Everyone’s waves and sails by beaming from ear to ear – a really great atmosphere. We stayed here for another night before heading back up the coast the next day. There wasn’t as much wind on this day but it made for the perfect opportunity to learn how to read charts and plot positions. Andy the Skipper is a great guide who has a lot of experience!

With a tiny taste of what the Devon coast has to offer from the sea, I will be sure to return for a longer sailing passage with hope to stop at more the beautiful anchorages. My trip was aboard Escape, but Our Daddy and Pilgrim of Brixham also sail around these waters.

Take a look at our sailing breaks in Devon >

My week on ZUZA

Puffin in Scotland

It is with a flutter of nervous excitement that I walk from Oban train station to Zuza, a double-hulled purpose built adventure vessel that is to be my home for the next week. Having never sailed before I am not too sure what to expect but skipper Helen and her all female crew greet me with a warm welcome, helping me on board and showing me to my very comfortable cabin before introducing me to my fellow passengers.

Making the most of the warm light, we set sail mid afternoon, down past Easdale Island and through the spectacular Cuan Sound, which reminds me of a narrow street except the tall buildings are dramatically high cliffs and whirlpools swirl where a road would run. I am surprised to see seals lazily bobbing about in this ever-moving water but Helen explains that they are a frequent sight here.

After a spot of beachcombing on Seil Island, we climb back on board and I am surprised to find how hungry I am, my tummy grumbling as delicious smells entice me back below deck. As we all tuck into the freshly prepared meal I find that the food far surpasses my expectations and I make a mental note to let go of any preconceived notions I clearly have.  The crew then take care of all the washing up, leaving us to sit back and relax, whiling away the evening with wine and good chat, getting to know each other a little more. Some 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.

Jura from colonsay

The next morning we set sail for Gigha, stopping en route to visit some of the islands dotted along the way. On our return journey to the yacht we were incredibly fortunate to spot Minke whales, bottlenose dolphins and seals, Helen was also pleasantly taken aback at this sight and hopeful that we would be able to get a closer view once we were back at sea. I felt like a kid at Christmas at this prospect, my love of marine wildlife has been with me since I was little and I couldn’t believe I might be so lucky as to see a Minke in close quarters, and in the UK! Once back on board we set off towards Gigha where we were indeed treated to a closer viewing of these incredible mammals. A hushed silence fell as we marvelled at these huge giants effortlessly gliding through the water. This was a wonderful experience and is a moment that will stay with me forever.

Continuing on I decided to try my hand on the helm and see how it felt to ‘control’ this fast yacht. I had initially been nervous but under Helen’s capable tuition, I soon discovered it was in fact completely exhilarating and actually made me fall a little for Zuza. On she raced to Gigha where we were greeted with sweeping sandy bays, crystal clear waters and a lush botanical garden. We idled away the rest of the day beachcombing and meandering, soaking up the warm sun – we had been forewarned that the weather tomorrow may not be so summery – such is sailing in the Hebrides! Waking the next morning to thick fog we took our time over breakfast, enjoying the stillness that always arrives with such weather before setting off to Jura where the weather lifted, rewarding our efforts with a breath taking sunset which I enjoyed with a gin and tonic in hand.

Hebrides dolphins from Bessie Ellen

From Jura we made for Oransay, through the incredibly narrow sound of Isla where we spotted stags silhouetted on the high mountains, to Nave Island. The plan had been to go ashore and stretch legs but on anchoring we noticed that the beach was completely covered in seals and Helen was itching to snorkel with them. We set off in the dinghy and watched her slip into the water and swim about with these sea dogs before making for land and exploring this now derelict island.

By now I had almost lost sense of what day it was, thoroughly enjoying the simplicity of boat life – waking, eating and then journeying where the weather allowed. Our next day was spent exploring Colonsay, which has a magic of it’s own. I learn that there are no cars on the island, bikes are the preferred form of transport, and that the local bookshop can be opened by anyone who visits the post office to request the key. They are then free to browse at leisure and pay honestly for anything they wish to keep. The remoteness and lack of humanisation in this part of the world makes it very easy to feel like you have stepped back in time, completely detached from the modern world when in fact, we were only ever a few hours way.

Departing Coronsay with a sigh, Zuza effortlessly sails through the Strait of Coryveckan, notorious we are told for its strong tidal currents, standing waves and the third largest whirlpool in the world. With my mind focused on the potentially precarious waters ahead, I am astounded to hear the crew cry Minke whales once again. Fizzing with excitement I remind myself I must move carefully around to the other side of the deck to watch these whales. When another crew member spies a basking shark, almost in disbelief, there is a hush that falls amongst us all as we sit quietly, admiring the sights on display. Even Helen is amazed at our luck but explains that this is one of the many reasons Scotland continues to lure her back year after year. As the whales move away we continue on for Croabh Haven marina, our mooring for the night and home to Princess Anne’s boat – well, if it’s good enough for royalty…

For our final evening Helen has organised a real treat for us all on Kerrera Island in a simple, no frills shed where we are treated to huge, freshly caught and prepared seafood platters which we eagerly tuck into whilst watching the sky fade to black over Oban.

As a busy individual, I had forgotten what it was like to be truly calm – but not in a ‘crashed out next to the pool’ kind of way. This was a different calm; a more mindful, tranquil calm. Our days were comprised of optional tasks like setting the sails and helming, mixed in with exploring little islands, and swimming off white sandy beaches. Each day held such rewards, and life outside of Zuza now seemed irrelevant. Feeling her race along the white-topped waves, doing what she was designed to is as peaceful as it is exhilarating. As we docked back in Oban I was filled with sadness. We all said our 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 Helen and Zuza!

Canary Capers on board Bessie Ellen

Single traveller on sailing holiday Tenerife

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!

Bessie Ellen Sign

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.

Helm at sunrise

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.

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 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.’

Tall Ship Adventures in Cornwall

Guest taking helm of Johanna Lucretia

Our three-day Cornish taster weekend on the Johanna Lucretia begins as we watch the stately two-masted topsail schooner moor up on the quay at Fowey on Friday afternoon. We’re greeted on board by Captain Roger Barton and meet the crew, James, Josh and Radic, who brings the guests a mug of tea and a big slice of coffee cake each as we introduce ourselves. We’re shown to our double cabin – the definition of cosy but comfortable.

The clouds part, the sun appears, and we edge away from the quay as the bow swings out into the channel. There’s a breath of a breeze – ‘a bit of north’, in Roger’s words. With much winding of winches and pulling on ropes, sails are raised and we’re gliding silently, serenely southwards, leaving the town behind.

There’s a surprising amount of room on deck to walk about and relax as the crew go about their tasks. It’s so peaceful. The only sound is gentle conversation and the even gentler wash of waves against the sides of the boat.

The plan is to head as far west up the Cornish coast as we can, before coming back east with the westerly tomorrow. We won’t make it past The Lizard, though, says Roger; the tide will be against us. Roger is only the boat’s third owner. He regularly competes in tall ship races around Europe, and has even won a couple of events.

In open sea, we stay close to the coast – a coast of coves, green hills and harbour villages. We take it in turns to take the ship’s wheel, which is quite a feeling. A pod of dolphins joins us, darting back and forth across the bow of the boat, playing games with the would-be photographers among us.

Johanna Lucretia sailing

Dinner is served downstairs by Radic – a fine, warming mushroom risotto. Sure enough, we don’t make it round The Lizard; we drop anchor at Coverack just after sunset, and head to bed soon after. All of this watching the crew work hard has taken it out of us.

Next morning, we take the dinghy ashore and have an hour to take in the unspoilt charms of little Coverack, unaware that 48 hours later flash floods would wash homes away and make the village a national news story. Back on board, we head a little further south down The Lizard’s east coast, and tack into Cadgwith Cove, catching a glimpse of The Devil’s Frying Pan, a spectacular natural rock arch that angrily spits out seawater in heavy seas.

We all chip in a little labour to raise the big square sail and we’re heading downwind, back up the coast the way we came. After a small detour into Falmouth harbour to pick up fuel, we make our way slowly up Carrick Roads and the River Fal, past the King Harry Ferry, with densely forested banks on either side… Under heavy skies, in eerie quiet, it all feels very Heart Of Darkness…

We moor up on a jetty with a dozen or so smaller boats, and enjoy top quality pork sausages and creamy potato mash on deck as evening draws in.

On Sunday morning, there’s time for a stroll around the rolling grounds of the National Trust’s Trelissick House before the final leg back to Fowey and some fond farewells. It’s been a wonderful weekend of reflection, relaxation and gentle education in the ways of traditional tall ships.

Michael Evamy