Category: Wildlife

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.

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

10 Reasons to sail in the Caribbean

Caribbean beach

The Caribbean is regarded by many as the Best Place in the World to holiday. Home to thousands of islands and perfect sailing winds (out of hurricane season of course!) we would have to agree with this… Here are our top ten reasons for choosing a sailing holiday in the Caribbean!

1. Warm Weather
Temperatures in the Caribbean sit between 23ºC to 30ºC all year long both day and night – so you can ditch those woolly jumpers but don’t forget the suncream!

2. Perfect Sailing Winds
We obviously make sure that our holidays occur outside of the hurricane season! The Caribbean has constant trade winds, averagely blowing at about 15 – 25 knots from the East, most of the year. Dream sailing conditions making island hopping a dream to navigate for our skippers on Twister, Eye of the Wind, Chronos and Rhea.

3. Beautiful Beaches
We have all seen the photos of the pure white beaches hugging the islands providing the perfect holiday backdrop. But our boats can take you to so many “off the beaten track” beaches you won’t know where to look!

4. Wonderful Wildlife
From Flamingoes to Sea Turtles, Marmut Monkeys to rare Butterflies, the Caribbean is home to a rich and diverse abundance of fascinating wildlife and rare species. From our boats, you can swim with dolphins and sea turtles, snorkel with tropical fish in beautiful coral bays or even rent a diving suit at a local village and explore the shipwrecks. Whatever island you visit, rest assured you won’t be short of wildlife spotting opportunities.

Carribean-turtle-diver
Swimming with Sea Turtles

5. Crystal Clear Waters
Low water density and lack of industry make for fantastically clear waters so swimming and snorkelling are top of the list for activities! And not only are they crystal clear but the average water temperature is also 27ºC – it’s like swimming in a lovely bath!

6. Thousands of Islands
The Caribbean is made up of thousands of islands and with so much to explore, you’ll be longing to return for more from the moment you arrive. You will never see the same place twice (unless you really want to!) and our boats know the best islands to see with each mainland wonderfully culturally different from the next.

7. Fabulous Food
Traditional Caribbean food is a fabulous fusion between African, European, East Indian and Chinese cuisine. Our chefs will certainly make sure that they are hopping ashore to grab the local delicacies to cook up a feast for your dinner. The seafood is especially fresh and the spices available will be like nothing you have tasted before. And of course, you must try the Caribbean rum!

8. Colourful Caribbean Culture
From the beautiful timber buildings to the local festivals to the wildlife, there are so many ways in which the Caribbean is full of colour. The festivals reflect the rich and cultural diversity of the islands and if you catch one, you will be in for a once in a lifetime experience!

caribbean house
Caribbean house

9. Interesting History
The Caribbean is steeped in colonial history with each island seemingly worlds apart from the next. The BVI is home to many pirate stories and shipwrecks while the Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda are full of historical and archaeological places of interest for those who love to sniff out a bit of history.

10. The Caribbean People
Whatever island you visit, you will find the (majority!) of locals to be friendly, happy-go-lucky and amazingly laid back. They really do make the holiday experience a relaxed one!

Take a look at our sailing holidays in the beautiful Caribbean.

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!

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!

Scotland

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

Cornwall

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

Caribbean

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