Dónal moved from the North of England to the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde in 1986 at the age of 14. His father’s family being Irish, he quickly adapted to life on a Scottish Island and became immersed in the culture, which included smallholding, sailing and music; all of which, he developed a passion for. Read why Dónal loves to live, work and sail on the Firth of Clyde.
“A sailing holiday in the Firth of Clyde really does have a little bit of everything; stunning islands and lochs, with plenty of deep water anchorages and harbours, fishing villages & Victorian holiday towns.
There are breweries, famous distilleries and plenty of live music in pubs and festivals throughout the year. On my home island of Arran, situated in the Lochranza Bay, the Lochranza Distillery is famous for its Scottish whisky and is well worth a visit.
Along with sailing this beautiful part of Scotland, I love the music life here. Celtic music is in our roots and I really try to capture this within my Bistro on the Isle of Arran. I am really looking forward to bringing the hospitality and music of my Bistro onboard Lady of Avenel with my Crofters’ Cruises.
We are really lucky with the wildlife in the Firth of Clyde. It’s a nature lovers’ dream with massive diversity. From dolphins swimming in the wake of Lady of Avenel’s bow to common seals basking in the sun, we also have spottings of humpback and killer whales!
From a practical sailing point of view, there are very few tidal constraints in the Clyde and most importantly for novices, it is well sheltered from the Atlantic. There is always somewhere to explore and enjoy, amongst the islands and lochs, even in bad weather. Pilotage is straightforward and there’s relatively little commercial traffic, so it makes for a really relaxing, enjoyable cruising holiday.”
Crofters’ Cruises on the Lady of Avenel are the fulfilment of Dónal’s ambition to combine all three of his passions into an extraordinary project, made possible by Stefan Fritz, owner of Lady of Avenel, with whom Dónal has sailed extensively and run a very successful first Crofters’ Cruise from Oban to Donegal last summer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Located just 25 miles from Lands End in Cornwall, these magical islands sparkle like jewels in a silver sea, surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters, adorned by soft white sandy beaches which back onto lush tropical gardens, crowning pink granite cliffs. Life here is unhurried. And this unique holiday destination is a well kept secret by all who visit, and what better way to explore the archipelago than by sail?
Just a short hop from mainland Cornwall, passing the infamous Wolf Rock lighthouse, the islands seem to be born from the sea. St. Agnes is often a favourite anchorage where you can kick off your shoes and take a relaxing walk up to the lighthouse before heading to the cosy Turks Head, a charming traditional pub with stunning views across the water.
Life’s simple pleasures are the name of the game here. Swim – you must – off the sand spit between Gugh and Aggie, shake yourself off with a short walk to the Bronze Age burial mound, Obediah’s Chamber, before climbing back on board. Sailing out round Western Rocks, Bishops Rock lighthouse stands tall and proud, defeating Atlantic storms, protecting ships against the jagged teeth-like rocks for over 100 years. It is here you may see the endearing puffin, along with countless dolphins feeding in the shallower waters around the coast.
No Scilly voyage is complete without a stop at the narrow channel between Bryher and Tresco. Here, dominated by Hangman’s Rock, the clear waters are sheltered from the booming Atlantic swell beyond and a sense of calm reigns. Don’t be fooled by the small size of these two islands, there’s plenty to entice you onto dry land and explore. The world famous Tresco Abbey Gardens are home to a plethora of subtropical flora and fauna, plus a red squirrel population. If the botany isn’t for you then simply let your eyes absorb this natural wonder. Striking Agapanthus are everywhere along with brightly coloured tropical flowers which line the walking paths – where no cars are allowed.
You will soon discover that foraging is an important part of life afloat and shrimping in the shallow channel here at low tide is the best way to spend a few hours getting to know your fellow crew . Not to worry if you don’t succeed, we head across to Bryher and get hold of a feast of freshly caught lobster or crab for your supper back on board in the cosy cabin.
Exploring the seas around Scilly provides plenty of excitement for the mariner, strong tidal currents make navigating the narrow passages challenging, so your skipper would love to get you involved in plotting courses to those secluded beaches that beckon. All the channels are well marked, however some of the more remote anchorages use rocks as beacons, so a good lookout is imperative, adding to the thrill of holidays afloat.
Life on Scilly is not all quiet however and busy St Mary’s harbour is a hub of activity with rowing pilot gigs, famed as wreckers, the daily arrival, and departure of the Scillonian ferry (during high season), a supermarket and of course locally made clothing. Busy pubs and great cafes make St Mary’s a great day out but do hire a bike to see the best of this island. Quaint Old Town and the church where Prime Minister Harold Wilson is buried, Porthellick where Admiral Cloudesley Shovell washed ashore after wrecking the Naval fleet. Perhaps make for Juliet’s Café, deemed to have the best view in the Scillies, where you can’t help but be drawn to stop, sit and take a moment to reflect on life.
Once really cannot describe the magic of Scilly, it’s what you make of it, the sunsets, the peace, your ship rocking gently at anchor, the smell of nature and of course the beauty of your little ship and all who sail in her. Arrive home in Newlyn, utterly relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to take on the world once more. But sshhh, don’t tell everyone your secret.
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.