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.
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.
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 beautifulanchorages. My trip was aboard Escape, but Our Daddy and Pilgrim of Brixham also sail around these waters.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Featured in many poems and folk songs (which you might get to know during your time on board), Skye is the largest island in the Hebrides and arguably one of the most beautiful. The Cullin Ridge constitutes the backbone of the island; 12 km of dramatic peaks and troughs that only the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts should attempt to traverse. There is however, plenty more (slightly more relaxed) exploring to be done, from Viking ruins to sections of rocky coastal walking.
On that topic, Skye’s coastline, much like Mull’s, is peninsula-based and is large enough to have quite different levels of precipitation from one end to the other, making sure that there will be a sheltered anchorage somewhere close. There is always something to see from the water too, so grab a pair of binoculars when you take a break from rope-work. Wildlife is rife here, and many native maritime invertebrate species are critical to other local fauna, which include salmon and sea otters, among other bird-life.
Skye is home around 10% of the 100,000 or so island inhabitants in Scotland, making it one of the more populous islands. Crofters still work the land here, an ancient way of living which is no longer as profitable as working for tertiary industry, hence the rapid decline in croft numbers– yet a bold few still persevere. However, ancient fishing trade continues to thrive and is based in Portree, Skye’s main port. Your skipper might decide to pick up something delicious for dinner, fresh off the boats that come in each day.
Shrouded in mystery and legend, the real tale of St Kilda is, in reality, more melancholic. The small population of this group of islands was evacuated in 1930 due to multiple reasons such as crop failure, famine, disease, war and simply being at the mercy of the weather for months on end. A ghost town remains. However, every cloud is lined with silver, and today St Kilda is a huge nature reserve, home to a diverse fauna and flora including some endemic species such as the St Kilda Field mouse and the St Kilda Wren.
The islands lie about 40 miles from North Uist and are thence the most westerly archipelago in the Hebrides. VentureSail runs many trips to this nature reserve over the summer. We think the perfect way to take in the hopelessly beautiful scenery and spot the best wildlife, both terrestrial and maritime, is by boat. Take a look at our sailing schedule to see when you can climb aboard.
Collectively known as the Small Isles, this pretty little archipelago plays host to a vast amount of wildlife – and each island in this collection is very different from the next. Just 153 people live on these islands and transport links are tenuous, making them quite isolated. They’re perfect territory for boat exploration; many of our cruises will show you around by water and you’ll also be able to explore on foot.
Rum is the largest of the Small Isles, which should make it a Medium Isle, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring. Rum is 40 square miles in area, and conceals the main village of Kinloch to the east, where just over 30 people reside and a small primary school educates the handful of island children.
The rest of the island is uninhabited by humans but a huge population of red deer are free to roam, studied intensely by field ecologists in various areas of academia. Watch out for them (the deer, not the field ecologists) and the wandering wild goats and ponies too.
One of Eigg’s greatest qualities is its eco-friendliness: it generates all of its power from reusable sources and has a traffic light system of power usage, so its 105 inhabitants know when the reusable power is at its most abundant (think windy days or blazing sunshine) and when its at its most scarce.
This clean energy powers a microbrewery, producing 7 distinct ales and lagers, and a restaurant, bar and several craft shops – quite remarkable for an island of relatively small inhabitancy and stature. It’s just 12 miles square.
Historically, Eigg has been tossed and tumbled through the hands of various clans, religious sects, invaders and wealthy landlords – relics from these eras including churches and chapels can still be found dotted all over the island. Eigg’s tumulus history makes for some fascinating reading. At present, Eigg belongs to its own heritage trust, but political murmurings still cause the occasional tremor, as natives feel they are unfairly treated in comparison to the friends and family of the trustees.
Muck is the baby in the family of the Small Isles. It’s just 2.2 square miles; less than the distance from the Houses of Parliament to the British Museum! She’s famous for her porpoises and seals – even the name ‘muck’ is derived from ‘mouch,’ meaning ‘swine’. The ancient word for porpoise was ‘mereswine,’ so the island was likely to have been named after its first maritime inhabitants – a rarity in terms of ancient place names, which normally derive from geographic features.
Muck has a permanent population of 27 people, and has several holiday cottages and a hotel. It’s the only inhabited island without a post box.
Canna’s population could easily double if a couple of small tourist boats arrived on the island at once; she’s home to just 18 people! Being mile across and 4 miles wide means Canna is long and thin, which makes for an amazing coastline habitat for a plethora of wild birds, including peregrine falcons and merlins. Rare butterflies reside inland, which benefits from relatively little human footfall.
Canna harbours some of the best-preserved Bronze Age relics such as huts, walls and pottery – a perfect place for archaeology lovers to engage in some of their own detective work.
She’s linked by land to the isle of Sanday, which is walkable when the tide permits.
Helen Walker is the skipper of Zuza, heading up an all-female crew as they sail the South African yacht around Scotland. Here’s what she has to say about life on board this fabulous vessel…
Why I like skippering Zuza
Zuza is a modern boat, custom built using the latest materials modern technology can offer – this makes her unique; truly one of a kind! One of the many reasons I so enjoy being her skipper is the comfort she offers whether under sail or motor. She combines comfortable living and fast sailing so that she can take you to remote destinations day after day, and as a skipper this is really satisfying. It embraces my passion for sailing alongside the knowledge that my guests are safe and comfortable. Zuza is also able to reach particularly remote destinations that other vessels her size can’t, thanks to her bilge keel design, and the 2 powerful engines enabling superb manoeuvrability. Wind and power: the perfect combination!
A bit about me
My love of all things sailing started in my teenage years, when I discovered sailing dinghies in the Lake District… I was hooked! A yacht sailing holiday in the Balearic islands led to me taking my day skipper ticket and volunteering with the Ocean Youth Trust. This enabled me to log sea miles and learn on the job from a multitude of highly skilled and diverse skippers on lots of different sailing boats. My first professional role at sea was as a flotilla skipper on the beautiful Dalmatian coast in Croatia. The next 20 years saw me in a variety of skipper roles from Brixham trawlers in Devon to the round-the-world challenge boats. I qualified as a yacht master instructor in 2003, enjoying the challenges in this role hugely and working my way up to cruising instructor trainer.
One of Zuza’s many perks is that she caters for all experience levels of sailing – whether you’re a complete novice looking to learn or a seasoned sailor wanting a new experience. However, if you simply want a holiday on a lovely comfortable yacht with stunning scenery, food and company, my crew work hard to anticipate your every need and make you want to visit Scotland Zuza-style year after year.
What makes Zuza comfortable
Another really unique aspect of Zuza is the completely enclosed cockpit with its 360 degree windows, so no matter what the weather, you’re right in the hot seat warm and dry. This is where the helm is, so you are welcome to steer Zuza and learn about all the navigation or simply sit back with tea and cake and watch the world go by.
Unlike most modern yachts, Zuza has sturdy hand rails around the entire deck providing easy walking, and lots of places to sit comfortably while wildlife spotting. If you fancy a swim, there’s a diving platform which is also used for boarding outer tender for daily shore excursions. Three steps downstairs brings you to our large saloon where breakfast and dinner are served – lunch depends on the day! The saloon also has wrap around windows and large hatches, and a servery where you can help yourself to fruit and biscuits and drinks. On the saloon level, Zuza has two ensuite cabins, where you can lay in your double bed with the hatch open watching the stars at night or dolphins during the day. Down another three steps is a corridor past the engine room and washing machine (which are enclosed completely) to two twin cabins (which can easily be adapted to become singles) and another toilet with a shower.
What to expect when booking a holiday on board Zuza
I endeavour to plan a comfortable voyage visiting new places everyday, of course the weather has the final say but my aim is to deliver the itinerary you have booked as weather permits. I like to be flexible, and we’ll have weather forecasts each morning, so over breakfast we can plan the day together. You may have a desire to go somewhere nearby and I will do my best to make this happen, likewise feel free to make contact with VentureSail prior to the voyage to discuss.
A typical day onboard Zuza
Breakfast is usually served at 8am, with cereals, toast, porridge, fresh fruit, and yoghurt followed by a cooked option. This is also where the plan for the day is discussed, along with the latest weather forecast.
We’ll have lunch whilst sailing, and it varies but you can guarantee there’s always lots of it! Soup and homemade bread, cold meats, salad, quiche, baked potatoes are just some of the options. Some days may be a packed lunch as we are ashore walking or just sitting on a golden sandy beach, followed by an afternoon tea of cake or scones with tea and coffee if underway.
Dinner is served between 1900 and 2000 and usually at anchor, having returned from a shore excursion to a hearty meal of local produce perfectly cooked by our onboard chef. A dessert or deluxe cheeseboard with drinks and coffee while we talk about our day winds up another VentureSail experience.
Why I love the west coast of Scotland
After sailing in so many seas around the world I can honestly say the west coast of Scotland is where my heart is! Sailing from Oban offers so many diverse options to explore this stunning corner of the planet. There are 790 islands in Scotland which vary in culture, language, music and, of course, whisky! The wildlife here is spectacular and a photographers dream. A single day can bring otters, many species of dolphins, basking sharks and as for birds… there’s no place like the Shiant islands or St. Kilda for colonies of tens of thousands gannets, puffins, fulmars, guillemots and more. Just a short cruise from Oban takes you to the Treshnish islands, which is the place to get up close to puffins, or to Rum where the Manx shearwaters breed. One of the greatest, almost guaranteed sightings is that of golden and white tailed eagles – first mate Sarah is a bit of a fanatic and will be on deck spotting most of the time!