‘Bessie Ellen’ 5/10 – through the Irish Sea to Cornwall

It is 2300 on our second night at sea. The promised storm is two days away. It is a fine, star-lit night. We are keeping close to the Irish coast as the tide is more favourable here. The lights of Dublin are beginning to loom on the horizon ahead of us.

We had the tide through the North Channel and Beauforts Dyke. During the day we have seen the Mull of Kintyre, the Mull of Galloway, Belfast Lough and the entrance to Strangford Lough, as well as the Isle of Man. We are very approximately at the focal point between Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales and Cornwall I mentioned in the first of this series.

I am thinking about ‘Ceres’, trading out of Bude. She came North on many occasions. The chart below records ports and harbours from 1867-1888, just 21 years of a working life that lasted 125 years.

UK chart

Leaning against the aft cabin, (two fleeces, oilies, boots, gloves, hat), listening to the sounds of ‘Bessie Ellen’, I wonder what it would have been like to sail down this coast on a fine night in, say, 1877. We have an engine running and are motor-sailing while ‘Ceres’ would have been under sail alone, which would be the major difference; there would be less lights on land; I am not sure of the navigation lights here in those days, but they existed; there would be no planes heading for Manchester or Dublin, and no satellites.

But the stars would be as bright, the shooting stars as riveting; the sea would heave, you would taste the salt in the air, feel the wind on your cheek, hear the sounds of the rigging, the wheel, the sails. ‘Bessie Ellen’ is as close to ‘Ceres’ as I shall ever reach.

At breakfast the next morning, the 0400-0800 watch report a pod of dolphins. Leaning on the rail, I watch them play in the bow wave. They swim swiftly away, then race back to start again. We see a lot of dolphins during this passage, and gannets too – beautiful birds. I guess it would have been like this in 1877 too. Someone once said that the magic is in the not-quite-knowing where nature ends and man-made starts.


The following night we see the Smalls light off Pembrokeshire and, with the tide behind us, cross the Bristol Channel into familiar waters.

Westcountry ports and harbours visited by ‘Ceres’ 1867-1888:

Westcountry chart

Images and ‘charts’ by Bill Whateley

(to be continued)