‘Bessie Ellen’ 7/10 – learning

The next day, the weather changes, the wind comes from slightly east of south. It is Force 4 when we leave Newlyn, although it rises to 5 later The rain sets in and visibility is poor.  The sea is ‘moderate’.


The southerly wind means tacking out of Mounts Bay – one long tack to close Mullion on the Lizard Peninsula, then back across the bay almost to Mousehole, the coast disappearing intermittently behind showers of rain. We clear the barely visible Lizard at 1.7 miles – with a little help from the engine to reduce leeway as we close the Point. The tide is slack and the sea only mildly uncomfortable. Then we bear away for the Helford. That short distance – some 20 miles of so, takes most of the day, compared to the distance we covered on our previous three day passage.

I joined ‘Bessie Ellen’ in Oban for the experience of being at sea in a Westcountry trading ketch and to learn some hands-on seamanship So what did I learn? Well, I learnt which rope is which and how to distinguish them. Rumour has it that there is two and half miles of rope aboard – I don’t dispute it. I am used to a few hundred metres of 10mm line; the ropes here are of a different category altogether.


I learnt about the sails – Mizzen, Main, Staysail, Inner Jib, Outer Jib, Flying Jib and their combinations and how many crew are required to hoist each of them. I admired the way Nikki, Pete, Karina and Lucas managed the vessel and their guests and learnt from them.

And I learnt some truths about myself.  I am close to my three score years and ten and not as strong as I was at fifty. There were several of us who were grateful for a hand from the younger crew members when strength was needed. It became a lesson in how best to deploy what ability I have. By the end, we had settled into a routine. Likewise with steering the vessel. It was obvious early on that some crew members have a natural talent, others take a little longer to master it. And some decide against it. I enjoyed it, discovered my level, got better at it, and would like more experience.

I was surprised and disappointed to find my left-handedness, which has not been a problem since I was at in my early twenties, caused me some confusion. Several times I had to convert what I had been shown into left-handed mode. For instance, ropes must be coiled clockwise. You can’t get away with getting it wrong – (Lucas is adamant!). It should be easy enough, but, depending on which hand you use, it is a natural or unnatural turn. Try it.


We reached Fowey and spent a day there, while an abraded area of the mainsail was repaired. The wind was still a little east of south, and a swell was coming into the harbour.


Although we have achieved the aim of getting ‘Bessie Ellen’ to Fowey, we have a couple of days sailing left.

(to be continued)

Images by Bill Whateley