Monday 24 April 2017 – Cornwall.
John, a good friend of ours, had his 60th birthday at the end of last year, with winter not being the best time of year to have a nautical party, the celebration was not held until this weekend. John and his wife Deborah organised, and paid for a group of us to go to Fowey in Cornwall and then spend two nights on board the gaff rigged ketch, the Bessie Ellen. Wow !
We left London early on Friday morning, 13 of us in a rented van. Over the past month we have all been watching the weather forecast and it had been looking decidedly average for most of the month, taking a turn for the better the week before we left. It was going to be cold, but not wet. Our first stop was a Little Chef, I have always wanted to stop at one of the (in)famous road side cafes but have never been brave enough. This one on the A303 is a Little Chef with a difference, it featured in a 2008 TV series when celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal revamped the menu and the decor. Though Little Chef have dropped his menu now. The food was fine, the coffee was a bit meh though.
We arrived in Fowey mid-afternoon and were soon heading out on the charming water taxi (“DON’T STAND ON THE SEATS” !!!!) to our home for the next two nights, The Bessie Ellen. We were welcomed on board by owner and skipper Nicki and her small crew.
The majority of us were sleeping in the main cabin, which had 12 small bunks along the sides, they were quite snug. I was very glad I had remembered to bring ear-plugs with me, 12 people in their fifties were likely to form an informal middle of the night snoring chorus.
Once we had dumped our gear below decks and had a welcome cup of coffee and some cake we were split into three groups and, in my group’s case, literally shown the ropes. My group were shown how to raise the mizzen sail – the sail at the back of the boat. There are no fancy rope pullers here, only human power. The Bessie Ellen was built in 1904 to ferry clay over to Holland, and other freight around coastal UK and Europe. Originally she was not built for comfort, and there have only been a small amount of luxury added since! One of the other groups were taught about map reading and navigation, and El’s group were shown how to raise, and lower, the foresail and the three jibs, the small sails the front.
Once the sails we were up, we were on our way out of Fowey and into the channel. Magic !
There was not a lot of wind, enough to get a little bit of wind in the sails, but we were also using the motor to keep forward momentum. The group who were taught about navigation before we left were given the task to sail us to our first destination.
As we approached Charlestown, our destination for the night, it was all hands to the decks to drop and tie up the sails.
We were offered the opportunity to go ashore for an hour or so, and all took the chance to go for a short walk, and to sit in the sun and sup on a couple of pints in one of the many bars in this small village with its gorgeous tiny walled harbour.
Dinner was prepared for us by Pete the Chef. We guests were involved in working the ship, but the kitchen and cleanup duties were all cared for by the crew. We got to drink wine and beer and chat about the day while the work was all being done in the tiny kitchen. It was a really nice meal as was the evening drinks and chat!
After a ‘varied’ night’s sleep El and were up on deck reasonably early to watch a very nice but not spectacular sunrise, though there were some great clouds for me to photograph.
After breakfast it was all hands on deck with mops and swabs to clean the decks, sadly I arrived to late and missed out on this chore.
Very soon it was back to the sails again, and we were off for another sail/motor along the Cornish coast towards the west.
It was a gentle trip, the sea was dead flat calm so there was a lot of chat and a lot of gazing towards the land.
It was a really nice walk, back on my beloved South West Coast Path to Towan Beach, where there was a small discussion at a signpost, before we headed inland and off the path.
We found a lovely little tea truck on the way, which we pretty much took over.
We walked inland to the estuary, though a lovely forested section of track toward St Anthony, where we caught a very expensive small ferry over to St Mawes. There just happened to be a very nice pub here, so it would have been rude to not stop for a drink.
Soon enough we were back on the boat, and with a decent breeze we were sail up and for the first time on the journey the motor was off and we moving fully under sail. It was lovely. Almost peaceful; just the creak of rope, or rope on wood, the sails crackling in the wind and the rush of the sea on the hull. There is not much like it!
Soon enough we in the Helford River, our home for the night. Lobster was served on the deck as a pre-dinner snack, and with a glass of bubbly at hand and good friends it was perfect.
The sunset was pretty decent as well !
Sunday morning was glorious, very very sunny, with a lovely crisp blue sky, it was also quite cold! After breakfast we were sail up again and off out of the Helford River, sadly to sail back to Fowey. Once out of the river I was given charge of the tiller, we were under sail , but the wind was really not doing us any favours so we were back on the motor as well. I quite enjoyed myself though !
There was quite a swell on the sea and some of the crew were feeling it a bit. Nicki, our skipper decided to give us a short break in the lovely hamlet of Polkerris. unsurprisingly there was a pub there as well, so yeah it would have been rude not to.
A pint of lager in the sun, in a pub almost on the beach. Nothing wrong with that at all. There was nothing wrong with lunch back on the boat either!
Another hour of motoring against the wind saw us back in Fowey late in the afternoon, our sailing trip was sadly over. We had a great time on the boat, memories I will cherish, I love this bit of England and seeing it from the sea for the first time just added to the magic.
We had dinner in Fowey, and a fairly early night. I think we were all pretty tired from sleeping in a single room on the boat. Having our own rooms in a hotel, and the chance for a hot shower (there was one of the boat!) meant some very solid sleep. After breakfast on Monday we had an hour to look around Fowey before we had to jump back into the van for the drive back to London. I really liked the bits of Fowey I saw. There is a castle, which we discovered was private (boo) and some nice old fishing cottages. The village felt good, and having nice weather certainly helped…
Far too soon we were all piling into the van for the six or so hour drive back home, I had a stint of driving for a couple of hours, mainly on the motorway. The van is easy to drive, it doesn’t feel that big, and it handled well. The only issue was it was restricted to 62 MPH, which is kind weird when you are accelerating and then all of a sudden you are not accelerating any more, and over taking was a slow process!
I had some really good news about a couple of jobs I had applied for while I was away, one of which I was really excited about it. More news on that another day…
It was an amazing weekend away, and I feel lucky to be welcomed into such a great group of people.