Sailing in Cornwall: learn the ropes – in a weekend

Despite a battering by a spring storm, this novice sailor gets stuck right in
with the crewing of a century-old, two-masted wooden ketch on a two-day trip off the Cornish coast

Our first few hours aboard Bessie Ellen were hands-on. As storm Katie tightened her grip on the Cornish coast, the 112-year-old sailing ship was ploughing through high winds, and minutes after casting off we were pulling up sails, tacking and steering. Owner and skipper Nikki Alford commanded respect while instilling a sense of fun, and within half an hour had turned us eight strangers into a crew capable of steering a two-masted wooden ship through a storm. In a couple of hours I’d hauled ropes with Anton, who’s in his late 70s, and hoisted sails with a father and son from Exeter. We learned how to tack and could soon just about name all the sails.

I had joined the tall ship at Fowey for a two-night taster weekend. Apart from taking the Seacat from Liverpool to Dublin when I was eight, I had never sailed before. We were a mixed bunch, ranging from competent sailors to, well, me. Either way, everyone had a role. “I like to get everyone involved,” said Nikki. “I want people to feel they’re part of a crew – and learn a thing or two.”

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