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Skippers & Guides

Tall Ship Captains a lot more approachable than Russell Crowe

Skippers & guides

Classic Sailing owns and operates pilot cutter ‘Eve of St Mawes.’  The rest of the vessels we promote are either skippered by dedicated owners who put their heart and soul into their sailing voyages, or charities and organisations who are passionate about tall ships, care deeply about the oceans and believe in the social benefits of sailing traditional vessels.

The ships weave their own magic, but the skippers, professional crew, and wildlife guides that sail them play an equally vital part. These incredibly hard working sailors inspire all of us to get that bit more out of life.

Eve of St Mawes Skipper & Owner - Debbie Purser

Debbie Purser - Eve of St Mawes Skipper & OwnerI went on a tall ship when I was 18, after a difficult decision to drop out of university, and the experience changed my life. I became heavily involved in sail training and youth work with young people on tall ships and large ocean going yachts. I did go back to university, but a love of the sea was ever present, and eventually it got me !

I met Adam on a tall ship in Scotland and we began to explore ways to create adventure sailing on tall ships and traditional boats for adults - not just disadvantaged youths. Many years later we created Classic Sailing together to provide just that and I am still very proud of what we have achieved in the last 15 years and the choice of vessels and destinations we now offer for anybody with a spirit of adventure (and if you think you haven’t got one - we'll find it)

In the early days I would skipper Eve every other week and run the office for the week in between. I don't spend as much time skippering Eve now as there are heaps of other exciting sailing experiences that need promoting through our website. When I do find myself on Eve as skipper - once or twice a month - I really appreciate how special it is to be based in Cornwall with a gorgeous looking boat, nice company and go exploring this stunning coastline.

I am currently developing artists voyages on Eve and maybe Bessie Ellen, investigating voyages to Iceland and Greenland and developing a marine photography voyage with photography lecturer Tony Hopewell. Love walking our dog Rio on the beaches of the Roseland. I enjoy the struggle of staying fit enough to do a token tri-athlon each year. Moving up the field slowly from last place in 2012 (mid life crisis).


Agnes Skipper & Boat-builder – Luke Powell

At 46ft oLuke & Joanna Powelln deck Agnes is the largest wooden pilot cutter Luke Powell has built so far, and is the much admired flagship of his boat building company Working Sail. After building 8 pilot cutters Luke and his wife and business partner Joanna are keen to spend more time on the water enjoying the fruits of their labours, and introducing guest crews to their favourite sailing grounds on Agnes.

Luke Powell's influence on the renaissance of wooden boatbuilding in this country cannot be under estimated and it would be hard to find a more passionate spokesperson for working wooden boats and traditional boat building.

In 1997 Classic Sailing founders Adam and Debbie Purser came to Exeter waterfront to look at his first pilot cutter replica 'Eve of St Mawes' as our first charter vessel. We fell in love with the boat and are proud to count Luke as a friend through 'thick and thin' over the last 16 years. We are delighted Joanna and Luke will be sharing Agnes with Classic Sailing customers and sailing her with their usual flair and sense of adventure.

Working Sail book by boatbuilder Luke PowellTestimonials in Lukes book 'Working Sail - A Life in Wooden Boats'

Luke has recently written a book about his unconventional life called 'Working Sail' which recounts the struggles as well as the triumphs of building Eve, Lizzie May, Agnes, Hesper, Ezra, Talullah, Amelie Rose and Freja.

"Luke Powell is so modest about his achievements that he will be slightly amazed when described as a 'national treasure'. Beginning in the early 1990's he has almost singlehandedly pioneered a revival in the building of traditional pilot cutters in Britain"

Forward written by Nigel Irons & Tom Cunliffe

BUY a copy of 'Working Sail' from our on line shop and enjoy the sumptious boat building photos and a romping good story.

Agnes Mate - Joanna Powell

Both Joanna and Luke have grown up around boats so they have a very relaxed style to being out of the water. Joanna has a great love of cooking but is also an experienced traditional boat sailor and co run a historic Lowerstoft Trawler as a charter boat for many years. The ambience of sharing a freshly cooked meal with locally sourced ingredients on board Agnes is an important part of the experience and style that is the Powell family trademark. Luke has been interviewed and filmed many times and is a natural story teller and conversationalist.


Bessie Ellen Skipper & Owner - Nikki Alford

With a roving eye for beautiful ships, Classic Sailing became aware of this historic vessel when she was being fitted out for charter in 2002. However this was the culmination of a much longer love affair for her current skipper and owner Nikki Alford.

Nikki hails from a farming family in Cornwall, but has spent many years working on traditional wooden vessels and square riggers and was also learning a lot aboNikki Alford - Owner of Bessie Ellenut the catering and hospitality business. Nikki had seen the sale details of Bessie Ellen when she worked for a ship broker, and she began to make ambitious plans to buy her, bring her back from Denmark and restore her for a new working life as a charter boat. It is due to Nikki’s sheer determination and vision that Bessie Ellen restored to the graceful sailing ship she once was. When you sail on Bessie Ellen, have a look at the photos of the restoration and see Nikki and friends chipping out the concrete ballast from the hull in the snow in Svendborg. After five successful years exploring the ports of Britain, Norway and France with charter guests, Nikki and Bessie Ellen went back in the Baltic, where they  stayed for 3 years offering day sails and short voyages as part of a Danish fleet of wooden charter vessels. When the Danish Sailing Company went bankrupt Nikki brought the ship back to the UK - this time with Classic Sailing as her base and marketing agent ashore. Our mission was to help Nikki create an all year round working season for Bessie Ellen to pay for her upkeep.

Nikki is now ably assisted by Pete Thompson on board who started his sailing career as a customer on Eve of St Mawes and had no idea it was all about to change his life. A professional chef with a wicked sense of humour, Pete and Nikki make a great team. On ocean voyages and at different stages in the season - guest skippers may be in charge, but generally Nikki is on board as host and mate.

Eda Frandsen Skipper& Owner - James MacKenzie

An experienced skipper, shipwright and furniture maker, James has been working at sea in one form or another since becoming the ‘boy’ in a small boatyard on Lake Windermere. James now has over 100,000 miles as skipper under his belt!

James learnt the ropes of a gaff rig while working for 6 years for a Sail Training charity as mate and then skipper of Provident a 90ft ketch rigged Brixham Trawler. Most recently in 2012 he was full time skipper of pilot cutter Eve of St Mawes. With 5 Atlantic crossings, one singlehanded and numerous offshore races James has a wealth of experience. Although he enjoys the fast pace of modern race boats, the gaff rig has always drawn him back. His real passion lies in the beauty and peace of sailing a traditional boat, as it should be sailed.

James learnt the ropes of a gaff rig while working for 6 years for a Sail Training charity as mate and then skipper of Provident a 90ft ketch rigged Brixham Trawler. Most recently in 2012 he was full time skipper of pilot cutter Eve of St Mawes. With 5 Atlantic crossings, one singlehanded and numerous offshore races James has a wealth of experience. Although he enjoys the fast pace of modern race boats, the gaff rig has always drawn him back. His real passion lies in the beauty and peace of sailing a traditional boat, as it should be sailed.

Grayhound - Skipper & Owner Marcus Rowden

Hiking with Malachi

Marcus grew up on the River Dart and has been sailing and surfing all his life. Marcus has been a yacht delivery skipper for many years, a marine engineer and boat builder. He has built and sailed his smaller dipping lugger single handed across the Atlantic. If you have visited the build project you cannot help but be impressed how Marcus and Freya managed to build a great team of professionals around them, draw in boatbuilders, apprentices, volunteers and sponsors .....and some how control it all, and launch the first 3 masted lugger built in the UK for over 200 years. A RYA Yachtmaster Offshore, Marcus is currently gathering all the ocean sailing formal qualifications he now needs from Ships Captain's Medical (STCW95 Medical Care at Sea) and Ocean Yachtmaster. Both Freya and Marcus have thousands of ocean miles under their belt and both are a rare breed amongst skippers now in that they regularly use sextants and are happy to teach astro navigation to the curious novice or a would be RYA Ocean Yachtmaster who needs some practical training at sea.

Marcus never sits still. Sail with him and see if you can keep up !

Freya and tin whistle. carefree moments ocean sailingGrayhound Owner, Cook, Relief Mate, Mum, & Sailmaker - Freya Hart

We view Freya as the 'anchor' in this venture. She is the determined calm in the storm...

Probably the most nautically qualified cook in the traditional boat world, Freya is a RYA Ocean Yachtmaster and has sailed on her own boat around the Atlantic. Before ocean sailing she worked in the sail training industry as mate on Brixham trawlers Leader & Provident. This big historic sailing ships take upto 12 guest crew - both adults, school groups, disabled and disavantaged young people, so Freya is well used to managing a small team of deckhands and instructing novice crews to hoist large sails with big wooden spars. She relinquishes the mate role to Michael, so she be mum to Malachi and cook for upto 14 people, and a whole host of other business responsibilities for Grayhound Lugger Sailing.

She is also a sailmaker and canvas specialist. Whilst she was initially keen to make the sails for Grayhound, after full involvement in the intensive build project and bringing up her first child, she sensibly decided to call in 'Sail Tech' to make 3500 square foot of sails. Freya is into her art and she makes beautiful canvas bags as well as maintaining the sails.



Europa Captain Klaas Gaastra in Antarctic SoundBark Europa Captain - Klaas Gaastra

For someone who spends large chunks of his life living on a tall ship as Europa wanders the world's oceans, Captain Klaas is very well known and respected in the tall ship sailing world. If you sail with him you soon realise why he is unforgettable ! Hard to imagine Klaas as a submariner in the Dutch Navy, now with a wild mane of hair and blue earing. Klaas has been with the ship as Captain since she was first re-built from lightship to sailing barque, and loves to sail the ship as close to the dock as he can under sail. If you follow Klaas on facebook you realise how much he cares about maritime history, wildlife and the worlds oceans. You don't really need a wildlife guide if you sail with him as he has eagle eyes for identifying whales and dolphins in the distance. Klaas has recently been awarded a medal from the Royal Dutch Meteorology Institute for his exceptional work out at sea and for services to Maritime Meteorology, so if you sail with him you can learn a lot about ocean weather from experience and years of recording actual conditions. His partner Marianne sails as Cook and they make a great team. Dutch but fluent in English, we suspect Klaas can speak quite a few languages....

Europa Captain Eric

Bark Europa Captain - Eric

Captain Eric is also an iceberg dodger with many years as Captain sailing Europa in Antarctica and around the Oceans. We would love someone, or maybe Eric to write something about himself.

Photo by Lex: Eric in Erebus Gulf



Bark Europa Captain - Harko

Does anyone have a photo of Harko ? I have seen a great photo of him trying to cycle around Europa's decks.

Europa Ships Dog - Sirius




Ship's Dog on Europa - Sirius

For non- Antarctic voyages you may find Klaas and Marianne's new ships dog 'Sirius' on board. Their last dog was an excellent whale watcher !

Sirius is named after the dog star of course. He lives under the poop deck. Also very appropriate.

Wildlife Guides on Europa

On the Antarctic Sailing Expeditions and the long ocean voyage to Cape Town via Antarctica and South Georgia, Europa carries specialist wildlife guides. On other voyages without specific wldlife guides you will find the ships professional crew are very knowledgeable will run lectures and training sessions on a wide range of topics too.

A Europa Wildlife Guide will also be an important member of the ships crew so you are just as likely to be pulling ropes with them in the middle of the night, as learning about save the Albatross programmes or humpback whale research in a lecture. They generally drive the zodiacs and plan all the shore landings and lecture programmes.

Here are a few of our favourites

Wildlife Guide - Mike Stewart from Alaska

Originally from Nova Scotia but now working in Alaska for most of the year, Mike has been sailing on Europa and othe traditional sailing ships for many years. He lives the true pioneering life, and has skippered work boats, fishing boats and oceanographic research vessels, as well as dog sled mushing and wildlife guiding in Alaska.

However tough the situation gets, Mike always manages to be nice to people. Definately someone you want around in a crisis. Mike studied geology but started to learn about oceanography and marine biology from researchers whilst running research boats for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He developed a natural interest into genuine expertise and runs an impressive lecture programme on board with topics as varied as Polar Expedition Ship Design to Ocean currents.

Wildlife guide, mountaineer and photographer Jordi

Wildlife Guide Jordi from Spain

Jordi is from Spain, but he seems to like cold places, working as a wildlife guide on Europa as well as expedition ships and yachts in both Antarctica and the Arctic. He may live out a rucksack, but it is a very big rucksack. Jordi has camera lenses bigger than himself and still manages to carry it all up mountains faster than any of the crew. Totally at home explaining wildlife whilst manouvring Europa's zodiac (inflatable boat) full of camera crazy guests, Jordi is irrepressible and speaks very fast English. He is involved in Humpback Whale research in South America and Albatross research in Chile, and favourite specialist subject is kelp.

A keen mountaineer and climber Jordi has adapted to square rig sailing like a duck to water, and seems to like the top of yacht masts too - judging by his amazing photos. Both Adam and Debbie from Classic Sailing have spent months sailing with Jordi and we love his enthusiasm. For our last voyage he and Mike created as amazing 170 page illustrated logbook and CD as a souvenir of the voyage for all customers.


Lord Nelson & Tenacious Captain Chris Phillips

Chris is the newest ships master on Lord Nelson / Tenacious having become Captain in Jan 2012 after over 6 years as first and second mate. Previously he was a Warfare Officer in the Royal Navy for 6 years but has had a long involvement with sail training and working with young people and adults. He would be too modest to admit it but we know he speaks French, Russian, German and a bit of Spanish, so quite a handy Captain in tall ships races. Chris has his own yacht and loves hillwalking, reading and music. He has sailed with both Adam and Debbie from Classic Sailing and we are very pleased he is now Captain.

Tenacious Captain Simon Catterson

Captain Simon Catterson has been with Tenacious for eleven years, sailing as Master for seven (2012). He has also sailed Lord Nelson occasionally. Simon began sailing in the early 80s, in Morgan Giles 43s and a Robert Clark 72’ ketch before joining the RN. Whilst at BRNC, he spent most of his sailing time skippering Contessa 38s in the Channel. On leave, he could often be found in one of the Nic 55s from Joint Services at Gosport as Mate and then Skipper around the UK and northern Europe or in the Canaries. On leaving the RN, he took a year off before joining Arethusa as Master in 1996, sailing in the UK, Canaries, the Baltic and to Bermuda, the US and Canada during Tall Ships 2000. In Tenacious he has recently been to the Black Sea with the Historical Seas Regatta and to the Caribbean for the winter – a move he would recommend to all!

Lord Nelson Captain Neil Duncan

I joined the Jubilee Sailing Trust in 1998 as Bosun. Since then my career path has taken me through all ranks to master. I have been sailing as master for the last five years. Life at sea started for me as a Sea Cadet aboard their Training Ship Royalist in 1983. I was very active with clubs and organisations sailing dinghies. In 1986 I undertook my first voyage as Permanent crew aboard Royalist. I continued to sail as a relief until 1990 when I was offered a permanent contract. During the subsequent years my sailing included working aboard their yachts in the English Channel. In 1994 I became first mate of Queen Galadriel a converted Baltic trader to gaff ketch. Life then took a change and I joined a shipping company as a marine service engineer and sailed aboard their ships as chief engineer. My true love was sailing square rigged sailing vessels and working with people. I then returned to Sea Cadets and TS Royalist before joining the JST and Lord Nelson in 1998.

Most of my time has been spent aboard Lord Nelson but to keep flexibility within the company I do spend time aboard Tenacious. During the time some of my favourite voyaging was Tall Ships 2000 with Lord Nelson visiting Bermuda and the Eastern Sea board. Most years we take part in the Tall Ships race which is a large gathering of young people from all over the world. Lord Nelson is unique as she is one of two ships designed to incorporate a mixed ability crew. During the winter months the ship spends most of her time cruising around the Canary Islands providing exciting challenges in the winter sun.

Lord Nelson Captain - Barbera Campbell

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