The Call of the Sea 01872 580022

Bessie Ellen - 1904 Historic Trading Ketch

This original West Country trading ship was built in Plymouth in 1904 and has had a remarkable working life. She is part of the UK core collection of historic vessels, but Bessie Ellen is no museum ship.  This tough wooden tall ship sails with charter crews around the UK and Europe and now has an ocean - worldwide safety certificate enabling her to seek warmer sailing grounds in winter and offer sailing holidays 11 months of the year.

Bessie Ellen has recently tried her hand at carrying commercial wine cargoes (and still has a modern licence for carrying small cargoes), but this tough little wooden ship and her owner Nikki Alford are now back doing what they do best: Roving Uk and European Waters under sail with upto 12 guest crew.

Read more about her history and how she was restored to a sailing ship by Nikki.

Bessie Ellen Current Full Sailing Schedule - descriptions, dates & prices

Bessie Ellen - Our small and Friendly Tall Ship

Our past testimonials from Bessie Ellen customers vouch for the quality of customer care, good food and sense of adventure that is created by her professional crew, and we have always felt that Bessie Ellen is a 'happy ship' and the perfect size for guest crew full involvement. If you are looking for an intimate tall ship experience where your contribution is valued and you are welcomed back as a friend then come on a voyage and join the Bessie Ellen fan club.

"I have recently returned from one of the best holidays of my life aboard Bessie Ellen. Everything was so much better than my wildest dreams! I loved sitting on deck watching the gannets, the islands, the clouds and the guillemots. I also loved hauling the ropes. Nikki was great and her cooking was fabulous! Waking up in the idyllic anchorages was just sublime!" Deidre Hoyle

Superb Freshly Cooked Food!

Customers on Bessie Ellen have consistently voted the food on Bessie Ellen as excellent, and it is definitely part of the experience.Coming originally from a organic farming and catering background Nikki places great importance on delicious freshly cooked food wherever the ship sails, taking the best of local specialities.

There is usually a choice and any special dietary requirements can be catered for, but do let us know on the booking form.


The heart of this tough wooden ship is the cargo hold, now an impressive communal living space, where you can lie in your bunk and still feel the huge ships timbers surrounding you, or relax in the evening with new found friends (sleeps up to 12 guest crew). You will feel part of a bygone era, but with the homely comforts of a hot and spacious shower, and freshly cooked food on the spacious tables made of wood salvaged from a Perry Orchard. The bunks down each side of this huge space have a reading light and curtains for privacy, with storage for your things in lockers under the bench seating.

The floors are oak, and on sunny days in port or at anchor the cargo hold roof can be opened up to let the sun stream in. If you are taller than average then Bessie Ellen has ample headroom below decks and bunks long enough to stretch!

Lively Sailing and Plenty of Deck Space!

With two masts and lofty topmasts increasing her height further, Bessie Ellen has a lot of sail to play with, and it takes team work to hoist the heavy main and mizzen gaff sails. In light winds or racing she can carry topsails on both masts, and forward there are 4 headsails to tack:- Staysail, inner and out jib and jib topsail, so if you like the idea of being out on the bowsprit with the ships bow wave beneath you, then there are plenty of sails to stow out there. Bessie Ellen has fine underwater lines and is fairly shallow draught so she is surprisingly responsive under sail. The ship has an ocean rated stability rating, carries all new modern safety and navigation equipment, and is currently certified for world wide commercial charter under the UK Marine Coastguard Agency / Department of Transport.

Skipper and Crew

Bessie Ellen usually carries four permanent crew to help show you the ropes. They will train you swiftly into a crew that will do credit to the ship and extend your horizons.  Nikki Alford often sails as mate so she can concentrate on keeping you all happy, and spent many years as cook/mate on square rigged ships involved in charter and film work, as well as a lot of traditional maintenance and rigging work. There are usually two deckhands to help out and keep the ship tidy.

The working language on board is English.   

Bessie Ellen in the News

Travel journalist Martin Jackman writes for Uk newspapers and magazines like Wanderlust. He sailed as working crew on Bessie Ellen in the Canaries in 2011.

Read the TELEGRAPH travel article by Martin Jackman - Bessie Ellen in the Canaries

More recently, Sarah Whitehead wrote about her experience on Bessie Ellen in the Guardian online.

Read the article on her experience of a weekend in Cornwall here. 

Bessie Ellen featured in Coast Magazine too!

Bessie Ellen attracts people with a facination for wood, authenticity and rugged beauty.Alex Malcolmson is an artist and sculptor - originally from Shetland Islands. He regularly sails on Bessie Ellen in search of art inspiration. A Coast Magazine journalist caught up with Alex and Bessie Ellen at the start of a Classic Sailing voyage to the Isles of Scilly. He explains why he is "An Artist of the Floating World" and there are some great photos of Bessie Ellen and the model boats and birds that Alex carves.

Read the article here. 

Where Does She Sail?

Bessie Ellen is an authentic historic ship but she is also well equipped for extending periods away from a regular base, and is quite happy roving the coasts of Europe and way out into the Atlantic.  Beneath the wooden decks is a modern galley, watertight bulkheads, generator, powerful engine and anchor windlass.  She has an oceanwide licence for charter, which is rare for a vessel on the UK Core Historic Ships Register.  Her professional crew love wildlife and impressive scenery hence the ship has explored as far afield as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Canaries and the Azores. She counts Devon and Cornwall as her home waters but often spends summer in Western Scotland.  New destinations are always being considered.

Bessie Ellen Current Full Sailing Schedule - descriptions, dates & prices

Blue Water Passages - Mini & Epic Voyages

The opportunites to sail an ocean passage on an authentic historic sailing ship like Bessie Ellen are becoming more and more rare.  If you want a GAP year style adventure without leaving the day job then a 10 -15 day ocean passage on a wooden sailing ship will give your more than a taste of high seas adventure. 

After a short annual refit in Cornwall, Bessie Ellen usually heads South for Winter Sun each October.  Cross the Bay of Biscay if you want ocean swell and potentially strong wind sailing.  Join in Vigo to Tenerife for warmer but still challenging ocean sailing.  For a blue water, trade wind 700 mile hop try Tenerife to the Azores for a mini adventure and no long haul flight.  More epic is the 1250 mile voyage from the Azores to the UK. All great mile builders for career sailors and a challenging voyage for brave beginners or experienced sailors.

Not sure if ocean voyages are for you ? read our destination pages on Ocean Sailing

Tall Ship Bessie Ellen in Scotland - Extensive wild playground

Self sufficent 116ft wooden tall ship Bessie Ellen is a great summer expedition ship for those of you who prefer a larger vessel with a sense of history.  With only 12 guest crew on board you will get plenty of hands on sailing.  The owner Nikki sails as mate and host and has taken Bessie Ellen to Scotland many times.  From Oban Bessie Ellen can cover quite an extensive area in a week - with the Southern half of the Outer Hebrides possible or reach as far North as Skye, Canna and Rum.

Bessie Ellen Sailing Schedule in Scotland - descriptions, dates & prices

Scottish Short Breaks from Oban

Our 3 day voyages from Oban last year were very popular with Scottish residents so we have increased the number of dates. They make great presents from friends and relatives too. If you live in the north of England or are visiting Scotland this summer from abroad, then a 3 day break on a British historic sailing ship is a great way of seeing the best of Scotland's scenery.  The lofty masts of Bessie Ellen anchored in Oban Bay create an image that you will treasure as you arrive in the waterfront train station in Oban. If you drive to Oban the inland scenery is equally spectacular.

Mile Building Voyages around Europe

Bessie Ellen is in demand at festivals around Europe, plus she relocates all year between the best sailing grounds. She therefore notches up a lot of miles for a wooden vessel over 100 years old.  If you are looking for coastal and offshore sailing experience, night sailing, watch keeping, and big boat seamanship then there are some great coastal passages at affordable prices on Bessie Ellen.

Whole Boat Prices

The majority of Bessie Ellen's voyages are booked by individuals but theri is nothing to stop you bringing a group or chartering the whole ship, if you contact us early enough. 12 go for the price of 10 on any available voyage in Bessie Ellen's published programme.Group Booking ideas - week or fortnight expeditions for groups of friends; schools or university expeditions. 

Expedition Ship?

Bessie Ellen has a world wide operating licence so if your school or university wants to plan an expedition we are happy to help you plan it, but remember this ship works hard for her living running adventure charter voyages so give us plenty of notice of dates required.

Bessie Ellen for Festivals & Events

The ship is often hired by festival organisers for exhitions alongside, day sails and corporate entertaining.  This has to be planned around her busy charter seasons - summer and winter, so do talk to us early if you want to see her masts gracing your waterfront.  Her owner Nikki and her small but versatile team on board have a strong background in catering, corporate entertainment  and the passion to create the right atmosphere for your event.

Cargo License Too..

For special projects or events Bessie Ellen can convert to a commercially licensed cargo ship, or her saloon (original cargo space) can also be cleared to create a fanatastic exhibition space or characterful venue for slide shows / musical events or presentations and training workshops. Talk to us on 01872 580022

Bessie Ellen Ship Specification

built 1904 Plymouth  
rig gaff ketch 8 sails  
sail area 320 sq m  
length on deck 25.6m  84ft
Length overall 36.5m  119ft
Beam 6m  20ft
draft 2.4m  
air draft 26.5m  86ft
tonnage 87 GRT  
professional crew 4-6  
guest crew berths 12  
day sail capacity max 60 guests  
luxury dinner in saloon max party of 32  
buffet in saloon max 60 guests  

 "I had a fantastic time. The crew were fantastic, the sailing was fantastic - I haven't laughed so much in years" Alan.

photo by Gordon Hudson - Evening on Bessie Ellen - St Kilda Voyage 

Pick your Sailing Holiday

E.g., 23/04/2018

Search the web site.

Search form

Customer Comments

Being 'free', being able to see the sun, stars, waves and the moon! Feeling like I was 'at home'. A mesmerizing and u...

Follow us

RSS Feeds

Latest Offers & New Voyages

First name

Last name