Rum by Sail: Barrel Ageing Aboard Bessie Ellen

Rum by Sail: Barrel Ageing Aboard Bessie Ellen

On Saturday April 27th the tall ship Bessie Ellen set sail from Fowey, Cornwall, bound for the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland carrying a barrel of Rathlee’s Rum.

About Bessie Ellen

Bessie Ellen is one of the last remaining trading ketches still sailing. Built in Plymouth in 1904, she has had an eventful life to date; at the time of her building there was a fleet of nearly 700 similar vessels sailing out of West Country ports carrying bulk cargoes, but numbers declined as steamers and powered cargo ships began to take over. Sadly for sail, powered vessels aren’t at the mercy of the wind and so can keep to a timetable in the sort of way that captains of industry prefer when it comes to shipping and selling their goods. Bessie Ellen was one of the last remaining working ships though, having been purchased by Captain John Chichester from North Devon in 1906 she carried domestic cargoes of clay, peat, aggregates and salt around the UK and Ireland right up until 1947. Whilst she was still working hard, many other trading ketches were being laid up or, during WWII, anchored off the coast in barrage balloon service.

In 1947 Bessie Ellen made the move to Denmark where her new owner Captain Møller continued to transport cargoes along the Baltic coast under the new name ‘Forsøget’ (The Attempt) until the late 1970s.

Having been refitted over her years of service (Captain Møller ended up reducing the size of the rig, installing an engine, and cutting a much larger hatch for mechanised loading in Bessie Ellen’s deck), when she finally made her way back to her homeport she underwent an extensive renovation and refit. These days Bessie Ellen’s cargo is mostly human as she sets sail on sailing charters, holidays and adventures at sea.

This summer, Bessie Ellen will be cruising the Western Isles of Scotland with a barrel of rum aboard: a small craft bourbon barrel full of Rathlee’s Rum will finish ageing whilst she sails, perhaps being periodically dunked in the North Atlantic (at the whim of the captain!), before being bottled when Bessie Ellen returns to Cornwall in September ready for a very special limited edition release.

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To find out more about Bessie Ellen and the range of sailing holidays available, visit


Featured image by Ian Dagleish. Top image by Francis Trainer. Bottom left image by Hamish Mitchell. All images courtesy of Bessie Ellen. Images courtesy of Bessie Ellen.