Saturday 7 August 2021

By sail to Orkney - a chocolate bar adventure

A few weeks ago a small package of our chocolate bars went on an extraordinary adventure of their very own (am I jealous?  You bet!).  The talented and adventurous writer, Linda Cracknell approached me with a magnificent proposition – she was sailing from Ullapool to Orkney on the Bessie Ellen, and what did I think of the idea of her taking a small cargo of chocolate bars with her and delivering them to a deli in Kirkwall.  Absolutely yes!  And for so many reasons…


Bessie Ellen en route to Orkney.  Thanks to Chrys Tremththanmor for the photo  

Linda has been researching her family history, learning a lot about her sea-faring ancestors in the South West.  One of her relatives through her mother’s family, Captain John (Jack) Chichester was keen to develop his business transporting heavy cargo, and he bought the Bessie Ellen in 1906.  She was a young ship then, a 120ft trading ketch built in Plymouth in 1904.  Despite the slow demise of sail over the early 20th century, they were able to use her 150 ton capacity to transport bulk cargos around UK and Ireland. I wonder if she ever transported cocoa or chocolate?  The age of sail though was on its way out, and in 1947 she was sold to a shipper in Denmark where she transported goods around the Baltic.  Eventually, she was converted to be powered by an engine.   Her current skipper, Nikki Alford, took her on in 2000 and has fully restored her to a beautiful sailing ship.  The cargo hold is now a dining room and living space for guests, who can go on sailing adventures around the UK, Ireland and beyond. Find out more about this beautiful ship here (and maybe book your own adventure!).  Linda’s idea was to take a ‘small cargo’ with her to Orkney and as she had a friend running a deli in Kirkwall – this all linked up very nicely!

Linda taking possession of the cargo in Aberfeldy

Skipper Nikki with the cargo on the Bessie Ellen

My own family history has links to the sea as well – my mother’s great grandfather John William Pyman was a Sea Captain in the 19th century based from the north of England.  Tragically he was lost at sea in June 1879 and as all his wealth went down with that ship, his widow and three children became destitute (and what happened to them is another story in itself!).  He did not own the ship, nor the cargo, but sea captains at the time were allowed to develop a small business on board, selling goods to the crew during the voyage, which would allow them to earn a little more than their pay:  that stock would have been their life savings.  We are not sure where his boat was lost, or where he sailed to and from; my mother says that her father just used to say ‘round the Cape’ – which we assume meant Cape of Good Hope and so maybe on to India.  Whether he ever did the transatlantic route or if he ever transported cocoa – these things we just don’t know.

Freyja at Stromness Books & Prints taking the cargo, and holding for collection by Duncan from Kirkness & Gorie

And I have long been inspired by the transatlantic adventures of the Tres Hombres – bringing chocolate, cocoa, sugar and rum from the Caribbean by sail to the UK and Europe.  The slow and dedicated re-establishing of wind powered cargo transport has been happening quietly over the last decade or so.  Ten years or so ago, Mott Green of Grenada Chocolate Company worked with Tres Hombres to transport chocolate bars made on Grenada to UK and Europe, and this started a small flow of wind-powered transport of chocolate and cocoa to makers in the UK ever since.  Falmouth-based company New Dawn Traders have developed trading routes linking transatlantic trade with the UK, Portugal, France and The Netherlands. A few years back I was excited to see that they were going to be calling in at Oban and Inverness, and hoped to order some of their Caribbean chocolate.  Sadly this trip did not happen in the end – but I have been hopeful ever since that they might replan it.


Duncan after picking up the bars from the bookshop in Stromness

So – lots of reasons why I enthusiastically accepted Linda’s offer.  And what did we send?  The cargo was a small box of ten chocolate bars, tasting of Perthshire in early summer – Elderflower flavoured white chocolate and Scots pine plain chocolate.  Linda stressed that weather and tides might mean that they might not make it to Orkney at all – and so, just as in my great great gandfather’s time – she could always sell it to the crew and passengers on the boat itself!

The chocolate bars reach their destination shelf in the fabulous Kirkness & Gorie Deli in Kirkwall

Many, many thanks to all those involved in this amazing daisy chain of delivery!  Linda especially, as well as Nikki and the Bessie Ellen, Freyja and Duncan.  And here's to a future of sustainable transport!