Welcome to an insider’s guide to sailing in Scotland! I have sailed in Scottish waters 3 seasons (1 on ocean spirit of Moray and two with Eda Frandsen) and a small sojourn last year with Agnes. I still believe that while the weather is not always balmy and can be wet and cold that it is some of the most stunning cruising grounds that we have to offer in the United Kingdom. Come rain, shine, snow, fog, gales (possibly all in one day) you can almost always find some protected waters to sail in. The scenery that you are immersed in is monumental, captivating and there is always something to see. Time ashore is never boring with walks galore, islands to be explored and the history of the Scottish Island to absorb yourself in.
Ahh the Scottish weather, you can experience every season in a day! you may wake up in the morning needing your thermals and by the afternoon be in shorts. While the West Coast of Scotland is regularly in the line of any large blow that come through you can almost always find protection behind the islands and in the sounds. I have had some pretty mind-blowing sailing blasting along in the lee of a beautiful Scottish Island. Come rain or shine, good waterproofs offer great protection from the elements and making a bracing sail even more enjoyable. And if you are lucky you’ll be introduced to the delights of a hot water bottle in your sallopettes, might be just me, but that can be pretty life changing.
When the weather isn’t as dry or warm as it could be then the large comfortable accommodation down below on each of the boats offers a great place to go an read or book or have a cup of tea and warm up. When sailing in Scotland, whatever the time of year I would pack for every eventuality and always take a good pair of boots and a woolly hat. Its easy to complain about the weather, of which I do regularly but it should not put you off experiencing this awesome cruising ground.
If Scotland did not have the midge then everyone would go there!! It’s a wild and special place with scenery that will blow your socks off and sailing that will inspire you to do more. You may well encounter the midges on land but they are very unlikely to make it back onto the boat as they cannot fly into any significant breeze. A swift trip back on the dinghy should be enough to rid you of them. However never say never, given the quietest of evenings and depending on how close you are anchored to the land then it’s always possible they can make it back to the boat.
No Marina’s and lots of anchorages!
Scotland for me is all about the beautiful and deserted anchorages and venturing out into the wilderness. There are several pontoons around the western isles, mainly south of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula that allow will allow easy access to the shore and showers. However what most people signs up for when they are cruising in Scotland is the solitude and quietness of having an anchorage all to yourself and the need for a shower every day is not top of your agenda.
A drink synonymous with Scotland and there are quite literally 100’s of distilleries to sample the produce from and there are even a handful that can be reached from the water. A trip to a distillery lends itself to an interesting addition to a voyage to understand the process of making it. After that, from my experience it’s much more fun to sit around the salon table or on deck in the evenings with a good selection of whiskies from all the different Scottish regions and discuss. Many hours have been spent doing this on the voyages I have been part of and I have a list of my favourites now. I would also suggest popping a bottle of your favourite tipple in your bag to take onboard the boat and gives you another thing to talk about.
Spotting the Scottish wildlife is quite literally about being in the right place at the right time! I have had many close encounters with Dolphins, whales and even spotted a pod of Killer whales off the top of Skye which was incredibly special. Otters are always a possible spot in some of the quiet secluded anchorages however it’s always easy to mistake them for the more common seals that populate a lot of the Scottish lochs. The seabirds will keep you entertained for hours, the gannets diving accompanied with the guillemots and razorbills. The puffins and Manx shearwaters always make you laugh when they are trying to land on land but make a wonderful sight when airborne. I have also been lucky enough to experience eagles of many shapes and sizes, some playing and other nesting.
What you can see? My favourite spots
There are so many options of places to go but I’ll take you through a pictorial journey of my favourite places, that I remember well. Almost always the memory of these places are reinforced through a lovely sunset, good company and enjoyable time ashore. The distances between a lot of the best anchorages are quite intrepid and you can easily average 30 miles a day if you are on a whistle stop tour to see as much as you can.
West Loch Tarbert, Jura
An awesome landscape with the Paps of Jura rising high over you!! As you enter there are free standing arches, intriguing sea caves and ice-age raised beaches. All of these are worth exploring! It is a great stopping off point if on passage from the south having taken in the beautiful sound of Islay which has several good distilleries.
Oronsay, South of Colonsay
Once described to me as “heaven on earth” and having been there in the right weather conditions I tend to agree with them. A remote and exposed little anchorage that offers access to this beautiful RSPB reserve. When we visited here on Agnes last year there was so many wild orchids it was hard not step on them as we explored the island. The island also has a very fine ruined Augustinian Priory, which is second to Iona in importance but lacks the crowds and feels far more remote and beautiful because of it and you are very likely to get it to yourself.
Loch na Droma Buidhe
A beautiful and remote alternative to busy Tobermory, just to the north of it and shadowed by the great hills of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. You can approach from the south or the west to enter through a narrow entrance which opens up into a wide but sheltered anchorage. The sun sets behind these grand hills and offers a perfect place to explore ashore and go foraging.
another exposed anchorage which is rarely a place to stay overnight but a trip ashore is an absolute must as you can get up close and personal with the puffin colony which comes to lay to nurture their young there every year. They allow us to spectate on them from a comfortable distance as it stops the predators from circling.
The Small Isles
A set of Islands set to the South west of Skye. Each Island has something very different to offer whether it be scaling hills, visiting castles or relaxing in the café’s.
Yet another awe-inspiring anchorage which nestles underneath the black Cullin ridge and offers a great stepping off point for exploring Loch Corruisk, a great inland loch.
A great bay to anchor towards the bottom of the Outer Hebrides. One of my top recommendations would be to go ashore after supper, if it’s not raining, to walk across the small ismus and watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
It is then a great place to start from to head slightly further south to visit the Islands of Mingulay, Pabay and Berneray. These islands are remote and beautiful but also have a fascinating history that dominated their demise.
This summer we have several boats that will be offering voyages in Scotland. They all able to easily cover the longer distances between the anchorages and have great experience of sailing in these waters.
6 day voyages offer a great way to get a good insight into all that Scotland has to offer. However, if you are looking for a longer adventure then a 9-day voyage gives even greater potential to get that little bit further to the more remote islands of the outer Hebrides and even St Kilda if the weather is right and the crew are keen.
Tecla is the first boat to get to Scotland and will be sailing out of Ullapool to the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda, which is on many people's Scotland bucket list. The boat and crew regularly sail in Scottish water and have a huge experience of the best places to go.
Irene then get to Oban in late May through and is offering a variety of trips until late June; including her new sail, walk and paddle trips and obviously a whisky trip that takes in the local distilleries. She is one of two remaining West Country trading ketches and will offer a good comfortable platform on which to explore the delights of Scotland.
Leader will then be in Oban from early June until later July and is a seasoned visitor to Scottish waters each summer. Like Irene she offers a great point from which to explore the inner and Outer Hebrides. They have a wide variety of trips planned which include planned trips to the Outer Hebrides and have music trips and a wildlife voyage with onboard expert.
They both are operating out of Oban and therefore their trips will have to take in a circular route which is the weather allows might involve travelling to the west of Mull which is absolutely stunning.
Want something slight different and a good mile builder then Oosterchelde will be doing a longer 10 day voyages from Oban to Ullapool in August and then back again. This will be great opportunity to see all that Scotland has to offer in terms of geography, wildlife and sailing grounds. This great top sail schooner would be a great way to make passage through Scottish waters. Tecla will be doing the same route their way back from Iceland at the end of September.
Eda Frandsen, as ever will be exploring her usual cruising ground but is fully booked in Scotland for 2018.
Have I inspired you yet? Well a great way to continue this inspiration and also to spend your Christmas cash would be to invest in Hamish Haswell- Smith “The Scottish Islands” which documents Hamish’s life work to record all the Scottish Islands, that fall within his his strict criteria. It is beautifully illustrated with his lovely painted sketches and makes a wonderful reference book. I have never been cruising in Scotland without it and many people have been subjected to me reading from it.
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