Wild, rugged and awesome!

The west coast of Scotland is all you could imagine it to be, and more!  Wild, rugged, awesome, the superlatives abound and yet in most cases, here they are truly warranted.

In 2015 after many years working in the warmer, ‘milk run’ parts of the world my wife and I were excited to be heading back to my country of birth, where I hadn’t sailed since I was a child.  Over the last few years, I have had the blessing to be able to skipper various craft for charters around the West Coast and through the Caledonian Canal.

Initially, I was aboard Elizabeth G a converted Norwegian Rescue Ship, only 23 meters loa but a true little ship. Built to support the Norwegian fishing fleet during their winter excursions into the North Atlantic, they would be at sea for up to three months at a time, ready and able to rescue or tow any of the fishing fleet that had trouble back to Norway.  I even heard tales of one of them rolling 360 degrees and continuing without damage!  Although obviously taking charter guests around the islands we tend to avoid this kind of weather, it is still reassuring to know that the vessel will cope with whatever is thrown at her.

When cruising in Scotland it won’t be long before you are reminded in no uncertain terms that you are no longer pottering along the coast to St Tropez.  The weather can turn in a matter of minutes and you can be caught out in a blow, or storm bound even in the summer, however a great attraction of the area is that you are rarely far from a sheltered anchorage and it is very unusual to have any swell once tucked up inside.

Holding varies dramatically so anchor watches/alarms and a good searchlight are essential.   Light pollution as you would expect is non-existent and it is very easy to become disorientated in pitch black when the breeze has picked up and it is raining…  being able to pick out the shoreline combined with a very large scale on the radar and chart plotter is the best way of monitoring your position.

Elizabeth G used an Olex chart plotter linked to the fish finder which automatically creates new surveys of everywhere you travel, so after years of chartering this was very accurate. This combined with the previous tracks gave great assurance. I also found Antares charts to be useful, these are very large scale charts made by enthusiastic amateurs, and yet are incredibly detailed. I have yet to find an error in one, they are only available for various anchorages around the West Coast of Scotland at this stage, which is not surprising when you consider how much time and effort it must take to produce them!

Aboard Elizabeth G one of our four crew was an experienced wildlife guide, this was a huge benefit for the guests and really added to their experience, having someone who knew the different wildlife as well as where to find it and was able to guide guests on walks ashore was a great help. I highly recommend employing the services of someone like this during your visit unless you already have this knowledge aboard.

The next yacht I ran was “Spirit of Fortitude” a 33 meter Turkish built vessel, definitely more at home in the Med, but still quite capable when operated within her limitations.

I joined her in James Watt Dock Marina in Greenock, which is one of the few places you can moor alongside with decent shore power. Almost immediately we headed around the Mull of Kintyre and up to Oban to prepare for our first charter.

The first trip was 10 days, out to St Kilda and around Skye and despite various technical niggles, the guests had a memorable trip. Even with a 10 day trip the first priority has to be getting out to St Kilda as the weather can easily prevent this.  My relief skipper and crew managed to make it out there and were then able to relax as they continued clockwise around the top of Skye and back to Oban.

Next charter we headed north to the Caledonian Canal for a complete change of pace. Strong tidal streams and poor holding, coupled with shallows and rocks made for an anxious night of plotter watching, as we dragged and reset multiple times before being able to enter the canal the following morning.  As soon as you are in the locks it is all worth it though. Neptunes Staircase is a series of locks that in a couple of hours lift you 20 mtrs higher than sea level and by the time you emerge at the top your crew will be well practiced in line handling for all the subsequent locks.

Feeling like you have entered another country, Sweden perhaps, you pass through areas with forests right down to the waters edge, sheltered lochs with anchorages, and enough places that you can tie alongside each night.  Our passage from Oban up to Castle Urquhart on Loch Ness and back to Oban took 6 nights which is a minimum realistic timeframe for such a trip.

Approaching the end of the season, we returned to the Clyde as it offers an incredibly sheltered area with plenty to explore.  Inverary castle is a magnificent inhabited castle and there is a convenient ship mooring buoy which is generally available to moor to for a night, this is helpful as the anchorage shelves steeply.  Portavadie, opposite Tarbert has a 4 star spar with a small boat marina and the whisky distillery at Loch Ranza on Arran is always worth a visit, giving you a few options for when the weather is dricht.

 

The charter industry, which mainly operates out of Oban has really started to boom and we now have a good fleet of crewed charter yachts of various styles working here.  To help visitors to Scotland choose their cruise I have put together a website www.CruisesinScotland.com to act as a portal to view all the options available in one place. If your owner wants to test the waters before bringing their yacht up, most of these charter vessels are also available for whole boat charter.

Scotland is starting to wake up to the fact that visiting superyachts can be a great asset, but at the moment our facilities are still few and far between.

Here I have listed the  facilities that I am aware of and some of the things worth considering if you are heading this way, it’s not a definitive list but should help as a starting point.

I’m also very happy to offer assistance to visiting yachts in any way that I can and can be contacted through my website www.YourSkipper.co.uk

Possible Charter Itineraries

Starting from and returning to Oban

 

10 nights            St Kilda, clockwise around Skye

10 nights            Outer Hebrides and Skye

6 nights               Inner Hebrides, bottom of Skye and Mull

6 nights               Caledonian Canal

3 nights               Mull, Iona, Inner Hebrides

 

Starting from and returning to Greenock

 

3 nights               Loch Riddon, Tarbert / Portavadie (anchorage), Inverary

 

Things to consider

Tides can flow at 8 or 9 kts in places and can easily have a 3 – 4 mtr range.

Oban is well equipped with engineers as it is the hub for all the islands on the West Coast, however very few, if any, are used to the nuances of working on superyachts.

Parts and supplies can easily be sent up from Glasgow by next day.

All other usual facilities such as executive car rental, laundry, flowers etc are hard to come by at the moment and will need good advance planning if they are important to your boss.

GSM signal is patchy at best as soon as you leave Oban. Vodafone has the strongest signal hence why they are used by first responders and it is worth having a non-smart phone as the GPRS signal tends to be stronger.

Provisioning is relatively easy with Bookers, Bidfoods and Tescos for large supplies, then there are numerous independent retailers for smaller speciality items.

Fuel can easily be ordered by truck in Oban or at Corpach basin, but there are not many other options.

I suggest it is worth explaining to your guests, ideally before they arrive, that this is a different type of cruising. It took me a while to adapt and to realise that having the crew chamois down every time the rain stops was never going to be a winner, there is rarely any need to rinse salt off as we have an automatic rinsing system here…

 

Alongside berths

There are very few places where you can moor alongside once you are over about 24mtrs and you grow used to spending almost every night at anchor, as far as I know these are the only options.

Oban Transit Marina
Only just opened summer 2017 it is a great facility for visiting Oban or picking up and dropping off, but is limited to a maximum three night stay.
Max LOA             35mtrs (approx. weather dependant)
Power                 32A Single Phase
Internet              None

Oban North Pier
There is an option for larger yachts to berth on the North Pier, however priority is given the ferry and it is almost always busy, plus you have the tide to account for and it is not always easy for guests to get on and off, it would be unusual to be able to stay more than a night here.
Max LOA             80mtrs (approx.)
Power                 63A 3 Phase
Internet              Town Wifi

Dunstaffnage

This is a well-protected marina close enough for crew and guests to enjoy Oban.
Max LOA             60mtrs
Power                 63A 3 Phase
Internet              Good Fast

Corpach Sea Lock

Only accessible HW +/- 4hrs the basin at the entrance to the Caledonian Canal is completely sheltered and would be a good place to base yourself whilst guests take the cable car up Ben Nevis or go on the ‘Harry Potter’ steam train.
Max LOA             45mtrs
Power                 32A Single Phase
Internet              Unknown

Caledonian Canal

The maximum dimensions for the canal are:

45.72 m LOA
10.67m Beam
4.1m Draft

35m Air Draft, but clearance under the Kessock Bridge on the Inverness Firth is lower at 27.4m.

Power                 Available in places, but shouldn’t be relyed upon
Internet              Also available in places

Tarbert Harbour

Tarbert is a lovely little fishing port and one of the most secure ports you can imagine. After winding your way in it opens up and there is space on the quay for large yachts.
Max LOA             50mtrs
Power                 63A 3 Phase
Internet              Good Fast

Greenock
Can accommodate large yachts alongside their, it is well connected for guests to fly in or out, and for visiting Glasgow, but unfortunately there is really nothing else to recommend it, and you would be best to use it for pick up, drop off and perhaps waiting between guests.
Max LOA             60mtrs
Power                 63A 3 Phase
Internet              Good Fast

Note:
Both Croabh Haven Marina and Ardfern Yacht Centre are planning to increase their capacity in the coming few years.

 

Emergency haul out options

Corpach Slipway
Max tons                          200
Max LOA                           35mtrs

Ardmaleish
Max tons                          500
Max LOA                           70mtrs

Drying out alongside a quay is also possible in a few places

 

Marinas / Ports

http://www.obanharbour.scot

http://www.dunstaffnagemarina.co.uk

https://www.scottishcanals.co.uk

https://www.tarbertharbour.co.uk

http://www.jameswattdockmarina.co.uk

 

Yards

http://www.scottishboatyard.co.uk

http://www.ardmaleishboatbuilding.co.uk

 

Other links

http://www.antarescharts.co.uk

http://www.portavadie.com

https://yourskipper.co.uk

http://cruisesinscotland.com

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