ARGYLL & THE ISLANDS
Argyll and the Islands have a larger coastline than that of France, and are regarded by many as one of the finest sailing areas in the world. The plethora of islands ensures that sheltered waters are always available for a pleasant day sail, whilst for those seeking greater adventure it is also possible to undertake longer coastal and offshore passages. The region has much to offer the visiting sailor, with a wide variety of sheltered anchorages together with many moorings, harbours and marinas. In recent years the facilities available have seen dramatic improvements with the installation of several pontoon systems with associated facilities in some of the areas more remote lochs and harbours creating an excellent chain of facilities stretching far to the North. The area is home to all the animals featured in Scotland’s Big 5 (Golden Eagles, Red Squirrels, Red Deer, Otters, and Harbour Seals) and offers all visitors an excellent chance to see them all in their natural habitats.
Sailors arriving from the south or east will usually arrive from one of two directions - the Mull of Kintyre or the Crinan Canal, which has a reputation as ‘Scotland’s Prettiest Shortcut’. Many Scottish sailors will often start their season in the Firth of Clyde and then move through to the west coast for the summer months through this picturesque waterway, usually breaking their journey at one of the pontoons along the canal to take advantage of the pubs and hotels at Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead, Cairnbaan and Crinan. The journey through the Crinan Canal can take the best part of a day to achieve, but for those wishing to take a more leisurely approach, both the transit and return licences currently allow up to 4 overnights at no additional charge. So why not step ashore, explore and enjoy all the local area has to offer.
Those arriving from the Irish Sea via the North Channel and Mull of Kintyre, or those visiting from Northern Ireland, will usually sail north via the Sound of Jura. They will often make their first landfall at Islay, Jura or Gigha. All three islands have mooring facilities for the visiting sailor, whilst Islay also boasts pontoon facilities at Port Ellen. Jura (Island of Deer) also has new pontoons at Craighouse (suitable for dinghies) and has upgraded the 16 moorings in the bay. Both Islay and Jura are well known for their distilleries; Islay has a total of eight and Jura has one, most of which have their own moorings or small pontoons for visiting boats. The more pastoral island of Gigha has a reputation for fine sandy beaches, and in recent years has also upgraded the offerings for visiting sailors with a large number of serviced moorings and a short stay pontoon planned for 2014.
For those who seek a quiet anchorage for the night then Lowlandmans Bay on the east side of Jura offers shelter from most wind directions, whilst Loch Tarbert on the west side of Jura is a favourite with many local sailors. However, seclusion is usually guaranteed, together with stunning sunsets and the opportunity to see the deer come down to the waters edge in the evening and otters hunting along the rocky shore line. For those with an interest in geology the northern shores of the loch also comprise some of the best examples of raised beaches to be found within the UK.
Sailors remaining within the Sound of Jura have the option of venturing up West Loch Tarbert or Lochs Sween and/or Caolisport on the eastern (mainland) side of the Sound. West Loch Tarbert extends deep into the Kintyre peninsula, with the head of the loch being less than a mile from the harbour of Tarbert on the eastern side of the peninsula. There are a number of anchorages within the loch, and an old pier at the eastern limit. Loch Sween is the most visited of the three; the MacCormaig Isles at the entrance offer a sheltered anchorage on Eilean Mor with a ruined monastery making an interesting trip ashore. At the head of the loch lies the small village of Tayvallich offering a small shop, café and lively inn which hosts regular traditional music sessions featuring local talent. The village bay offers superb shelter from all wind directions, and has 3 sheltered visitor’s moorings and a few pontoons which are suitable for boats to around 11m, payment can be made for both by use of an honesty box at the gangway. If weather conditions are stable then an alternative anchorage can be found at The Fairy Isles a short distance from the village where a barbeque can be had ashore whilst watching the local seal colony and the occasional Osprey.
Further north both Loch Crinan and the Sound of Jura lead into the wonderful sailing areas of Lochs Craignish, Shuna and Melfort. All three lochs boast excellent marina facilities at Ardfern Yacht Centre, Craobh Haven and Kilmelford Yacht Haven respectively, with further yard facilities available at Crinan. Numerous anchorages exist for those who prefer, such as those up the east side of Loch Craignish where shelter is again available from every wind angle. On the west side of the loch you will also find the sheltered loch known locally as ‘The Lagoon’ where, thanks to the Craignish Lagoon Mooring Association (CLMA), a clean bottom anchoring area is defined between red and green buoys. Visitors are welcome to land at the CLMA slip at the north of the anchorage, convenient to the road side. The CLMA have also made two visitors moorings available for overnight use. These are marked with a yellow V for Visitor, and payment for upkeep can be made by use of an honesty box provided at the slip. The Dorus Mor lies at the south end of the Craignish peninsula and forms the first of the important tidal gates in this area. A general comment is that whilst the tides may be strong at times they are predictable, and provided the visiting sailor can read a tide table and tidal stream atlas they should present no real difficulties. The Loch Melfort Hotel at the mouth of the loch also offers visiting yachts free mornings with pub grub and award winning fine dinning available ashore in a hotel which must have some of the best views in Scotland.
Travelling north via one of the tidal gates of the Sound of Luing, Cuan Sound (very interesting pilotage) or the Gulf of Corryvreckan brings the sailor to the Firth of Lorne - the island of Mull to the west and the mainland to the east. After passing the islands of Easdale and Luing many boats will stop at the popular anchorage of Puilladobhrainn (Pool of the Otter) from where there is a pleasant evening walk over the hill to the ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’ and the local inn. A short distance further north it is possible to follow the buoyed channel and venture into Loch Feochan and take a mooring at Ardoran Marine in the north west corner of the loch.
Oban is the principal town and port of the area; it has most major facilities and is the focal point for many sailing events during the season. Whilst the town itself does not yet have a marina of its own there is a landing pontoon and 16 visitor moorings located at the North end of Cardingmill Bay; operated by Oban Bay Community Berthing. Full marina services are provided by Oban Marina on the island of Kerrera for which it is advisable to book your berth in advance during peak periods. The marina currently runs a free water taxi to the mainland and town centre, landing at the North Pier in Oban where visiting yachts are also able to lie alongside for short periods. In addition to the usual supermarkets and shops Oban also has a selection of interesting landmarks and view points.
A short distance north of Oban there is another marina at Dunstaffnage with on site bar and restaurant. The final facility for visiting sailors in this area is in Loch Creran at Barcaldine Marine which has more than 50 moorings and an embarkation pontoon.
Boats making for the Caledonian Canal will continue north up Loch Linnhe to Corpach, passing the popular anchorage of Port Appin en route, or taking one of the 10 complimentary moorings owned by the Pierhouse Hotel. Further stopping opportunities exist at Loch Leven (for boats able to pass under the Ballahulish Bridge) and at Corran and Fort William during settled weather.
Sailors venturing further west will head up the Sound of Mull, passing Duart Castle as they enter the Sound. This is the final tidal gate in the area, and west of here the tides are typically less than one knot. Lochaline lies a short distance further up the Sound on the north shore and, whilst very sheltered, used to require anchoring overnight in deep water. New pontoons were installed in 2012 by the Morvern Community Development Company, allowing visiting boats to berth on the west side of the Loch and for crews to be able to step ashore. 2013 saw the accompanying facilities block open offering visitors showers, toilets, laundrette and WIFI access. Entrance in and out of the Loch usually requires a favourable tide, which is the case with many west coast lochs.
Tobermory is the main town on Mull and is a popular destination for the majority of visiting boats, particularly those with young children. It has benefited from further improvements to the pontoons and a modern shower block and toilets for visiting sailors in the Harbour Association building. The mooring facilities have also been upgraded and rationalised, and as a result it is now usually possible to avoid having to anchor in the bay on all but the busiest of weeks. The town is a useful refuelling point for both vessels and crew, and has many famous watering holes as well as a distillery.
At this point it is perhaps worth illustrating just how useful the tides can be in assisting with passage making along this part of the coast. Back at Crinan low water is approximately one hour before Oban, and the actual tidal flow turns about one before low water by the shore. The northwest going flood does not turn at Tobermory until 15 minutes after high water Oban. Therefore, by timing your departure from Crinan, Ardfern or Craobh Haven for two hours before low water Oban it is possible to carry a fair tide for over eight hours up to Tobermory. Typical ‘tidal lift’ is well over a knot, increasing the time that one is able to continue with sails rather than engine. Naturally, there is a price to pay for this bonus, and it is that it is usually possible to carry the south east going ebb tide for just five hours or so but, as many find out, this gives more excuses for dropping the hook and relaxing.
Venturing west from Tobermory out of the Sound of Mull one is presented with a number of route choices – if time permits then the northern option will take you around Ardnamurchan and into the sailing waters around Skye and the North West, often via the Small Isles, whilst heading west across the Sea of the Hebrides will take you to the outer islands of Barra, Harris and Uist. For those on a limited timescale it is probable that these destinations will have to wait for another trip, and instead the choice will either be to head west for the islands of Coll and Tiree, or to turn southwards along the western side of Mull. Both routes involve open water sailing, and are often rewarded with sightings of whales, basking sharks, dolphins, porpoise and numerous sea birds.
The Island of Coll has one very sheltered bay at Arinagour, the main town on the island, where there are a limited number of moorings and plenty of suitable anchorages; the moorings were rearranged in 2011 which appears to have improved matters. The neighbouring island of Tiree is better suited to a daytime anchorage as most of the bays are more exposed - the island is most famous for its very high sunshine hours (more than 1400 per year), sandy beaches and windsurfing . As well as hosting the Wave Classic windsurfing event the Tiree events calander now boosts a multi award winning traditional/folk music festival, held each summer adjacent to the stunning Crossapol Bay beach.
The west side of Mull has a number of sheltered anchorages, mostly around the island of Ulva, and sailing along this western coastline allows the Treshnish Isles and Staffa to be visited, home of Fingals Cave. It is possible to anchor and view the cave from either the island or a tender during settled weather, otherwise it will be necessary to lie off and view from afar. Further south lies the island of Iona and its world famous Abbey.
The main town on the Ross of Mull is Bunessan, where it is possible to anchor in a number of bays. Visitors are advised to anchor clear of the fairway to the main pier which is used by fishing boats all year round. The peninsula also contains many fine anchorages, including Tinkers Hole and Carsaig, from where the visiting sailor can choose to return home by either heading east through the Torran Rocks to pick up their outward track, or heading south to Colonsay and then on south through the Sound of Islay and back into the Sound of Jura.