Sailing on the Forth and Tay

Date published: 02 July 2020

Finding a spare week in the calendar I decided to take the catamaran up the East Coast to explore the Tay, as a reconnaissance trip for future customer sailing holidays. On leaving Port Edgar Marina I sailed under the Forth bridges and down river past the islands of Inchgarvie, Inchcolm, Inchmickery and Inchkeith. These islands all have buildings of historical importance on them, ranging from a 12th Century abbey to World War fortifications. The Edinburgh skyline is a particularly striking view, with Arthur’s Seat and the castle highlighted against the horizon. Once past Largo Bay the wind changed to a 30 knot Easterly, so I got the sails down and motored from Elie up to Anstruther, with the Bass Rock and the Isle of May as constant features on the river. I arrived in Anstruther 3.5 hours before high tide and, with a depth gauge reading of zero, scraped into the pontoons in the inner harbour and immediately headed to their famous fish & chip shop.

The next day I departed as soon as the boat was afloat and headed for Tayport. It is very picturesque sailing past the fishing villages along the East Neuk of Fife and wonderful to see the many puffins that call the Isle of May home on the way past the island. After crossing St Andrews Bay, I entered the fast-moving River Tay and struggled towards Tayport at 3 knots with both the engines on full power against the 5-knot tide. I was, however, entertained by a large pod of dolphins for half an hour enroute which was fantastic.

In the morning I left Tayport and sailed under the Tay Bridges on my way up river. The scenery enroute is beautiful as you pass through the rolling hills and fertile land of Perthshire. It is important to choose the correct tidal window for this trip and it is a very good test of your pilotage skills! After a quick call I got permission to continue to Perth harbour, where my wife joined me for the return journey.

We woke to a bright sunny morning and planned to sail back to Tayport. However, by the time we had reached the harbour again the skies had darkened. The bad weather was coming so I decided that the best plan was to carry on to Anstruther, although that meant another 6 hours before we could dock. Passing the Dundee V&A building works, you can tell that the new harbour area will be great once it is completed. We then left Broughty Castle behind us and managed to sail all the way to Fife Ness before turning straight into a strong Westerly so had to motor back to Anstruther.

The next day, despite the high winds, we managed a 4 hour circumnavigation of the Bass Rock.  It was a great high-speed run across the river with some nice big rolling waves. The Bass hosts one of the largest gannet colonies in Europe and is home to over 150,000 birds. On the final day I sailed back up river to find the newly launched carrier “HM Queen Elizabeth”.

The history, wildlife and scenery make a day sail on the Forth estuary a must for sailors of all abilities. I circumnavigated the carrier in the afternoon and at midnight watched it pass under the Forth bridges destined for its new home. A great end to the week.

Colin Henderson

Edinburgh Boat Charters