The coastal waters around Skye, the Outer Hebrides and the North West of Scotland provide a range of cruising grounds with some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world.  As with Argyll and the Islands there are plenty of options available, and an almost infinite combination of routes and destinations are possible.  Whilst the nature of the sailing has itself not changed, the recent addition of pontoon facilities at a number of locations has made life more straightforward for some visitors.

Rounding Ardnamurchan Point the visiting sailor is rewarded with a rapidly changing vista as first the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg, Canna and Rum come into view, and then the even more dramatic skyline of the Cuillins on Skye begin to dominate the horizon.  Whilst en route to these areas from the south a diversion into Loch Moidart is well worthwhile, with another alternative being to take a mooring at the excellent and well equipped boat yard at Arisaig a short distance to the north.  If conditions are settled it is also possible to anchor just north of Ardnamurchan in Sanna Bay which makes an excellent lunchtime stop; however, its exposed location does not make it suitable forThe East Coast of Scotland has much to offer yachtsmen, be they visitors en route to other cruising areas or sailors who keep their boat in one of the increasing number of marinas or harbour facilities.  Until recently the East Coast perhaps had a tendency to be seen as ‘the missing link’ in a potential circumnavigation of Britain, but recent developments mean that it is now as well served as any part of the Scottish (or indeed, British) coastline.  The completion of this missing link has resulted in many new marina facilities between the border at Berwick and as far north as Wick.  Many of these marinas are within former fishing harbours and, whilst some may be smaller than others, they all offer a warm welcome.  Furthermore, many of the ‘unconverted’ fishing harbours are now only too pleased to welcome visiting yachts, meaning that the choice of destination is no longer automatic and a variety of passages may be planned.

The popularity of Scotland as a cruising ground for continental boat owners, particularly those wishing to follow the path of Bjorn Larsson and sail ‘The Celtic Ring’, has meant that many visiting boats will now call in to some of the East Coast destinations enroute to either the Caledonian Canal or the Pentland Firth.  As some of the facilities are smaller than others it is therefore advisable to check in advance whether or not a berth is likely to be available. an overnight stay.

Starting in the south, the first pontoon facility can be found at Eyemouth.  Once a busy fishing harbour, it is now an increasingly common sight to see visiting yachts lying alongside.  Port Edgar is still the main marina facility on this stretch of coast, from where it is possible to cruise the Firth of Forth to destinations such as the new marina at Anstruther on the Fife coast, or further east around Bass Rock.  Port Edgar also hosts a busy sailing school operated by Edinburgh Leisure, and offers the full range of RYA sailing courses.  It also hosts a new skippered yacht charter business which offers a range of packages for customers.  The marina is well suited as a temporary home for visitors from the continent who may wish to leave their boat for a few weeks whilst they fly back home from the nearby airport.  There are further pontoon facilities available along the Forth at Granton which are ideally suited for an excursion into the city centre; the use of the harbour is shared by both the Royal Forth Yacht Club and Forth Corinthian Yacht Club, who have access to both an all tides pontoon and swinging moorings.

Further north beyond Anstruther and the Fife peninsula, pontoon facilities are also available at Tayport near to the mouth of the River Tay, and a short distance across the estuary there is now a marina facility at Arbroath.  North of this is the longest stretch of ‘pontoon free’ coastline, the next facility being at Peterhead Marina some 60 miles further north.  However, this does not mean that there is nowhere to stop as Aberdeenshire Council now encourages yachts to visit many of its harbours along the coast.  Some of these are ideally located for exploring Royal Deeside, whilst others offer a range of shops and restaurants in which to relax.

Turning westwards into the Moray Firth the choice of destinations significantly increases.  Both Banff and Lossiemouth boast new marina facilities, complimenting those at Whitehills and the pontoons in the picturesque harbour of Findochty.  This stretch of coastline is a popular dolphin watching area, and most crews will be accompanied by dolphins riding the bow wave for at least a short distance.

Vessels heading for the Caledonian Canal will head up the Firth into Inverness, passing under the Kessock Bridge en route – note that the bridge has a clearance of 29m, sufficient for most but not necessarily all yachts, and that the Canal is usually closed for two hours either side of low water during normal operating hours.  Inverness Marina is a relatively new, fully serviced 150 berth marina located outside the canal entrance on the south side of the Firth, with access available at all states of the tide.  This, together with a 75 berth marina at Seaport just inside the canal, makes an excellent base for exploring the city of Inverness, or a point for arranging crew changeovers, taking advantage of excellent road, rail and air links.

Boats which are heading on up the coast to Orkney or beyond need not venture up the Firth, but may instead head directly from Lossiemouth to Helmsdale where there are pontoon facilities. Alternatively, the passage may be extended as far as Wick where there is a new marina and plenty of shelter to be had inside the old harbour.

This is the final stopping point before rounding Duncansby Head, where the choice is then whether to head west along Scotland’s northern coastline, northwards to Orkney and Shetland, or north east to Scandinavia.  The four main marina operators between Inverness and Shetland have grouped together to create the Viking Trail to encourage greater use of the new facilities and open up cruising routes to the northern isles.