Date published: 26 February 2018
One of the best things about running a yacht charter company is hearing the enthusiastic feedback from crews on their return. They are brimming with tales of idyllic anchorages, deserted beaches, stunning wildlife and golden sunsets. These sunsets seemed often to be enjoyed while relaxing in the cockpit, accompanied by a wee dram – a Scottish malt whisky. In fact we started to realise that interest in the water of life or uisge beatha was leading many charterers to plan their cruises around some of Scotland’s most iconic distilleries, visiting as many as five in one week! We liked the idea so much that we decided to try this for ourselves - we called it the Whisky Galore Cruise.
We set out from Largs into big skies and a fresh south westerly breeze, aiming for Ardrishaig, the eastern gateway of the Crinan Canal. Our course would take us around the south point of Bute, before heading northwards into Loch Fyne, past Tarbert and on to the Ardrishaig Sea Lock. It was mid-afternoon when we arrived and enjoyed the usual banter with our favourite lock keeper - whose colleagues say he’s worked there since the canal first opened in the 1800’s….! We passed through the first few locks before stopping at Cairnbaan for the night to enjoy dinner at the hotel.
Coffee and French toast in the cockpit whilst waiting for the Cairnbaan road bridge to be opened, then on through the remaining locks, passing pretty cottages, wild flowers and waving to passers-by on the tow path before being lowered into the colourful Crinan Basin with its array of vessels and ‘wee lighthouse’. Before we knew it we had popped out of the western sea lock and into Loch Crinan. A favourable tide and handy north-westerly allowed us to set course for Craighouse, home to our first distillery, Isle of Jura. By early evening we’d sailed into the bay and picked up a mooring for the night, looking forward to our trip ashore in the morning.
Having enjoyed our tour of the distillery and sampled the local delights it was time to leave Craighouse and plot a course to Islay. It was blowing quite fresh from the northwest and we made great progress down the Sound of Jura, navigating outside the Ardbeg islands while catching tantalising views of 3 more distilleries between the rocky outcrops. We were heading for Port Ellen towards the southern end of the island, where we berthed in its small marina and enjoyed a hot shower.
We awoke to the light drumming of rain on the coach roof so lingered over breakfast in the hope it would dry up before we ventured ashore. Luck was on our side so we hired a couple of bikes then pedalled up the winding coastal road to Ardbeg distillery. Before long we could see the iconic rooftops of the distillery and were soon sampling some of its delights. On the way back to the boat we got another distillery under our belts, this time Lagavulin where we enjoyed the tour and another wee taster. The evening was spent enjoying a meal ashore and trying one or two other malts from some of the many other Islay distilleries which we hadn’t quite managed to visit that day!
After checking weather and tides, it was time to leave Islay and punch our way into a fresh south-westerly, heading towards the Mull of Kintyre and on to our next stop at Campbeltown. Passing inside Sanda Island we were treated to an impressive display of diving gannets, later spotting some porpoises just off the entrance to Campbeltown Loch. Once at the head of the loch we berthed in the marina before heading ashore for dinner.
Suitably refreshed after a good night’s sleep we headed next to Springbank, distillery number 4. After our tour we topped up on more solid supplies before motoring back down the loch and out into a sparkling Kilbrannan sound. Heading north, our next anchorage was Lochranza on the Isle of Arran. As we made our way up the sound, a steady south-westerly filled in and we sailed round into Lochranza and picked up a mooring.
On our final day we went ashore to visit the Isle of Arran distillery, following which there was just enough time to enjoy lunch aboard under the dramatic Arran skyline before setting a course for home. We arrived back at Largs in the early evening and had just enough energy left to pack up our gear and tidy the boat. At this point our charter clients would perhaps enjoy their last crew meal together before handing the yacht back the following morning, but for us it was fish & chips then home to curl up on the couch with a wee dram and thank our charterers for coming up with such a great cruise – Cheers!
Sailaway Scotland Yacht Charter Ltd
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