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West Scotland


This stunning area (9/10), with its thousands of miles of high, deeply indented coastline, is probably one of the best cruising areas of Europe. North of the Clyde it is thinly populated, with mostly small hamlets and only a couple of small towns. There are hundreds of sheltered anchorages to explore, mostly surrounded by dramatic scenery. It is quite possible to spend eight weeks alternately cruising north and south, taking routes first inside then outside various islands, and still be finding new anchorages rich with seabirds, seals, shellfish for supper and, from time to time, a soaring golden eagle. It has one big shortcoming - it's often wet. In its way, this is a saving grace; it keeps the crowds away. As the midges ashore do. A trivial shortcoming is a scarcity of good pubs with grub - the Wee Free influence?

Weather and Sea State. Stretching nearly 200nm from roughly 55°N to 58°N, the summer days are very long (and winter days very short). Temperatures are mild for the latitude due to Gulf stream warming (similar to the Channel), and although some southern parts are exposed to Atlantic swells, cruising can mainly be conducted in sheltered waters - quite good for the seasick prone. As in Ireland and the Channel, weather is dominated by the passage of N Atlantic depressions. Some years these are well spread out, with lovely long pauses of brilliant weather while high pressure intervenes. Other years, they're more frequent, and half the summer will be overcast. The frequency of strong winds is similar to the Channel, but rain is more common. Poor visibility (other than that caused by heavy rain) is rare. In brisk winds, beware strong gusts to the lee of high ground.

Tides and Pilotage. Pilotage skills are necessary. Tidal streams, although weak over much of the area, will dominate your cruise plans on certain passages - off many of the western headlands, and along the inside channels of several islands, such as inside Jura or Skye. A few are notorious and should only be attempted with great care and in ideal conditions - for instance, the Corryvreckan channel between Scarba and Jura. Some coastlines are clean, but unmarked rocks are the norm. With tidal ranges of 2 to 4 metres, you need good charts and pre-planning. Many passages and anchorages need accurate pilotage. Of course, you can avoid these, but rock dodgers who enjoy exercising their pilotage skills will revel in them. Some interesting examples come to mind, like entering Arisaig when the depth is marginal, running with a small tide through Cuan sound, or trying to reach the moorings off the Lagavulin distillery. Actually, second thoughts; leaving the distillery may be the greater challenge . . .

Harbours and Anchorages. The area is quiet, although the marinas (mainly in the south of the area) are busy. Most ports are geared more to fishing vessels than sailors, and alongside berths are rarely available. Decent bars are pretty thin on the ground too, and often well disguised. Just as well when so many sell thin flavoured 'shilling' beer. Visitor's moorings, quite common, are identified in the pilot guides for the area. An up to date guide for the area, covering all aspects of cruising needs, is the comprehensive Sail Scotland web site. There is also a downloadable booklet listing all 2015 berthing facilities in the region.  More personal points of view, not recently updated, can be found in https://www.bluemoment.com/scotmoorings.html . But often you'll be anchored off in your own quiet cove. Mind you, mid-summer weekends can crowd favourite spots:Puilladobhrain anchorage, mid-summer weekend!

More sheltered anchorages, near villages, are crowded with private moorings. This sometimes forces the visitor to anchor in depths over 10m. Speaking of anchoring - weed bottoms are common.

Threats. Commercial traffic is generally light, perhaps moderate in the Clyde estuary. Submarines are an unusual hazard; you must keep well clear of Trident submarines entering and exiting from Gareloch - their attendant launches will shoo you off. Other subs from time to time exercise under water throughout the area. Look out for the well publicised warnings. Fish farms are quite common; they come and go and are usually well marked.

Unique Attractions. Stunning scenery. Whisky distilleries (many of which offer guided tours and tastings). Oysters and Salmon. Many quiet places and isolated anchorages. Wild life (not the social bit - but nature in the raw).

Snags. Too much water falling out of the sky. Summer midges ashore.

Cruise Region: 
Country's Boating Regulations and Data: 

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