If you only have a limited cruising time, then the west coast of Scotland is still within reach. We plan the best routes and places for you to visit Eilean Donan Castle can be enjoyed from scenic anchorage at Totaig. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
There are so many attractive islands and stunning sea lochs that it is impossible to list them all while sailing the west coast of Scotland.
Sailors in these waters have to be prepared for lively weather, be more self sufficient and have good ground tackle.
The hills and mountains provide a spectacular backdrop and when the weather is nice it is a stunning place to be.
There are particularly special anchorages like Tinker’s Hole on the south side of Mull, and Puilladobhrain.
Totaig anchorage is typical of the scenic stop-offs in Scotland. Credit: Miranda Delmar-Morgan
It is possible to anchor off Staffa and run ashore for an hour or two to visit Fingal’s Cave.
You can also anchor off Iona to visit the world famous abbey. Those keeping their yachts in the Ayrshire or Clyde marinas often use the Crinan Canal and then go up the Sound of Luing for a circuit around Mull.
A useful starting point for a two or three week cruise would be from Oban which now has a shoreside marina, as well as one at Kerrara where people often leave their boats on moorings if they have to go home.
Yachts can also be left fairly safely at Arisaig where you can catch a train for Fort William.
Tobermory is charming and provides a well-sheltered anchorage. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Oban has good shopping and connections. Dunstaffnage also has pontoons but has quite a big fetch in the N to NE quarter.
Tobermory in the Sound of Mull is very attractive, with some pontoons. Loch Aline, Loch Spelve and Loch Sunart all have useful anchorages.
Having rounded Ardnamurchan Point and earned the right to tie heather to your pulpit the islands of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna (The Small Isles) all have beautiful anchorages with good holding.
A simple circuit around Mull, visiting Coll and Tiree, the Treshnish Islands and Gometra can provide plenty of interest without doing a lot of mileage.
Credit: Maxine Heath
From Canna it is a short hop over to the Outer Hebrides where you can work your way up the chain of the Outer Hebrides as time permits.
If you get that far north the Shiant Isles should not be missed. It is possible to anchor there in settled weather.
There are countless nooks and crannies to escape strong winds.
Many lochs are deep and you can get into flat water, but some lochs can experience quite violent downdraughts.
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The Kyle Rhea is where Gavin Maxwell lived and wrote The Ring of Bright Water and is remembered there.
The pontoons have been reinstated at Kyle of Loch Alsh.
To the east in Loch Alsh there is a beautiful anchorage at Totaig looking across to Eilean Donan Castle.
Skye distillery is just one of many accessible to visiting sailors. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
The tides run hard through the Kyle Rhea. Kyleakin also has a pontoon but it is often full and depths are quite shallow.
Mallaig has pontoons and is a nice little place, with a station. Loch Linnhe provides access to Fort William, the Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen.
Skye has several fine lochs. Loch Scavaig is particularly beautiful, with a walk around the inland Loch Coruisk, but this is one of the culprits which gets strong downdraughts.
Provisioning is best done in Oban or Tobermory before going to the outer islands.
Wildlife, like these common seals at Tinkers Hole, is one of the big draws for sailing the west coast of Scotland. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Phone signal can be weak or non-existent in some of the more remote lochs. There are whisky distilleries for every aficionado.
Distances are short and allow for a day sailing with sheltered anchorages and lovely walking ashore.
Most of the islands have small community shops. Ardnamurchan Point can be tricky to round in contrary winds.
Wildlife is abundant with whales and dolphins. World-girdlers return and say they had forgotten just how beautiful this part of the world is.
Sailing the west coast of Scotland
Time taken: 2–3 weeks
Oban to Tobermory – 25M
Oban to Fort William – 29M
Tobermory to Mallaig – 31M
Mallaig to Kyle of Loch Alsh – 19M
Tobermory to Canna – 32M
Canna to Loch Maddy – 41M
Crinan Canal – 9M
Trains: Fort William, Arisaig, Oban, Mallaig
Ferries: Oban to Craignure on Mull, Ullapool to Stornaway
Sailing the west coast of Scotland: Hazards
The Minch can be very dangerous in rough seas. There is a TSS Scheme off the west side of Skye. Off Neist Point TSS.
Strong tides in the Cuan Sound, the Sound of Luing.
The Gulf of Corryvreckan should be avoided except at absolutely slack tide in calm weather.
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