The route: Inverness — Lossiemouth — Wick — Thurso — Scapa — Inverness, 250nm, Elan 434, June 2019. Flight to Inverness.
Can you imagine Scotland without the «water of life»? We had a WHISKEY TOUR in northern Scotland (Speyside, Highland, and the Orkney Islands), visited 14 distilleries with excursions and tastings, and one of the few coopers in Scotland (barrel manufacturing and repair plant). And we did it all on a yacht!
About whiskey, which I really love, you can read a lot at our whiskey specialists, which we had in our team. But I will talk about yachting. The idea to go to the very north of Scotland came, of course, along with whiskey. We wanted to visit the distilleries of the northern region, which are not as accessible as others. And not to change hotels every day, we decided to live on a yacht. The first request for a boat charter was 1.5 years before the trip. Then they canceled the reservation (it turned out that you can rent a yacht only for sailing in the Caledonian Canal, and they did not go to sea). And there was another long search after that. There are no charter companies at all. By chance, I found a yachtsman who rents out his Elan 434, called Single Malt.
At first, we were refused to rent a boat without a skipper, because we didn't have a needed qualification. Then, there was long correspondence about the route and our sailing experience, and after six months (10 months before the start of the trip), the owner agreed to rent his yacht at my full responsibility. By the beginning of the journey, however, I already had the required YachtMaster Offshore license. There were months of preparation: planning the route, exploring the depths and available marinas. I was busy with the route and the boat, and my friend, a whiskey expert, made arrangements with distilleries. We corrected dates and times of the visits, which entailed corrections of the route, and, consequently, changes in the entire reservation of marinas.
In the end, the route was ready, a team of whiskey fans gathered, visas obtained, and off we went! The team members were experts exclusively in whiskey, and no one had experience in sailing.
Even though it was a whiskey tour, at sea, there was a strict dry law. Alcohol was allowed only after mooring.
The expedition received the name «Double Single Malt.» Like any private boat, Single Malt had its peculiarities, namely: a lot of tools and accessories, well-functioning and reliable mechanisms, excellent sails, a lot of cooking dishes, and more. But along with this, there were drawbacks — «something does not work / there are some bugs, but it is uncritical.» The main disadvantage of the boat was that there was no battery charge from the shore (something was wrong with the charging unit). From an external network, it was possible to power only sockets on board. Winches and stoppers, of course, were not suitable for regattas, but cruising with them was ok. Webasto heater for Scotland is standard, so it was comfortable to sleep even on cold northern nights.
Sailing in Scotland deserves to be told about. According to local rules, life jackets and insurance are required. Constant ebbs and flows, tidal currents, harsh and often changing weather — this is not a complete list of what you should take into account. I planned every crossing with an accuracy of 15 minutes. I always used the almanac of tides and tidal currents, and Navionics app and weather forecast from at least two sources. Routing was done manually for the entire crossing with the recording of control points and dangers. High water and tidal currents were taken into account at each section of the crossing. As a rule, we left marinas around 3:30 in the morning on high water. Otherwise, you just couldn't get out of the marina.
The undoubted advantage of sailing in Scotland is nature. Bright and vibrant colors accompany you all the way. The weather is always changeable; the sun contrasts the greenery and rocks against the backdrop of a harsh sky.
Here we rented a boat: a lovely and lively city, lots of bars. You can stroll around the castle, see the views, and walk along the pedestrian tourist street.
We visited three distilleries on the border of the Highland and Speyside regions: Balblair, Dalmore, Glenmorangie.
The distance from the marina — 34 miles, 50 minutes by car.
INVERNESS — LOSSIEMOUTH, 40nm
Exit from Inverness marina to the sea: you can only go out in high water and calculate the time to start moving along the fairway to the sea with the beginning of low tide. Then the flow will significantly add speed. Once you pass the narrow places, you can raise the sails.
We arrived at the Lossiemouth marina before the schedule, but we couldn't enter it right away. By radio, we requested permission to enter. The answer was the following: «Now it's still low tide, you can stay on a keel. Anchor for an hour and a half, drink some tea, and then come in at high tide.»
This is a small town, but it is the closest marine location to the whiskey's production in the Speyside region. For two days, we visited Speyside Cooperage Cooper and five distilleries: Glen Moray, Macallan, Glenfarclas, Glendronach, Benromach.
The farthest distillery from the marina is 40 miles away — about an hour by car.
LOSSIEMOUTH — WICK, 50nm
The calmest and the most comfortable crossing. Calm sea, badewind, and sun. How to leave the Lossiemouth marina: you need to go out in high water and take into account the estimated time of arrival in Wick also in high water.
In Wick, we visited the shortest street in the world, listed in the Guinness Book of Records, Ebenezer Place — 2.06 meters.
And again, there were delicious fish restaurants. We were only upset by the desire of the waiters to add unnecessary items to the bill.
We visited two distilleries: Clynelish (30 minutes by car), Old Pulteney (15 minutes on foot).
WICK — THURSO, 35nm
23-25 knots in the face + headwind. This was a difficult crossing and complicated strait near Duncansby Head. But we had to go because the schedule of visits to the distilleries was tight. But it's good that it was only halfway. After turning west beyond the Duncansby Head, a nice gulfwind and a fair current accompanied us.
In June, the air temperature at sea was about 15 degrees. The bonus of this crossing was that we met a seal in the marina.
We visited the Wolfburn distillery, 30 minutes on foot along the picturesque village roads.
THURSO — SCAPA, 30nm
Fairly calm crossing. We left early in the morning on high water; dolphins welcomed the setting of sails.
In Scapa, there was a free guest buoy opposite the distillery. On a buoy, we spent two beautiful nights. The buoy was about a meter in diameter, and we were confident in it with a wind of 18 knots. We went on foot to the whiskey treasures of Scapa and Highland Park.
In all other places, we stayed in pre-booked marinas. The marinas are very narrow compared to the Mediterranean. Mooring in all marinas was to floating pontoons. With a difference of high and low water of more than 2 meters, it is impossible to do it another way.
The marinas have a toilet and shower. A shower is sometimes paid. But Wi-Fi is bad everywhere and, if there is some, then it is unstable. It is better to stock up on local SIM-cards. The owners of the marinas, like all the Scots we meet, are simple and open people, and always ready to help.
SCAPA — INVERNESS, 100nm
After Scapa, there was the longest crossing. The boat owner arrived, and together with him, we took the boat back to Inverness. The day before, we planned the route. We did it independently of each other, but the routes and the start time coincided. Again, the most challenging place was the Duncansby Head. However, as the owner of the boat confirmed, this place is always tricky. Then there was the sun, dolphins and ... And somehow everything was over, and we had to turn in the boat and say goodbye...
But Scotland and the love of yachts and whiskey are calling us on a new journey, which will take place in the summer of 2021.
Some tips on sailing in Scotland:
- If you like whiskey and / or nature, you will never regret sailing in Scotland.
- You must strictly adhere to security measures: the North Sea is much more severe than the Mediterranean.
- Detailed crossing planning is required.
- Good marine practice multiplied by two is always your best partner.
- Life vests and insurance are a must.
- Always be fastened when at the helm during crossings.