In recent weeks Stuart Craig has taken us on a fascinating traversal of his favourite sailings, encompassing the best of west coast ships and scenes, in all their richness, unpredictability and grandeur. It has been a hugely enjoyable journey, sociable and nostalgic as well as informative, and it seems a pity to bring it to an end. Now comes the moment we have all been waiting for: the news of Stuart’s chart-topper. But we want you to continue the story with a description of your own favourite sailings, which we will publish in coming weeks. Please send your contribution — up to three sailings per person, if possible with some accompanying photographs — to firstname.lastname@example.org
No. 1 Glen Sannox — ‘Port Askaig to Colonsay to Oban’ 17 May 1989
This might seem a strange choice for number one, but then it’s my game and my ball! This sailing will forever stand in my mind as my favourite – for a variety of reasons. It was really the one that kicked off my love of ferries and the islands they faithfully serve. Myself and Gibbie Anderson (ex-CRSC President, good pal, mine of useful information and generally grumpy sailing companion) were embarking on the first of our 25 Island Hops. The route from Port Askaig to Oban via Colonsay had just started in May 1989 and we made sure we would be there.
Staying overnight at Port Askaig we dragged ourselves away from the breakfast table to watch the ship berth – believing it would be Iona that would be taking us north. To our collective delight it was the grand old lady of the fleet, Glen Sannox.
I had sailed on her before, but not for fifteen years, at a time when I was more interested in things-other-than-ferries. She was now in the winter of her career, although you wouldn’t have believed it on this lovely sunny morning.
As this was the first day of this new route it took a while to load the car deck as there was traffic bound for Colonsay, and some for Oban. The orientation of vehicles was crucial, and space had to be left for cars joining at Colonsay later. Don’t let anyone tell you that car ferries are boring — this made for fascinating viewing. Okay, some car ferries are boring, but there was something about Glen Sannox that made her special. She now looked old compared to the brand new Isle of Mull, like an ageing aunt whose attire is no longer fashionable. But she had a large, broad upper deck with wooden seats, from where the view of the Hebrides just opened up. Her single, squat funnel emitted a deep, throaty purr from her engines which was surprisingly pleasant to the ear. She seemed fast and robust now, as she thrust her way up the Sound of Islay. Downstairs her accommodation looked Spartan and ascetic, but I loved it.
Heading out of the sound into the open sea a south-westerly swell caught up with us and rocked us gently from side to side. I felt as though I was at sea for the first time in my life. Gibbie bet me that I couldn’t carry two pints of beer up on deck from the bar without spilling any. I proved I could, and so there we sat, on the open deck, sipping amber ale and wondering if life could get any better.
Colonsay proved another logistical challenge for the deck crew and then it was out with the map as we sailed past islands I had never heard of before. On arrival at Oban two hours later Glen Sannox had to vie for space with Isle of Mull and Iona. We didn’t want to get off; I knew it would be my last ever sail on that grand old lady.
Glen Sannox now had to retrace her wake southwards. From our lofty vantage point on Pulpit Hill I watched her disappear from view down the Sound of Kerrera. I knew it was the end of an era and that I would never see her again. Yes, I miss her, and I miss Gibbie too. One was omnipresent during my early years of Easter holidays at Rothesay, the other pivotal in those seminal days of Hebridean cruising.
That sailing on Glen Sannox all those years ago changed me. I realised that I was coming back for more fun next year, and the next and the next…..