We are nearing the climax of Stuart Craig’s epic countdown of 10 favourite sailings, but he is determined to keep us guessing a wee bit longer before we know which sailing tops the chart. Here he describes his second-favourite voyage of all time — a traversal of west coast scenery that must surely have been a close contender for the number one slot.
No. 2 Waverley — ‘Kyle of Lochalsh to Portree, Raasay and Tobermory’ 30 May 2014
If you have been following this series you must be wondering when a certain paddler steamer would put in a solo appearance. Well here she is, at number two.
When my 25 years of Island Hopping came to an end in 2013 I re-invented my trips and they metamorphosed into “Events”, undertaken with a few pals who find themselves unfortunate enough to be available, and so get dragged along. This sailing was one leg of a three-day trip under the banner of Event Three.
Having stayed the previous evening on Skye it was a short hop across the graceful arc of the Skye Bridge to meet up with Waverley at Kyle; she was partaking in her annual sojourn to the west coast. She splashed off at 1000, into a crisp Hebridean morning, heading under the arc in the general direction of Raasay. We settled down on the rear deck. There were a few well-kent faces aboard. Next to me a chap was videoing each wave, every turn of the starboard paddle and every passing rock. Across from him sat an over-dressed woman knitting a new funnel for the ship.
Waverley called in at Raasay pier, giving us good views of the brand new Hallaig and loading 134 day-trippers, including a well known CalMac skipper. Off then to Portree where a posse of primary school children and their anxious-looking teachers came aboard for an educational day-out. Soon even the teachers had relaxed as the ship cut a smooth passage northwards again.
Now we had a clockwise circumnavigation of Raasay itself. This afforded us views of the island, and its wee sister Rona, that I had never seen before — like viewing the dark side of the moon. This was authentic, unadulterated Hebridean cruising, of the rarest kind — and my how the old ship loved it. She breezed along, flaunting her poise and style to passing gulls and lumps of island alike. Seals popped their marbled heads up above the surf to watch in awe. Cormorants sat on reefs and swivelled their necks in disbelief. I just hung over the rail and took in the scenery.
All too soon we were back in at Portree, and then, with a phlegmatic blast from the whistle, we were again heading for Raasay. A lot got off, some got on and we turned around and headed for Kyle. There, a pipe band had turned out in its finery to welcome us and the ship practically emptied. Only the lucky few remained aboard for what, for me, was the highlight of the day – the sail southwards round Ardnamurchan Point to Tobermory.
There was now a cool breeze, so we sought our sheltered spot on deck to view the marvellous scenery as we threaded the needle down the Sound of Sleat past Kylerhea. The waters opened up as Mallaig approached, and then we reached the hem of the curtain of cloud that had obscured the sun for the past three hours. Eigg, Muck and the open sea beyond and all around was now suffused in glittering sunshine. The sea offered only the slightest of swells and Waverley powered onwards, the rhythmic beating of her paddles now like a heartbeat as the surf whooshed past. It was a beautiful evening and I felt sorry for the hundreds we had left behind at Kyle who were missing this. The imposing Ardnamurchan lighthouse, at the most westerly point on the British mainland, gradually materialised out of the gloamin’. At 2040 we passed it and at 2130, almost half a day since we boarded, we tied up without celebration at Tobermory. The knitting was over – Waverley now had three funnels — and the video-man had run out of battery. I was bit tired myself.
Stuart’s descriptions of his favourite sailings have surely provoked you into thinking of your own. We want you to tell us about them — up to three ‘sailings’ per person, preferably with a photo or two of the occasion. Please send them to email@example.com