For a week of competitive sailing and fun events, on water and land, it’s hard to beat the popular moveable feast on Scotland’s west coast, West Highland Yachting Week
Stunningly beautiful yet infinitely tricky, with Atlantic weather fronts rolling in, variable winds that veer around outlying islands, tide races, rain showers and bursts of sunshine through racing clouds. These are the ingredients of a unique race series that moves port steadily up the west coast of Scotland – the West Highland Yachting Week.
As the regatta changes port almost daily, the races pass many miles of spectacular coastline with islands, mountains, lochs, castles and lighthouses and the chance to glimpse a sea eagle, seal or dolphin.
This year West Highland Yachting Week (WHYW) celebrated 75 years and over 100 yachts turned out from around Britain and Ireland for a mixture of passage racing – between Craobh Haven, Oban and Tobermory on the island of Mull – and around the buoys. A special limited-edition golden ale was even brewed in honour of the West Highland Yachting Week 75th anniversary by the Moulin brewery in Pitlochry.
The race is truly a celebration of sailing. Families are welcome with fun very much to the forefront on and off the water. There are prizes for the best crew fancy dress and the best dressed boat. The social programme ashore is packed with live bands, a beach party, barbecue, ceilidh music and dancing, a baking competition, shore-based dinghy racing, paddleboarding, crabbing and fishing for children.
On entering, each boat is given a Tunnock’s Survival Pack, with kites, water guns, a crab line and other fun items. ‘Our aim is to have a race that has something for everyone,’ says West Highland Yachting Week committee member Laura Caldwell. ‘There are harder elements for the serious sailors, but there are also white sail races and fun elements for families. We try to make it fun – it is a week of people’s summer holidays after all.’
Local communities are very much involved and many people turned out to watch the passing races. Shops in Tobermory decorated their windows with miniature yachts made out of the silver foil from sponsor Tunnock’s caramel wafers and teacakes.
Sir Boyd Tunnock normally takes part aboard his Moody 38, Lemarac (caramel spelled backwards), but missed it this year due to a knee operation. ‘West Highland Yachting Week is an institution – a great family event,’ he said. ‘Sailing is a great relaxation and takes you away from your normal routine. One day you think you’re a champion, the next day you fall into a hole with no wind. It changes every day.’
The Majestic Line, which runs cruises up the west coast, also sponsored the event. ‘We wanted to give something back,’ said chairman Dr Ken Grant, who raced aboard Tigh Soluis IV, an Eygthene 24. ‘It is a magic event with beautiful scenery and it is well organised with great company.’
This year 106 yachts gathered in Craobh Haven, north of Crinan, to start the racing up to Oban and then on to Tobermory, before returning to finish at Oban. Ten yachts sailed over from Ireland and participants arrived from Wales, the Isle of Man, Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancaster, West Lothian and Aberdeen as well as those who were more local.
‘We move almost every day so the racing is exciting,’ said principal race officer Johnnie Readman. ‘It can be tricky – the tide around here is rather special as it weaves around rocks and the islands. You have to pay particular attention to what it is doing. The winds are also changeable as they sometimes divert behind islands. What starts as a run can easily end up as a beat.’
Feeder races were held on Saturday July 29 from the island of Gigha (south) and Oban (north) to welcome the yachts in time for the official start on Sunday at Craobh Haven. ‘There were 13 boats racing from Gigha and they had an excellent run up with a good breeze from the south,’ said Readman. ‘In contrast the 21 boats racing south from Oban were beating and they had the tide against them. It was tough for them to meet the time limit so we extended it.’ Other yachts transited the Crinan Canal to join the race.
The series began in earnest on Sunday. The committee boat Chico, a beautiful 1932 motoryacht that took an active part in the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, set the line off Craobh Haven. There were six main racing classes and the fleet was split into two: the Tunnock’s fleet for boats racing with spinnakers and the Majestic fleet for those without spinnakers. A new option this year of entering only for the passage races proved popular. The Tunnock’s fleet raced twice round the island of Shuna, while the Majestic fleet circumnavigated once. In the late afternoon, there was a dinghy race in the bay at Craobh Haven. Live music by The Raggaels kept the party going till late.
Monday saw the two fleets in a passage race from Craobh Haven to Oban, setting off from south of Craobh to start with a beat and a tricky mark to round due to the strong tide. A steadily building strong breeze helped the fleet speed past the islands of Luing, Dubh Sgeir, Flada and Kerrera in rather lumpy seas. The race ended in a spinnaker run but with heavy rain and gusty winds. The crews were glad to arrive and mingle for a barbecue and ceilidh at Dunstaffnage marina, just north of Oban.
Tuesday brought brighter weather which encouraged the crews to sport their fancy dress outfits: storm troopers, pirates and Vikings were spotted aboard. But light winds and a strong tide postponed the start of racing around the Lynn of Lorne. The breeze finally filled in and those who had waited patiently did well.
The evening gathered the crews on Kerrera for food stalls and the traditional beach party. The fleet was based in Oban for a second night but many yachts also berthed at the marinas nearby on Kerrera and at Dunstaffnage.
On Wednesday, the two fleets set off on the Oban to Tobermory passage race sailing up the Sound of Mull past Lismore Lighthouse and the 13th century Duart Castle, seat of the Clan MacLean, guarding the entrance to the Sound of Mull. A lovely sailing day saw the fleet stretch out in the sunshine. In the evening the Tobermory distillery hosted the prize giving as well as a tour.
After a bumpy night in Tobermory with an unusual northeasterly breeze, the fleets on Thursday raced separately round Kilchoan Bay opposite the north end of Mull before returning to Tobermory for a second night.
The last day, Friday, was a beautiful sailing day for the fleets to head back to Oban. No sooner had the Tunnock’s fleet rounded the headland out of Tobermory than the crews broke out the spinnakers for a magnificent run down the Sound of Mull. Two groaning trestle tables of trophies awaited for the prize giving (see results table). This year it was the beautiful Irish Nicholson 43, Magdaleyne, sailed by Michael Petticrew and family that took the top honours for best overall performance, taking home the coveted Peter Cocks memorial trophy.
‘West Highland Week is unique,’ said renowned yacht designer Ian Nicolson, who helmed his Maxi 1000, St Bridget, for the week. ‘It is one of the best events in Britain, largely due to the fact that you do move around and change location.’
Ian Nicolson, who took over A Mylne & Co when yacht designer Alfred Mylne died, has been racing at West Highland Yachting Week for around 45 years. This year he won a third, going on to celebrate his 95th birthday racing down the Sound of Mull on the last day.
‘It is such a great race,’ said Stevie Andrews from Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, skipper of the Hanse 371, Dark and Scary. ‘I have been coming for around 25 years with friends and I love it. I have brought a younger crew with me this year and they will definitely be coming back next year. This was the best year yet.’
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