Newlyweds Stuart and Emma start their ‘happily ever after’ by piloting Evolene up the west coast of Scotland
Adventures that start with a party are some of the best. After the formalities of saying ‘I do’ and celebrating with family and friends, Stuart and I were now married. Our honeymoon would be two weeks of sailing up the west coast of Scotland in perfect weather aboard our new-to-us Nauticat 42, Evolene.
On one of our early dates, I had assured Stuart that I could sail. However, it would be a few months before the extent of that ‘ability’ would become clear. Growing up on the east coast of Scotland I used to spend summer evenings and weekend days on the family’s 21-foot Pandora, Panache, which was a bit of a squeeze for a family of four plus a labrador.
I loved helming and grew confident avoiding the bridges spanning the Tay and all the potential sandbank hazards on the Scottish east coast. Fast forward a few decades and our first holiday as a couple was a bareboat charter in the Stockholm Archipelago. The holiday quickly highlighted that my confidence did not extend to pilotage in confined water, or other ‘essentials’ for that matter, such as the rules of the road, radio etiquette and boat handling in marinas or the like.
Thankfully, my love of being outdoors and on the water remained, and on our return from Sweden we bought a Moody S31 and berthed her in the Clyde. Tomkat proved to be an ideal boat for developing my sailing skills, enjoying lots of mini-adventures and leading us further into the shared aspiration of spending increased time on the water in years to come.
With that in mind we started to form plans of selling Tomkat and looking for a boat suitable for cruising northern Europe and potentially living aboard for longer periods of time. We thought that we would do this sometime over the next four of five years, but then Evolene came along…
Nauticat 42 Evolene was built in Finland in 1999 and has been well-loved ever since. She is an ideal boat for Scottish waters having a very light and airy deck saloon. While she might not have the most streamlined appearance, her ample ‘bottom’ makes for very spacious accommodation with a particularly luxurious aft cabin.
She has plenty of stowage and the position of the galley, low in the boat next to the mast, makes it safe and secure in a seaway. She impressed us from the outset. Just six weeks before our wedding, our honeymoon plans were confirmed and we started planning our real passage from the Clyde to the West Coast.
The day after our wedding we sorted ourselves out and hot-footed it across from Fife to Helensburgh to start our travels. The warm, sunny conditions made for a very pleasant afternoon and evening sail – just what we needed to transition out of wedding mode and settle into life onboard. After anchoring in Glenan Bay, just north of Portavadie for the night, we woke early in keen anticipation of the transit through the Crinan Canal.
We arrived at Ardrishaig with fenders out, lines ready and ‘marriage saver’ Bluetooth headsets fully charged. This was much to the disappointment of one passerby who realised there would be no raised voices to entertain him on this boat!
This was our first transit together through the canal and whilst it took a couple of locks to perfect the setup of the lines, we were soon in our rhythm: Stuart manning the lines and the helm onboard while I assisted from the shore with the boathook and camera. Running long lines to the primary winches meant that everything could be controlled from the cockpit.
On the first day of our transit there were several lock keepers to help us with the four locks we chose to pass through before stopping overnight at Cairnbann.
Whilst moored at Cairnbann we took the opportunity to do a few boat jobs. The afternoon was gloriously sunny and we needed to measure out our anchor chain. Rather fortuitously it turned out that each of the square ‘grids’ making up the pontoon measured one metre in length making it exceptionally easy to lay out the chain and place the depth markers in the appropriate position.
With the jobs done, we enjoyed a delicious locally sourced dinner in the Cairnbann Hotel a few steps from our boat.
To love and craignish
The second day of our canal transit was mostly down to ourselves until we approached Crinan, where lock keepers assisted again with the final two bridges and the locks. After two great days transiting the canal we locked-out in the early afternoon, emerging from the canal into Loch Craignish and the less sheltered west coast.
We then sailed a short distance up to Goat Island where we anchored for the night. The evening was exceptionally still and we took the opportunity to inflate and try out our new double inflatable kayak.
The kayak is of the modern two-person kind once inflated to 15psi is incredibly robust – nothing like the floppy inflatable kayaks you sometimes see on the beach. It is also able to accommodate the use of spraydecks making the kayak much drier and warmer than most.
We ventured out round the surrounding islands enjoying the most spectacular sunset, with the sky filled with a deep warm red glow, and revelling in the abundance and grandeur of the West Coast scenery.
We rose early the following day to catch the tides through the Dorus Mor and sailed north through the Sound of Luing with 6 knots of tidal stream under us. To port, we could see the Gulf
of Corryvreckan with its famous tide races and whirlpools.
As we bore away to the west we were hailed by another Nauticat 42 and it wasn’t long before both skippers were sharing their mutual appreciation of West Coast Nauticat sailing. We enjoyed a fast passage along the south coast of Mull on a broad reach, accompanied by a small pod of dolphins weaving in and out and dancing on the waves of the bow.
We made it into a pretty anchorage just north of Tinker’s Hole on the western tip of Mull in time to avoid one of the few showers of the fortnight and we appreciated our deck saloon as we enjoyed an evening dram at anchor.
Whilst all boat days are special, some do stick with you more than others and the next day’s passage to Ulva Ferry, passing by the spectacular basalt rock Staffa island and the legendary Fingal’s Cave was magical.
More dolphins were popping up all over the place, the sky was peppered with gannets diving and a bazaar of guillemots were bobbing along. Evolene was sailing well and playing Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides concert overture, written in 1830 after a visit to Fingal’s Cave the year before, certainly added to the atmosphere. From Staffa it was a short beat to Ulva Ferry, on the west coast of Mull, in a freshening northeasterly and we kept a very close eye on the echosounder as we made it through the entrance.
Tying a knot in Tobermory
Ulva Ferry is an excellent stop off for exploring, with the Ulva Boathouse serving delicious lunches and cakes, and a network of trails on the island steeped in history and adventure to roam before or after. The constellation of small islands immediately north of the marina were great fun to explore in the kayak, although we didn’t manage to see the otters we had hoped to.
The northern exit to Loch Tuath required careful pilotage the following morning, although high water and the excellent Antares charts made things easier. Next stop was the colourful village of Tobermory on the northeast of Mull!
Tobermory has capitalised on its position as a sailing hub with great modern facilities and plenty of options for mooring. The bustle of a busy village was a shock to the system after several days of relative solitude, but it was fantastic to see the village thriving.
We indulged in buying a bottle of fine single malt whisky from the local Tobermory Distillery and an array of handmade chocolates from Tobermory Chocolate, which just about managed to last the rest of our trip.
Whilst there we bumped into the lovely Mark and Asha from the Youtube channel Adventure Now on their return from their successful season travelling north to Svalbard. They very graciously accepted our invitation to join us for a drink the next evening in Loch na Droma Buidhe and in doing so became our first guests aboard.
We sipped celebratory champagne on deck, watching the sunset and the small flotilla of mini cruise ships enter the loch one by one and nestle down for the evening. As it grew cooler, we progressed inside to the deck saloon, continued to watch all the coming and goings and whiled the evening away sharing reflections of past adventures and voyages to come.
Droma buidhe bridal suite
After a couple of nights at Loch na Droma Buidhe, and with a sea eagle circling regularly above us, we made our way out of the loch’s inlet and set sail down the Sound of Mull. The wind was following the contours of the sound and we sailed goose-winged as far as Duart Castle. The landscape was moody yet enticing, with a beautiful mix of low lying cloud on the land either side but with the sun still peeking through creating a shimmering grey all around.
We made great time sailing to Kerrera marina, just across the bay from the town of Oban, where ferries run to the Western Isles and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Kerrera is another super little island for exploring and stretching the legs. There are a couple of farm shops, one only a five-minute walk from the marina, and both with great local fresh produce from their farms.
There is also a tea garden on the south side of the island which was a great stop-off as we circumnavigated the island on foot. The Waypoint restaurant at the marina is a very welcoming and relaxing place to connect with other sailors and hear and be further inspired by the rich tapestry of others’ life stories and adventures.
For the remainder of our two weeks away we explored the neighbouring area to Kerrera and Oban, finding ultra-fresh and incredibly tasty mussels to eat in Loch Spelve. They are available
from the mussel farm’s honesty freezer at £2 for
2.5kg – more than enough for two! We also spent a happy day exploring Cuan and Easdale Sounds and enjoyed a lunch stop in the popular anchorage at Puilladobhrain. Having barely scratched the surface of the area, we have decided to leave Evolene in the shelter of Craobh Haven to allow us to explore further next season. It has certainly been the best start to ‘happily ever after’.
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