I have been chartering bareboats for years. I always wanted to sail the Hebrides but found few bareboat options and limited support facilities. The volatile weather, an unforgiving coastline, large tidal swings and deep anchorages led me to consider a captained charter. Once I swallowed the bitter medicine that someone else would be running the boat, it didn’t take long to be convinced that I deserved the luxury of an engineer, chef and boatswain
The wooden fishing trawler Glen Massan was built in Scotland in 1970 and last fished off of the West Coast of Ireland in 2000. Captain Andy took her down to the bare hull, replaced her engine with a slow-turning Kelvin diesel (900 rpm cruising speed) built in Glasgow. He added a new superstructure containing six comfortable cabins with ensuite shower rooms, a large saloon and roomy outdoor viewing areas. She weighs 150 tons with a length of 80 feet. She has a watermaker, large genset, modern electronics, and 500 feet of anchor chain.
With five friends and spouses, we boarded the Glen Massan from Oban, a beautiful train ride from Glasgow. A glass of champagne confirmed that we were on holiday. Within a couple of hours we had anchored in a quiet loch, settled into our cabins and were heading for the saloon for drinks and canapes followed by dinner. There began my tutelage in the finer points of single malt whiskey. Steven, our boatswain, led me from the smooth and mellow to the smokey with heavy peat in patient nightly lessons.
Each day we would steam to a lunch anchorage, take an excursion ashore before or after lunch and then steam to our evening anchorage and another excursion. We were under way an average of about two hours at a time. I spent most of those hours in the wheel house learning from Captain Andy about local maritime matters; Andy invented and patented an anchor, made in sizes up to five tons that is used to hold salmon aquaculture pens in place.
Captain Andy has a keen grasp of weather. We had sun and rain, flat calms and gale force winds. He tweaked our itinerary daily with the forecasts. It is a tribute to his skill that even the most sensitive among us was spared the scourge of sea sickness. Our itinerary took us around the Isle of Mull and north as far as Muck. We visited charming villages such as Tobermory and Salen. We explored St. Columba’s Abbey on Iona, which dates back to the sixth century. We worked the dinghy into Fingal’s Cave on Staffa, which is said to have inspired Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. We explored Balfour Bay on Erraid where the protagonist in Stevenson’s Kidnapped was shipwrecked. We climbed over castle ruins that, along with a wee dram after dinner, stimulated the most extraordinary dreams
The physical beauty of the islands is stunning. The wildlife is also worth your careful attention. There are sea eagles, falcons, gannets and other sea birds and diving ducks. We spent an afternoon hiking on Lunga, a puffin rookery. The puffins unselfconsciously built their nests while we snapped photos inches away. In the sea are whales, orcas, basking sharks, seals, and otter. Sheep, goats, and deer graze in places humans could get to only by helicopter.
The food produced by Chef Michael in his modest galley was of a quality and presentation equal to that of a fine urban restaurant. Local seafood, meats, and produce were a specialty. Breakfasts featured porridge, black pudding, kippers, and squaries. Lunches included Cullen’s Skink, smoked fish, fresh salads, and fresh baked bread.
Dinners were an evening’s entertainment. Serving Michael’s works of art were Alistair, the engineer, and Steven, the boatswain. Maintaining the boat and its systems might have been the least of Alistair’s talents. He served as a first mate. He landed us safe and dry by dinghy in the most inaccessible places, then acted as both naturalist and historian on our shoreside explorations. He took us to set traps for lobster and prawns. When it came to the dinner hour, he was at his best. After clearing our pudding course, he presented a tray with four superb cheeses. He introduced each one like an old friend with erudition and humor. My favorite soft cheese is called “The Stinking Bishop.” Imagine the conversation that provoked. One of our group likened Alistair’s performances to a series of one act plays. After dinner we might be treated to stories or piping by Captain Andy or Alistair singing folk and popular music with guitar
A few years ago I would never have considered a crewed charter. I am grateful to Captain Andy and the crew for introducing me to a most enjoyable alternative to bareboat chartering. Please join me in a wee dram for the crew and the Hebrides.
Our Scottish Captain: Captain Andy Thoms was born in Scotland and spent summers exploring the craggy islands of the Hebrides. He is an architect, inventor, entrepreneur, yachtsman, and a founder of the Majestic Line. He can play the bagpipes while lying on his back.