Sailing Argyll and the Islands

Sail Scotland

A sailing trip in Argyll and the Isles is a voyage through Scottish history, with reminders of the ancient past never far away. Sheltered waters can always be found for a pleasant day’s sailing among the many beautiful islands, while longer passages are an option for those seeking more of a challenge.

Argyll and the island's unrivalled heritage is a constant backdrop for visiting sailors, where they will find a magnificent choice of sheltered anchorages, together with many moorings, harbours and marinas. 

Firth of Clyde

The Clyde is more than just a convenient playground for sailors visiting Scotland; it is also the starting point for the most popular Scottish cruising routes;

  • North-west through the Kyles of Bute to the Crinan Canal and along the Argyll coast and islands;
  • South-west round the Mull of Kintyre, calling at Campbeltown, and north to Gigha, Islay and Jura.

Rothesay and the Kyles of Bute

Sailing to Rothesay, on the beautiful Isle of Bute, is a traditional favourite alongside other popular destinations along the Kyles of Bute, one of the prettiest open-water passages in Britain. Its fjord-like channels, or kyles, wind between heather-clad hills, past sleepy holiday villages and through groups of islands. What’s more, every half-mile or so there is an anchorage to stop for lunch or for the night. Ashore, the village pubs and restaurants are renowned for their good food and pleasant ambience. Here you will meet fellow sailors enjoying themselves and locals with a tale to tell of past seafaring exploits.

Helensburgh and Clyde Sea lochs

Sailing the Clyde’s lochs will take you deep into Scotland’s mountains. The scenery is magnificent, the sailing straightforward and, although there are thousands of boats on the Clyde, you will easily find a spot of solitude.

The last sea loch before entering the River Clyde is the Gare Loch. This was one of the first areas to embrace leisure boating in Scotland and is home to one of the oldest yacht clubs in Britain, the Royal Northern and Clyde Yacht Club, at Rhu.

  • The marina at Rhu is an ideal stopover to explore Scotland’s first national park and its breathtaking scenery.
  • Loch Long is exactly as it says on the chart, and strikes deep into the Arrochar Alps, the highest mountains in Argyll, so it offers a good opportunity to bag a Munro.
  • Loch Goil is a branch off Loch Long to the west and has two attractive destinations: Carrick Castle, near the mouth of the loch, and Lochgoilhead, at its head.

Loch Fyne and Tarbert

Loch Fyne is around 40 miles long and on the western side is Tarbert, one of the most popular Scottish sailing destinations. Tarbert was once lined with skiffs and fishing boats from one side of the harbour to the other, and the fishing heritage is an important part of the personality here. The fleet remains active today though it has, to some extent, given way to visiting and resident yachts of all types and sizes.

 

The marina provides pontoon berthing for over 200, small chandlery and good shore-side facilities. It is a picturesque village where the illuminated remains of Tarbert Castle overlook the harbour at night, while the nearby shops, bars and restaurants are acknowledged attractions too.

Flotilla visits are welcome to Tarbert, and it is a favourite with sailing clubs for musters and rallies. It also hosts the Clyde Cruising Club’s Scottish Series each spring. This attracts upwards of a hundred competitive yachts from far and wide for a long weekend of racing in the waters of Loch Fyne.

Portavadie

In contrast to the tradition of Tarbert, just 3 nautical miles across Loch Fyne is the modern resort at Portavadie. The marina here has almost 250 berths and a full range of facilities, including a luxury spa with outdoor infinity pool overlooking the loch. As well as the leisure centre there is a small chandlery and gift shop, and restaurant or café dining is available on site.

From Portavadie, sailors can venture north along Loch Fyne to more remote destinations such as Otter Ferry and Strachur, both with visitor moorings and landing pontoons, are popular spots for sailors to step ashore for lunch, while various  anchorages can be found in between at Loch Gair, Minard Bay and Lachlan Bay – home to another castle ruin and hidden gem restaurant.

Deeper into upper Loch Fyne you can admire the pretty tourist town of Inveraray, and at the very head of the loch is the well-known Oyster Bar – which provides visitor moorings for those intrepid sailors who make it all the way!

Ardrishaig

The gateway to the Crinan Canal is a busy port with a terminal building that has been recently been restored and is now home to The Steamer Terminal, a cafe offering a hearty range of food using Argyll’s natural larder, alongside The Egg Shed, an interpretation centre and community space hosting artefacts from the canal and stories of its rich history.

Crinan Canal

Sailing the famous Crinan Canal provides a picturesque short-cut to the west coast, usually breaking their journey at one of the pontoons along the canal to take advantage of the pubs and hotels at Cairnbaan and Crinan.

The journey can be completed in as little as four hours or as much as a leisurely three-day cruise, taking in the scenery and nearby attractions.

Heading north from Loch Crinan you enter the wonderful sailing areas of lochs Craignish, Shuna and Melfort. Excellent marina facilities can be found toward the head of Loch Craignish at Ardfern Yacht Centre and at Craobh Marina on Loch Shuna. 

For those who prefer anchorages, there are numerous options in the area. These include up the east side of Loch Craignish, where shelter is again available from every wind angle, or the west side where you will also find the loch known locally as ‘The Lagoon’ which, thanks to the Craignish Lagoon Mooring Association, features a clean-bottom anchoring area defined between red and green buoys.

The Dorus Mor lies at the south end of the Craignish peninsula and forms the first of the important tidal gates in this area. A general comment is that, while the tides may be strong at times, they are predictable, and providing the visiting sailor can read a tide table and tidal stream atlas they should present no real difficulties.

Oban and the Firth of Lorne

 

Sailing to Oban, the Gateway to the Isles, is very popular as it has most major facilities and is the focal point for many sailing events during the season. Recently installed at the North Pier, a new facility allows visiting vessels to berth centrally and step ashore in the heart of Oban. Additional berthing and marina services are provided by Kerrera Marina on the nearby island of Kerrera. A short distance north of Oban there is another serviced marina at Dunstaffnage, also with an on-site bar and restaurant.

Wanting to go on a sailing trip from Oban? Come abroad on the luxurious yacht of Stravaigin Sailing and spend an unforgettable sailing holiday with your partner,  friends, or family. 

Sound of Mull and Tobermory

Tobermory is the main town on Mull and a popular tourist destination. A useful refuelling point for vessels and crew, it also has many famous watering holes as well as a distillery.

Tobermory has benefited from improvements to its pontoons and a modern shower block and toilets for visiting sailors in the harbour association building.

Sea eagles are a regular sight around Mull, while whales, basking sharks, dolphins and porpoise can also be seen.

Coll and Tiree

There are a number of route choices for those venturing west from Tobermory out of the Sound of Mull. The islands of Coll and Tiree involve open-water sailing and are often rewarded with a wealth of wildlife. 

Sailing the Mull of Kintyre

Those arriving from the Irish Sea via the North Channel and Mull of Kintyre, or those visiting from Northern Ireland, will usually sail through the Sound of Jura and make their first landfall at Islay, Jura or Gigha. All three have mooring facilities for the visiting sailor, while Islay also boasts pontoon facilities at Port Ellen. Jura has relatively new pontoons at Craighouse (suitable for dinghies) and has 16 moorings in the bay. Both Islay and Jura are well known for their distilleries; the former has eight and latter has one, most of which have their own moorings or small pontoons for visiting boats. Gigha has a reputation for fine sandy beaches and has also upgraded facilities for visiting sailors in recent years with a large number of serviced moorings and a short-stay pontoon with fine seafood available.

For those seeking a quiet anchorage for the night, Lowlandman’s Bay on the east of Jura offers shelter from most wind directions, while Loch Tarbert on the west side is a favourite with many local sailors. Seclusion is usually guaranteed, together with stunning sunsets and the opportunity to see the deer come down to the water’s edge in the evening, as well as otters hunting along the rocky shoreline.

Sailors remaining within the Sound of Jura have the option of venturing up West Loch Tarbert or lochs Sween and/or Caolisport on the eastern (mainland) side of the sound. West Loch Tarbert extends deep into the Kintyre peninsula, with the head of the loch being less than a mile from the harbour of Tarbert on the peninsula’s eastern side. There are a number of anchorages within the loch and an old pier at the eastern limit.

Sailing Scotland

We have partnered with Sail Scotland to help you plan your trip around Scotland's Adventure Coast. Here we have curated a list of marinas and harbours, lists of charter companies and sailing holidays plus suggestions for shoreside experiences.