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Scottish Cruising Musings 2023

by Royal Yachting Association 8 Sep 01:31 PDT
Scottish Cruising Musings © RYA

Charles Bird, the Chair of the RYA Scotland Cruising and General Purposes Committee shares his thoughts after a summer's cruise on the West coast of Scotland.

Is the beginning of August half-way through the cruising season or are we heading, rain dripping down the backs of our necks as we peer through the gloom, towards the end of it?

Is there "a season"? What is the average time a yacht spends in the water compared to on the hard?

I have to say that I set sail in June feeling slightly pessimistic about the future and wondering about the long-term prospects for the cruising side of our - what is the best word to describe it? - Pastime? Hobby? Leisure pursuit? Obsession? We are entrenched in a cost-of-living crisis, Brexit has drastically reduced opportunities for extended cruising in the Schengen zone, the weather, after a Mediterranean-style June, has been pretty miserable, and it's not easy to see how the situation might improve in the short-term. My rather down-beat musings continued; with the majority of leisure boat owners appearing to be "male, pale and stale" (as the saying goes), how can we encourage a more diverse and younger demographic to become equally obsessed? Of course, some are already doing so, but changing leisure and social patterns, combined with the present economic situation means that the future of boat ownership might well change.

For the present, and somewhat unexpectedly, I've been pleasantly surprised. I've been based over the summer months in a place that is something of a crossroads for those sailing North, South and West. Along with the tides, there is a regular ebb and flow of boats of all shapes and sizes. I've been concerned that the boating press gives the impression that one has to have a plastic fantastic with all mod cons on board (including ice-maker and washing machine) with a saloon the size of Robin Knox-Johnson's Suhaili and that anything less would make beating up the Sound of Mull impossibly hazardous. Although I've seen a few such beauties announce their arrivals and departures with a rumble of bow and stern thrusters, they have been far outnumbered by an infinite variety of smaller boats crewed by single-handers, couples of all ages and families with small children as well as those with teenagers.

I've seen Sadler 25s, the odd Achilles, Tridents, Contessas, a Hurley, Nic 32s, Jeanneau Melody, Westerleys of all sorts, and Vancouvers and Moodys of various lengths. There have been Ovnis, Sigmas, a Najad and a couple of one-off designs built 50 years ago in yards such as Ipswich. Of course, there have been Jeanneaus, Beneteaus and Bavarias of different vintages as well as boats of a variety of materials: some beautifully maintained wooden boats and some equally loved but happily scruffier, GRP, aluminium, steel and even a ferro-cement number. I don't think I've seen so many ketches (I'm biased) at any one time, but there have also been gaffers, cutters, mast-head and fractional sloops, one, two and three spreaders.........It has been both fascinating and encouraging to see the wide variety of boats not only still afloat but being sailed with such obvious fun and enjoyment by all ages, the smooth to the crinkly.

It has also been apparent that the challenges and rewards of sailing in Scottish waters, particularly on the west coast, are drawing folk from far and wide. So far I've seen boats from the US, Canada, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, France, the Faroe Islands, Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland. They all have a story to tell and usually in remarkably fluent English. There was the young Dutch couple with two children under five who are making their way up and down the west coast of the UK in a 30 footer. The solo Frenchman, late twenties, an engineer who works on-line during the mornings and sails where he will in the afternoons and into the evenings. The Danish couple with two teenage daughters who all speak outrageously good English and who have a tenth share in a 46 ft aluminium yacht that they and the other shareholders are sailing, relay-like over the next year to the Mediterranean.

The retired French doctor and his wife who have been sailing to Scotland every summer for the past twelve years in the wooden yacht he built in their garden forty years ago........There are those, like the crew of doctors from the Midlands who relish a challenge, arriving cheerily after a passage involving 40kt winds, and those who prefer a more sedate form of sailing according to the 'rule of five' (no more than five hours sailing in a day, never in a Force 5 or above, and moored/anchored by five PM). Some have definite plans and deadlines; others have a more relaxed "wherever the wind and tide may take us" approach to life. Whether liveaboards or seasonal cruisers, it's a great community to be part of.

If marina life does have a downside, however, it's the shower block and washing machine facility. On busy days, it can take nearly a day for your bag(s) of laundry to get to the head of the queue. Most of us understand this and plan accordingly, and when we eventually get to dump our stuff into the industrial sized machines (remembering, always, to take detergent with us from the boat), we set timers to get back ahead of the wash cycle finishing, so that we, rather than the next in line, remove our smalls and put them in the drier - or in a damp heap on top of the machine. Recently, however, I've seen some wonderful examples of passive aggression along with such excuses as "I've got to catch the next tide in two hours" or a sullen "I've run out of clean clothes", to justify jumping the queue. Needless to say, those who were next in line gave way graciously and with a smile.

Talking of shower blocks, those with a sensitive disposition can turn away now. The marina staff here do a fantastic job trying to keep everything clean and sparkling, but there is only so much time they can spend away from other duties. I would send a heartfelt plea to all to check that they haven't blocked the drain with errant hair. Please! And also, it's worth experimenting with the flushing mechanism of the loos. If you hold the handle/button down for longer, does it flush for longer? If not everything disappears as it should, why not wait a minute or two, hum a happy song or think a happy thought, and flush again? I leave use of the loo brush to your conscience. After all, as I've mentioned earlier, we are (mostly) a lovely community.

The Cruising and General Purposes Committee provides support for the RYA Scotland Board and staff in meeting the commitments made in the RYA Manifesto, that follows clear principles in working to defend RYA members rights of public navigation. Members of the committee provide with expert opinion and advice on Marine Licence Applications, Renewables consultations, Scottish Legislation and other relevant consultations that impact the interests of our members and the boating community in Scotland.

For further information for joining the Cruising and General Purpose Committee please email:

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