Sailing or cruising in the waters around Skye is one of the best ways to experience and enjoy all that this area has to offer. It allows you to explore at leisure and to feel quite at one with nature and the peace and tranquility that can be found on the water. By comparison to other more famous overseas cruising areas, or even those to be found further south on the Scottish West coast, the greater area of Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross is still relatively unexplored by many sailors and cruisers. This means quiet anchorages to yourselves with no vying for space or racing to find that perfect spot to drop the hook.
There are enough anchorages and harbours to allow you to step ashore and explore some of Skye's main attractions such as the rock formations of the Quirang, the history of Dunvegan Castle or the commercial hub of Portree. Some of these can be directly accessed from an anchorage or harbour or you might want to combine your sea cruise with a little land cruise into the interior of the Misty Isle. There are plenty of operators to chose from ( as well as public transport) and because of Skye's size you can easily take a day ashore and be back in the peace of your chosen anchorage that evening.
Red Moon Cruises has been operating from the Kyle of Lochalsh around Skye for the last three years and here they give some insights into their favourite anchorages around Skye and her environs.
West & North Skye
For those sailors whose aim is to get to the Outer Hebrides a common route is to leave somewhere like Tobermory, round Ardnamurchan Point, by pass or cruise through the Small Isles and then head north west. For those with the time there are interesting and accessible anchorages up Skye's west coast such as Loch Harport for a taste of Talisker or Loch Bracadale. At the north western end of Skye, Lochs Dunvegan and Snizort provide good stopping off places – with the added advantage of being able to go ashore and visit Dunvegan Castle or re stock in Uig. This journey is open to the prevailing southwesterly wind and swell so can, at times, be challenging.
A more sheltered route to the Outer Hebrides would be up the Sound of Sleat, through Loch Alsh then head north up Raasay Sound towards Staffin and the northern tip of Skye.
As Red Moon Cruises likes to provide guests with a relaxed cruising experience in as sheltered waters as possible our focus has been this route to the east and south of Skye and that, therefore is the focus of this article!
East of Skye
This area is a fabulous cruising ground and allows you to explore in the relatively sheltered waters of Raasay Sound and the Inner Sound, the islands of Rona, Raasay, Fladday, Scalpay and the Crowlins as well as getting some spectacular Skye coastline viewing. You can go that bit further afield to lovely Plockton, Lochs Kishorn and Carron and the Applecross pensinsula or up to Lochs Torridon and Gairloch. More than enough to fill a six day cruise!
1 - Portree Harbour
Visitor mooring buoys and room to anchor between the moorings and isoalted fishing support raft. Access by tender to the waiting pontoon and then walk into town. Skye's capital.
2 - Arcairseid Mhor, Rona
Beautiful, remote spot. Anchor deep in the bay close to the pontoon or nearer to the entrance in the 10m pool to the east of the drying rock, depending on wind direction. Access ashore via a small pontoon ( a small fee is requested). There is one visitor mooring, but more are scheduled. Lovely walks, chance to spot deer, herons, eagles, fascinating history at the Abandoned Village.
3 - North & South Fladday
You will be nicely tucked away in a steep sided, narrow inlet between the islands of Raasay & Eilean Fladday. There is a spit of rock dividing the two anchorages which is covered at high tide - you would need to be sure of your tide calculations and boat draught to go through! Select which side to anchor according to what the wind is doing. A beach landing allows you access to both islands and from here you can walk to the famous Calum's Road on Raasay.
4 - Churchton Bay
Best used as a day anchorage to access the walking trails of Southern Rassay or have a visit to the new Raasay Distillery, Raasay House or the lovely silversmith shop “ The Silver Grasshopper”. There is an anchorage directly acreoss Raasay narrows which may be more suitabel as a night anchoarge except with a northerly wind/swell. Ancor in the bay to the west of An Aird promontory.
5 - The Crowlin Islands
Anchor between the islands – usually it is approached from the north. If you are small enough you can access the inner pool which in most conditions would provide a comfortable and safe anchorage. If you can't access the pool, you can anchor just outside the northern entrance but this would probably be best just for a short stop to have lunch or a quick stroll ashore.
6 - Poll Creadha & Poll Domhain
Both lovely spots. Poll Creadha has some moorings which may be available, but otherwise anchor NE of the moorings but watch for the local live catch creel floats. Access ashore via a boat ramp. Great to walk from here up to Applecross or south towards Loch Kishorn. Poll Domhain – a hidden treasure! A lovely little bay to anchor in providing shelter in all but west and north west winds. Beach landing for an exploration over the hill to white sandy beaches and isolated crofts or sit onboard and wait for the seals to appear or maybe an otter.
7 - Applecross
It is possible to anchor by Applecross itself and a visit ashore is delightful. Calm conditions are needed for this anchorage - try close in to the slipway at Milton; it is probably best just as a day anchorage.
8 - Loch Torridon
Exploring Loch Torridon is an adventure all of its own. You could happily spend a number of days in here as there are several anchorages, places to visit and eat ashore, walks in the hills or a chance to kayak if you happen to carry one – or hire one locally. Possible anchorages include close to Shieldaig, just south of the moorings but clear of the drying rock south west of the pontoon. A couple of other anchorages include off the boathouse sheltered behind the wooded point near the Torridon Hotel; the bay close to Corran Badan Mhughaidh, eastern end.
9 - Loch Gairloch
Another world of it's own, you could spend a couple of days just moving from one lovely spot to another with a visit ashore to walk or check out the little village at Badachro. Possible anchorages include Badachro, amongst the moorings in Loch Shieldaig, & the south east corner of Flowerdale ( with care). There is a pontoon at Flowerdale which is predominantly used by fisherman but might be accessible for short stops.
10 - Badicaul Bay & Plockton Beaches
There are a couple of nice anchorages along the Lochalsh coast between Kyle and Plockton which provide attractive shelter in all but westerly winds. First out from Kyle is Badicaul, then Port -An-Eorna ( also know as Plockton Coral Beaches). NB otters spotted here.
11 - Plockton
A gem. Lovely little harbour with some visitor moorings and designated anchoring areas. Check with the harbourmaster if you are not sure where to anchor – or he may come out and tell you! Pontoons ( there is a fee to pay for landing here) at both ends of the town for tender berthing but the one at the inner end will dry out at low tide. Enjoy a stroll through the village or visit one of the eating places and sit and watch the activity on the water.
12 - Loch Carron
There are moorings and room to anchor off the hotel slipway or you can anchor just behind the moorings sheltering at Slumbay. Loch Carron can be quite lively in certain conditions and this may not always be obvious on your journey in from Plockton, so have a Plan B. Once ashore there are lovely little galleries to visit, a well stocked grocery store, very nice Bistro and yummy cafe.
13 - Kishorn Islands
Anchor to the north behind the islands for best shelter and enjoy wonderful panoramic views across to Plockton, Applecross and Skye itself. Fabulous for sunsets. Plenty of seals to watch.
14 - Caolas Scalpay
Running between the private island of Scalpay and Skye. Anchor to east or west of the drying narrows, it is possible to traverse this at high water but again you need to be sure of your tides, boat and navigational skills. There is an unofficial buoy marking the significant rock on the eastern entrance.
15 - Broadford Bay
If you fancy a bit of retail therapy on your Skye cruise then try a stop at Broadford. You can anchor off the pier at Corry to the south or use the visitor moorings, access ashore can be made up the stone steps on the pier and then take the left hand track into town. A supermarket, petrol station, some very cute colourful little stalls/shops as well as a rather lovely jewellery store - Love Skye.
On your way from the delights of eastern Skye, the islands and Wester Ross coast to the Sound of Sleat and Southern Skye you will pass through Loch Alsh itself.
16 - Kyle Pontoons
Great spot to stop for a night or to to re- provision, eat out, visit the bank, hairdressers, doctors, dentists, start an island tour or to meet or drop off any guests travelling on the Kyle Line to Inverness. Also a Citylink bus pick up point. Very friendly and helpful Pontoonmaster and usually other friendly boaties who will help take your lines should you need it. Water and electricty available and fuel from the nearby Railway pier.
17 - Loch Duich
If history is your thing then don't sail past Loch Duich and down the Kylerhea without a visit. On the north bank of the Loch is the quintessential Scottish castle of Eilean Donan. There is a lovely little bay opposite ( Totaig), in which smaller boats can anchor – though beware the currents that run through it. Or you can cruise or sail further down the loch and anchor near Kintail or on the Letterfearn side and tender over to Dornie to access the castle. Boats without big sticky up things (masts) might be able to anchor in the rather lovely Loch Long instead.
The other bit of history here worth a visit is the Iron Age Broch at Totaig. A lovely gentle walk along the lochside opposite to Eilean Donan will bring you to it. Wild raspberries grow along the way at the right time of year.
Sleat & Southern Skye
A sail down the Kylerhea is a rather special experience with swirling waters and seal, otter and eagle spotting opportunities. You will very likely see the Glenelg Ferry ply its way between Skye and well Glenelg. Do look out for the collie dog deckhands!
Make sure you get your tides right for this one or you will go no where – or backwards. Generally head South after the high tide at the Kyle of Lochalsh or North after Glenelg's low tide.
18 - Glenelg
Across the Sound of Sleat lies Glenelg. You can anchor off the jetty but holding may be marginal and subject to currents. It's fairly open to any swell coming up the Sound of Sleat so best for calm days and perhaps a short stop. Access ashore by tender or dinghy to a small pier with slightly rough stairs. There is a lovely little village with a very nice pub – the Glenelg Inn. From the village you can walk to explore local history in the form of Bernera Barracks or the Glenelg Brochs.
19 - Sandaig
Due south from Glenelg is one of a number of places known as Sandaig Islands. This is a delighful anchorage for lunch or even the night in calm conditions – again southerly swell can disrupt your peace of mind. It is bordered by rocky islets, often draped with seals, as well as a lovely white sandy beach. Ashore is the site of Gavin Maxwell's cottage ( though the one there is not the original) and where he apparently played with Midge and her fellow otters.
20 - Loch Hourn
Both these deep lochs are on the mainland and both are really worth a visit. Loch Hourn is often described as fjord – like and rightly so. It is awesome in the proper sense of the word. The best bit about it is that you can't immediately see where you are headed but it gradually and beuatifully opens up and then narrows down through three sets of narrows until you reach the pool at Loch Beag, Kinlochhourn. You could anchor in this pool but you would have to spend a while and wait for the next high tide to leave! Otherwise there are anchorages at these spots: off the well kept cottage to the north of the fourth narrows; to the north west of the second narrows; or close in shore outside and to the north of the first narrows.
There are also anchorages inside the Rarsaidh islands or North/South of Eilean a' Phiobaire.
21 - Loch Nevis
Loch Nevis has the distiguishing feature of having the most remote pub on the UK maninland – The Old Forge at Inverie. There are moorings close by or you can anchor but be aware of possible swell coming in from the Sound of Sleat which is directly opposite. There is a pier to access the shore – it also is a ferry departure point so be careful not to obstruct the ferry's path, alternatively use the slipway closer to the hotel. You can go all the way to the head of the loch passing through Kyles Knoydart narrows and you can anchor at the head in Camusrory. Our favourite anchorage for this loch however, is just around the corner from its entrance – in front of the white 'Glaschoille House'. Be aware that there are a number of rocks to negociate – they are marked so ensure you check your charts and be vigilant. Not good to arrive in the dark the first time.
22 - Isleornsay
A beautiful sheltered spot – unless there are strong easterly winds blowing in. There are some visitor moorings or you can anchor to the sea side of those. Access ashore is relatively easy – unless it is low tide when you might need to walk across the muddy bottom and tie off your dinghy with a long line (and then come and check it as the tide rises).
A lovely little hamlet or village here with the Hotel Eilean Iarmain restaurant and bar. Floraidh Skye is a must for a spot of retail therapy if you are after lovely Scottish clothing and accessories. Then there's the Whisky Shop – you can do tastings but it is best to book ahead for this. The shop stocks blended and single malt Scotch Whisky and Gaelic Gins from Pràban na Linne Ltd on the Isle of Skye. There is usually something on at the Gallery over the summer – always worth a visit to see local artist's work.
The nearby lighthouse is a landmark with the keepers house once owned by Gavin Maxwell of Ring of Brightwater fame.
23 - Armadale
Back across the Sound of Sleat to Skye is Armadale. This is a Calmac ferry stop, so important to watch out for them and keep clear! There is room to anchor on the north side of the ferry pier. Access ashore by tender to pontoon used by a local charter company. Once ashore you have some local boutique shops to explore or a visit to Clan MacDonald and the lovely gardens. From this anchorage you might fancy a (long) walk (or possibly a taxi ride) to check out the new distillery of Torabhaig which opened in 2018. It may also be possible to anchor much closer to Torabhaig in Knock Bay outside of the special mark. We have checked this out from the land but as yet have not tested the anchorage itself.
Lochs Scavaig & Slapin; Soay
24 - Loch Scavaig
Famous for sitting at the foot of the Black Cuillins and giving those on boats access to Loch Coruisk. It is also infamous for not being the place to be in strong winds when gusts can squall down the steep hills and cause havoc for boats at anchor.
25 - Loch Slapin
Does not have the drama of Scavaig but it is still within sight of the Cuillins and there is a reasonable anchorage at its head. You can tender ashore and do a number of walks from there.
26 - Soay
A lovely little island, worth an explore. It is possible to anchor in Soay Harbour but again you need to be aware of the tide and your boat draught, alternatively use Camus nan Gall to the south west.
The Small Isles
Each of the Small Isles has its own character and attractions, each different. When conditions allow you leave the shelter of the Sound of Sleat and explore these islands, it is well worth it.
27 - Eigg
Often the first island you will sail or cruise. Its main anchorage is South Bay, easily approached from Ardnamurchan. From the Sound of Sleat you can enter via a passage between Glamisdale and Eilean Chathastail – but this is hazardous in that not all hazards are fullt marked so only use this if you have locale and up to date knowledge. Otherwise you can access South Bay from Sleat by heading south round the island.
Once at anchor you can tender ashore and it is a delight to walk along a bluebell and wild garlic lined path to reach the cliffs above the gruesome Massacre Cave and a bit futher on the obviously named Cathedral Cave.
28 - Muck
From Eigg it often makes sense to head south west to Muck. There are two anchorages but we have favoured Ghallanaich bay from which you can tender ashore ( beach landing) to stroll along white sandy beaches. Just gorgeous. The other anchorage is Port Mor on the south eastern side of the island.
29 - Hyskeir
Heading west towards Canna allows you to make a stop at the lighthouse island of Hyskeir. As with all lighthouses this is an automated one but it is worth a trip ashore to explore its wildness. There is an anchorage north of the lighthouse.This is not an easy place to visit unless conditions are relatively calm.
30 - Canna
A real gem of an island. A mixture of history, spirituality and beautiful beaches to explore – with a very nice cafe ( Cafe Canna!) and small shop to stop at during your walk around from Canna Harbour across the bridge to Sanday. Or you might be able to anchor in the similarly named Canna Boat harbour which is on the south west side of island and is the place to go if conditions allow and you want some quiet unspoilt beauty – last summer it was almost Caribbean in appearance!
31 - Rum or Rhum
The largest of the islands and possibly best included on the return journey to the Sound of Sleat. The main anchorage and moorings are in Loch Scresort and it provides good shelter except with an easterly wind. Killmory Bay on the north west coast of Rum may be worth checking out for a stop – may be preferable if the wind is easterly.
32 - Mallaig
Mallaig harbour is a significant west coast port and does have pontoons for yachts. Always check with the harbourmaster before attempting to enter and be aware of heavy vessel trafic in the form of fishing vessels and ferries.
33 - Arisaig
The area just to the south of Mallaig, Arisaig, does have some places worthy of note for anchoring. Loch Arisaig has visitor moorings and an anchorage; it has a well marked but 'take care' winding entrance channel.
Note: before attempting to cruise this area it is strongly recommended that as well as the necessary current Admiralty charts you obtain a copy of the relevant pilot guide – in this case one such as “ Ardnamurchan to Cape Wrath” ( Clyde Cruising Club). For those who make use of electronic charts consider including those of Antares – which provide in depth detail on popular anchorages and restricted channels.