For centuries people have used the seas as a means of transportation, to get from one place to another and not only to get to another land or island, but also to travel from one part of a country to another. There were after all no roads or other ways apart from a horse with or without a carriage. When in the 8th to the 15th centuries Vikings and Norse settlers colonised parts of Scotland, and Islay, they arrived over sea in so called Longboats with a small sail and around 5 to 10 rowers on each side of the boat. In later times sailing boats crossed the seas and oceans to discover new land. And although life must have been terribly hard on board these boats, many men lost their lives, it had a certain mystique or romance about it. Perhaps it's this feeling that makes us enjoying being out on the sea so much, travelling to our holiday destinations by ferry and discovering new places as a sort of modern day Columbus.
For many folk who travel to Islay this is maybe very much the case, and the thrill of seeing the hills of Islay, the lighthouses and the southern white washed Islay whisky distilleries appearing with their big lettering is a highlight on their journey, even after travelling to Islay for many times. Because this part of Islay's coast is rocky and treacherous the ferry sails four to six miles off the coast on her route to Port Ellen. But adventurous as we are most of us would just love to get a little bit closer to Islay's coast right? To sail past the distilleries, to discover the rocky coast, to see the South Islay Skerries which is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and to just gently sail these stunningly beautiful and clear waters which are teaming with wildlife. Up till now this was difficult because you either needed a boat or you would have to ask one of the friendly fishermen on Islay if they would take you on board. And even if you would have a boat, sailing these waters is not for the faint hearted. There are several shipwrecks, only a few metres below the water surface and many rocks even closer to the waters surface, some sticking out of the water only centimetres. And then there are the currents and tides which complicate sailing these waters even more. Continue reading.....
Now I hope I haven't destroyed your dreams because I have some very good news for you. Anyone who wants to discover this fascinating area by boat can now easily do so. Last year Gus Newman, diver, boat builder at Lagavulin and an expert in these waters, started Islay Sea Adventures. They organise seafaring trips to the south-east coast of Islay and to other parts of the island. A few weeks ago, when their boat, the Wave Dancer, was launched for the season, Gus and his crew took us out to the stunning south-east coast of Islay. It was my long time dream to do this some day and when we left Port Ellen Marina and the sun came out I felt terrific. The comfortable twin engine 750hp boat was gently sailing in between the rocks at sea while seals stared at us giving us plenty of opportunity to take their picture. From there we headed towards the first distillery, Laphroaig, in the beautiful bay, and it was awesome to see the distillery from such a different angle with nothing but water in front of it. This is how the crew of the puffers must have seen the distillery many years ago when they shipped the barley to the distillery and took the whisky back to the mainland.
From Laphroaig Distillery we passed the Isle of Gigha to Lagavulin Distillery and Dunyvaig Castle, a former stronghold of the Lords of the Isles, at the entrance of the bay. Quite an impressive view by the way. Going from one distillery to another over the sea is quite efficient and moments later we already arrived at Ardbeg Distillery. This was not the end of the trip, we were only halfway. Our destination was the Eilean a Chuirn Lighthouse near Ardmore point which we reached after sailing around the Skerries. On one of the islands off the coast we spotted two Red Deer, they swum across to access the fresh young grass. Before we would return to Port Ellen we were invited to use one of the fishing rods to try and catch fish. After Alex, the Skipper, carefully manoeuvred the boat on top of an underwater hill we all did our best and we caught a total of seven fish, I believe Saithe or Mackerel. It was quite a thrill for our 4 year old daughter to catch three fish in one go!
From here on it was very carefully manoeuvring in between the sharp rocks sticking out of the water, and sometimes just barely visible centimetres below the surface. On one trip a passenger asked Gus how they knew where the under water rocks were to which Gus answered "We know where they are not". It is very clear that someone with little or no knowledge of these waters could easily get into serious trouble so it's better to not try at all. After a surprising view of Kildalton Castle we headed back almost full speed, 22 knots, towards Port Ellen Marina. For us this was a trip of a lifetime and I know it will be for you and your family too. Islay is a stunningly beautiful island and perhaps it's even more beautiful from the Sea, especially when the sun is out, when the wildlife is so nearby and when you get the chance to feel a little bit like an ancient seafarer yourself. See also the video at the bottom of this post.
A trip on board the Wave Dancer is a must, even more so if you consider the price. An adult can join this beautiful trip for as little as Â£30 and children can come along for Â£15 each (5-16 years). It's an unforgettable adventure in an amazing part of the world. Make sure to book your trip in advance to avoid disappointment. You can do so by tel: 01496 300129 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info visit www.islay-sea-adventures.co.uk