Sailing weather in Scotland
So you are planning a sailing trip on the West coast of Scotland? Or maybe you have seen the beautiful scenery on offer but aren’t sure about the rain or the midges? This is our guide to what a south coast sailor might expect on their first trip to Scotland. It isn’t a definitive or an in depth climatological analysis but it is written from my perspective as a south coast sailor getting their first taste of sailing ‘up north’.
Parts of Scotland are closer to the arctic circle than they are to the south coast of England. Or put another way, if you travelled the same distance south from Southampton you would reach the coast of Spain. So it is fair to expect the weather in Scotland to be a little different to that on the south coast. That said if you are reading this guide you already know enough about the area to know that you probably aren’t coming for the weather. You will be coming for the spectacular scenery, wild rugged coastlines, secret coves that you don’t have to share, amazing wildlife, a warm welcome from the locals, oh and possibly the whisky. In general expect the weather to be a bit cooler than the south coast and the west coast in particular is subject to higher rainfall. That said there are also beautiful sunny days when you might even be able to break out your shorts. A rule of thumb that I was told by one of the locals is that April and May are often the best weather (ie least rain), June can be variable, during the school holidays (July/Aug) it rains. Once the kids go back to school the weather improves again. This fairly accurately described my weather based experiences in Scotland. For those who like a little science with their folk law here are the stats from the MetOffice:
Interestingly it looks as though the Met Office and that ferryman were pretty much on the same page...
The two charts above show the average frequencies of wind strengths for Oban and for Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Th bigger pink and red bars in the bottom chart show how much more often the oUter Hebrides experience winds of force 6 and over, and how common strong winds are in the winter months.
Probably the best way to sum up the weather conditions in Scotland is changeable. Fairly similar in my experience to spring or autumn sailing on the south coast. Wind conditions are equally variable however the large storms are generally more prevalent in the winter and in northern areas and Outer Hebrides.
What does this mean for you?
So what does this mean for you? Make sure that you, your crew and the boat are equipped for a variety of conditions. Waterproofs are a must for on and off the boat, and I found two sets really useful, one to wear while the other is drying. In the next blog post I will go into loads more detail about clothing. My go to pieces of gear that worked best, the things I took and never used as well as the things I wish I had taken.
What about the midges?
Seldom mentioned in the tourist brochures but a frequent topic of conversation amongst all of those venturing into the outdoors in Scotland are the midges. For those who haven’t experienced the joy of sharing your travels with these little creatures, they are small flying insects, only just big enough to see that punch above their weight when it comes to biting. Rather than piercing the skin with a needle shaped appendage such as a mosquito would do, the midge actually bites a chunk out of you. Granted it is a very small chunk and being bitten is more annoying than it is painful. Fortunately I am not aware of midges transmitting diseases, however bites can become sore and itchy. Swarms of the critters around the head can be a constant bain for campers. Fortunatley there are ways to minimise their impact on your enjoyment. With careful timing of your trip you can avoid their peak activity, becoming active as the weather warms up in April / May and tailing off with the first frosts of winter, the summer months are worst affected. Another bonus is that the midges are only able to fly effectively in very low wind speeds, as soon as a gentle breeze blows up the midges all but disappear. Fortunately this means that being on your boat you will be able to avoid the worst of the problem. We experienced very few problems with midges on board the boat. To keep them at bay on the rare occasions that they ventured out into our anchorage we used an insect net over our companion way. Whilst ashore, hiking readily available midge hoods were really effective if not the height of fashion. There is no getting away from it, the midges are a bit of an annoyance and I would recommend bringing a midge hood to those planning on cruising in Scotland. However they are a relatively small negative compared all of the positives of sailing in such and exciting, beautiful and wildlife rich area. This is in no way meant to be a difinitve guide but is a record of my experience as a first time visitor to the wonderful Scottish coast. I hope it will provide a little bit of insight and inspiration to anyone contemplating sailing these waters. Please feel free to share your own Scottish cruiing conditions experiences and and advice in the comments box below.