'No one cruises the east coast of Scotland – they don't know what they're missing out on'

Beauly Firth, the passage into the dolphin-dotted Moray Firth
Beauly Firth, the passage into the dolphin-dotted Moray Firth Credit: GORDIE BROON

J三级成人视频ohn MacInnes, at the helm of his sturdy Nova Spero, puts it plainly as we bash out into the North Sea breakers: “No one cruises the east coast. No one. People don’t realise what they are missing out on – the big skies, amazing wildlife and historic harbours.” 

三级成人视频He is right on both counts. This is a pioneering adventure and we are indeed bound for a spirit soaring world of lingering sunsets, encounters with everything from porpoises to minke whales, and working harbours that are an untouristed joy. 

Even in these strange Covid-19 times, a quartet of vessels have sailed from Scotland三级成人视频 since lockdown eased in July. All on the west coast. We may be masked up, gel is abundant and temperatures are taken daily, but the Nova Spero is definitely, defiantly different. And while the other lines have wound up operations for the year, Nova Spero is still sailing.

The switch of coast isn’t the only difference. Instead of stripping her down to her hull and building her up as a cruise ship MacIness has kept close to his Hebridean roots by utilising what he found in front of him. The Nova Spero looks every bit the working fishing boat, with a sunken wheelhouse steeled for big swells and storm hatches ready to flip down over windows in big seas.

Our first day is, though, a benign one. We negotiate the sea locks of Thomas Telford’s remarkable Caledonian Canal to find the Beauly Firth, where calm waters await our passage into the dolphin-dotted Moray Firth and the fishing port of Buckie. I spot the distinctive dorsal fin of a minke whale en route before it plunges back into the depths. 

While the other lines have wound up operations for the year, Nova Spero is still sailing

Things turn the next morning as MacInnes guns out into the sort of testing weather the more timid west coast vessels studiously avoid. I don full wet weather gear and I pendulum around the aft deck. On the wheelhouse I find MacInnes in his element, steering through seas that don’t trouble a man whose first adventure on the tankers that became a career was forging across the Atlantic in winter from Marseille to New York.

Peterhead may not boast the cosmopolitan delights of the Big Apple, but the biggest white-fish port in Europe does better seafood suppers. The ubiquitous haddock is the mainstay, but at the Dolphin Café just yards from our mooring we are welcomed with sole and even queen scallops. Going alongside every night in working harbours has another advantage – chef Jim is able to land an ever-changing haul of boat fresh crab, langoustines, lobster and the east coast’s EU-recognised delicacy: Arbroath smokies三级成人视频 (haddock that is salted, rinised and smoked over hardwood).

Meals are served in the large and plush saloon (surprising, given the utilitarian nature of her exterior), which has a wood-burning stove at its heart; the stove will come in handy as MacInnes is again pioneering by operating through winter. The cabins below are comfortable rather than luxurious, so this is the social hub of Nova Spero. There is always a brew on and McInnes’ daughters supply the baked goods. A dram around the fire becomes a nightly ritual.

Arbroath smokies are good – very good – but they are not the star when we stride into Arbroath三级成人视频. We are. The local press are waiting – they share our interest in this being Nova Spero’s first return in decades to the port she was built in back in 1972. I spot a figure waving from the quayside. He is Harry Simpson, who worked as an apprentice at Mackay Boat Builders, helping construct Nova Spero from scratch. He admits to having “a wee tear in [his] eye as she came round the harbour wall again”. 

Nova Spero surging through the North Sea Credit: ROBIN MCKELVIE

The Nova Spero’s links with the east coast continue as we push further south, rounding the 19th-century wonder of Stevenson‘s Bell Rock Lighthouse as we search for Fife and the entrance to the Firth of Forth. The sun splashes the foredeck and the North Sea has turned from pit bull to poodle, with Nova Spero’s old-school engine the only sound. St Monans, the wee fishing village where the Nova Spero was dreamt up and designed, blinks sparkles of sunset back at us in welcome.

We ease towards the Scottish capital, and soon the hills of the “Athens of the North” unfurl and Edinburgh Castle loom into view. The urban skyline seems incongruous, so immersed have we been in the salt-drenched world of marine mammals, white horses and villages.

三级成人视频We are sailing with the ghosts of Viking marauders and the Luftwaffe – the first dogfight of the Battle of Britain took place above the Forth – in this deeply historic waterway. Journey’s end comes embraced by the trio of Forth Bridges – striking symbols of Scottish engineering from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. It’s a fitting end to an east coast adventure on a sturdy ship that ties richly into the same tradition.

  • Skarv Lines () offer cruises on Scotland’s east and west coasts, with occasional trips to Orkney. The 10-night, round-trip Forth Bridges Cruise sails departs Inverness. From £2,995 per person, including all meals and wine with dinner. The Nova Spero is also available for private charter.

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