West High­land Yacht­ing Week suc­cess is built on Ar­gyll's rich sail­ing his­tory

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

The Royal High­land Yacht Club was founded in Oban in 1881, and held its first re­gatta the fol­low­ing year. In those days yachts were gen­er­ally much larger and re­quired paid crews to sail them. Be­tween the wars most leisure sail­ing craft had be­come smaller, less ex­pen­sive and ca­pa­ble of be­ing han­dled com­pe­tently by their own­ers with help from friends and fam­ily.

In 1947 the Royal High­land Yacht Club, Oban Sail­ing Club and the Western Isles Sail­ing Club de­cided to com­bine their re­spec­tive re­gatta events into a sin­gle six-day yacht­ing ex­trav­a­ganza – the West High­land Yacht­ing Week. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each club formed the Joint Re­gatta Com­mit­tee, es­tab­lish­ing an event man­age­ment sys­tem still ef­fec­tive to­day.

The Race Team is re­spon­si­ble for course-set­ting, rules, times and re­sults – a com­bi­na­tion of ac­cu­rate ob­ser­va­tions and cal­cu­la­tions – achieved with help from the of­fi­cial boats sta­tioned at the start and fin­ish lines and rac­ing marks. For many years the late Philip Pre­ston, engi­neer­ing supremo and former boss of Cale­do­nian MacBrayne and Lo­ganair, was a key mem­ber of this team. Philip is re­mem­bered as an un­shak­ably cheery race of­fi­cial, even in the poor­est and most chal­leng­ing of con­di­tions. He is sadly missed.

One of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of West High­land Yacht­ing Week is its mo­bil­ity. Feeder races from Gigha and Oban con­cen­trated com­pet­ing boats at Craobh from where this year’s se­ries races in Loch Melfort started. In pre­vi­ous years other feeder races brought the Clyde fleet from In­verkip to Ar­dr­ishaig, and the Cri­nan Canal would be jammed with boats push­ing to Cri­nan. Other feeder races over the years have in­cluded Ban­gor to Cri­nan and Oban to Cri­nan.

The pas­sage race to Oban is one of the world’s great nau­ti­cal spec­ta­cles – as many as 200 sail­ing boats of all shapes and sizes have been recorded crash­ing or ghost­ing up the Sound of Lu­ing. Af­ter cross­ing the line, boats and crews are based in Oban and fill the bay and neigh­bour­ing mari­nas, and the town ben­e­fits enor­mously from this in­flux of happy, hun­gry and thirsty sailors. This year the crews were based in Oban for four nights in to­tal and made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the sea­sonal up­lift in busi­ness for res­tau­rants, bars and shops. Food, drink and mu­sic are im­por­tant and tra­di­tional el­e­ments of the event’s so­cial scene, and a great way for lo­cal busi­nesses and artists to get in­volved.

Rac­ing out of Oban this year in­volved two class races in the Firth of Lorn. Some­times, if tidal con­di­tions al­low, these races take place round the Isle of Lis­more. Each course presents tech­ni­cal chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with close in­shore rac­ing and fa­mously change­able con­di­tions, but the over­whelm­ing im­pact of the beau­ti­ful and dra­matic sur­round­ings is what makes this event uniquely spe­cial.

The Oban to Tober­mory pas­sage race is an­other fa­mil­iar fix­ture – some­times a glo­ri­ously ran­dom scat­ter of boats all try­ing to find favourable wind and any ad­van­tage as they tackle the Sound of Mull. This year the fleet was berthed in Tober­mory for two nights for class races and the start of the Tober­mory to Oban re­turn pas­sage event. Crews al­ways make the most of lo­cal hos­pi­tal­ity in Tober­mory and back in Oban for the prize-giv­ing cer­e­mony and party.

The suc­cess of this great event is largely de­pen­dent on the con­tin­ued sup­port of race spon­sors. Be­tween 1980 and 2009 Ten­nent Cale­do­nian Brew­eries sup­ported the rac­ing and so­cial events and laid the foun­da­tions for the Joint Re­gatta Com­mit­tee to grow West High­land Yacht­ing Week into an open in­ter­na­tional sport­ing event. This year’s spon­sors were Ar­gyll & Bute Coun­cil, Gael Force Ma­rine Equip­ment, Malin Waters, Owen Sails, Thomas Tun­nock Ltd and Tober­mory Har­bour As­so­ci­a­tion. The event would not have been such a suc­cess with­out the sup­port of Craobh, Dun­staffnage and Oban Mari­nas, HM Coast­guard, the RNLI, West Coast Mo­tors, Flit Self Drive and the Gigha Her­itage Trust.

The or­gan­is­ers, spon­sors and sup­port­ers are jus­ti­fi­ably proud of West High­land Yacht­ing Week, and com­peti­tors look for­ward to re­tain­ing ti­tles or im­prov­ing per­for­mances year on year. The com­mu­ni­ties on the chang­ing cir­cuit pro­vide safe, wel­com­ing and friendly ex­pe­ri­ences and pro­vide fine show­cases of the Ar­gyll and the Is­lands hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. The suite of fa­cil­i­ties avail­able to vis­it­ing boats im­proves ev­ery year, and des­ti­na­tions up and down the coast are de­vel­op­ing ap­peal­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices to meet the needs of visi­tors ar­riv­ing by road, rail and air.

In this se­ries, The Oban Times’ res­i­dent Bo­dach (Gaelic: old man and, by ex­pe­ri­ence, of­ten a sto­ry­teller) looks through archive ma­te­rial for ar­ti­cles and pic­tures that pre­serve mo­ments from the past. There is al­ways a back story – and some­times a fu­ture one.

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