Sigurd Schuldt from Germany lived his dream when he boarded the Dutch sailing ship "Thalassa" to visit this year's Islay Festival. He published his beautiful pictures and travel report in a German forum. When asked he made a lot of effort to translate his report to English so everyone here on the Islay Blog can read about his whereabouts as well. Sigurd had a stunning trip and I want to thank him for sharing it with us.
Sigurd Schuldt: Let me start at the end of my journey..... On june 1st I sat around lunchtime at the airport in Glasgow. I just put my last "coins" in the internet machine our of boredom. There I read about the "live Islay festival bottle distribution" ... And thought to myself: "a crowd like at the black stone in mecca! Wow!"
When I first came in touch with malt whisky, late last summer, I could not imagine to even land in Scotland at some point. In the German whisky forum it was absolutely a warm welcome and some suggested several times to taste the red and the green classic malt set to get an orientation and a first guide on a journey through the variety of whiskies.
The green classic malt set containing Cragganmore, Talisker and Lagavulin whisky was quickly "my colour"... I looked at the map before me and thought sailing there would be very relaxed. When searching for a sailing boat I came across a very tempting offer: A sailing trip and whisky journey onboard the "Thalassa" to the whisky festival 2014.
When I searched the internet for an Islay Map, which I found on Islay info, it reminded me somehow of a movie trailer from a movie I had seen in my childhood, "treasure island". A sailing - and whiskey journey with the "Thalassa" to the Islay festival 2014. I have found the Islay Info site very informative in terms of the travel arrangements. For Islay visitors the best travel guide! Continue reading...
As travel route was specified Troon - Bruichladdich - Port Ellen - Bunnahabhain - Port Ellen - Jura - Campbeltown - Arran and back to Troon, and this schedule was followed exactly. The ship, which is considered to be very seaworthy, accommodates 30 guests in 15 double cabins (all with shower). The crew consisted of 6 people on our trip.
We were a mixed crew. Dutchs and Germans held the balance and there were also two Belgians on board. If you would have set the men on the right and the women on the left of the dinghy, it also would not have capsized. It was balanced and quite pleasant! I would put the average age to early mid-40s!
When I checked around the middle of may the 10 day weather forecasts for the region it never looked good. At most times 17° c, frequent rain and even thunderstorms were predicted... But it came out totally different! The most important bag with foul weather gear and thick sweaters were in the luggage compartment and stayed there!
Good whisky - nice people - great food and yes... Like the mediterranean!
At the beginning it looked like there was going to be some wind, but shortly after we left the port of Troon and set sail (who wanted to could go and give a hand) the wind fell asleep. There were approximately 70 nautical miles to the first destination to Loch Indaal on Islay. And so the captain decided to let the engine do some work as well.
After a beautiful sunset and a good times in the bar of the Thalassa most of the passengers went to their cabin and fell sound asleep.
We sailed throughout the night. As I slept in the front of the ship I was awakened around 5 o'clock in the morning by a tremendously loud noise that came from the front propeller used during manoeuvring! The crew of the "Thalassa" has set the ship very easy at the pier in Bruichladdich.
This was my first time in Scotland and of course the first time for me on Islay. In my job there is almost no english speaking at all but somehow I managed rather well. To a Dutch traveler I said it would be something like a "virgin journey" for me! She understood me. So, there we go!
The masterclass at Bruichladdich distillery was a major highlight. It began with a 30-year, followed by a "black art", and added a Port Charlotte and the Octomore. I somehow had the association to a new year's firework display that was burned. We should empty the sixth in one gulp. (if I understand it correctly) it was dramaturgically very well staged. The flag-waving began. Jim McEwan liked a German "Günther" I knew already beforehand by a youtube video, but live this was obviously something different. A really great entertainer!
In the morning it looked like some rain, but as we left the warehouse from the masterclass only sun was announced and it should remain so until the end of the trip. Big party was then in the yard at Bruichladdich.
In the late afternoon we sailed to Port Ellen where we dropped the anchor. Monday was Caol Ila day. Some went in the morning after breakfast with the tender boat to take part. We "sailed" to Bunnahabhain. Off the starboard beam, we put the sails to Ardbeg but in the sound of Islay, the machine had to help again due to the fairly strong tidal currents. Exactly before the Bunnahabhain distillery we dropped in the afternoon the anchor.
Here, we had also a first tasting with Walter, aka Wouter Wapenaar from the whiskybar. There were glenmorangie 10, aberlour 10, jura 10, talisker storm and laphroaig 10. Our whisky experience was very different. Whisky novices up to the malthead were represented. It was very pleasant and Walter explained exactly everything you needed to know about whisky and its production. Everyone could smell once on peated barley .
On Tuesday those who wanted to, could do a guided tour in the morning at Bunnahabhain. We wanted to go to laphroaig. The third group went under machine back to Port Ellen. Walter had rented a bus on Islay, a vw with each 8 persons could be transported. He first took us to Bowmore. From there, we went straight with the first bus directly to Laphroaig. Then he took the second group. At laphroaig, we had lots of fun! My Cologne attendants were real laphroaig fans!
It was summery hot. For non sailors a glorious day. My companion had my attention on the seafoodstand. A day ago he ate "scallops in caol ila". Today "scallops in laphroaig". An absolute culinary highlight. Because the sun was so hot, we wanted to not overdo but also with the whisky. I went to the "friends of laphroaig" stand, gave me my plot number, got my papers and the miniature, took my flag and then it went into the "bog" on the other side of the street to the flag parade.
We then headed to the Lagavulin distillery where we had a brilliant picnic on the lawn before we went back walking via Laphroaig and back to the ship again in Port Ellen.
I found it not too busy at laphroaig, I thought it was just like with us at the German wine festival with a tour every hour. But it was not. For the tours I had to register sure long before. The cairdeas bottle however, with signature of John Campbell, could be bought without prior arrangements. Islay has a unique charm. Walter said it is like the mecca for whisky fans. Even if this is not the photo community, I think that Islay is not only for whisky lovers, but also for nature photographers very interesting.
Anchored in the Small Isles Bay Isle of Jura
On wednesday the 28th of may we left Port Ellen and went to Jura. Here, a distillery tour was booked for us. Prior to the distillery tour, we were greeted by the master blender Richard Paterson, which has similar qualities of entertainment as Jim McEwan! Previously, Richard was already a week ago on the ship. We tasted Superstition, Diurach's own and the tastival. In the evening, a bbq was held on the deck of the "Thalassa". Scalopps, various meat/sausages, salad, crusty bread and various dips.
Anyway, I found the food very, very tasty. We had an excellent cook on board. Sweet potatoes, parsnips...Roastbeef and so on... All kinds of food I don't eat every day! On Thursday, we sailed from Jura to Campbeltown. Here, the 2nd tasting took place with Walter.
The next morning, we could visit the Springbank distillery. Here we had to buy the tickets from the Cadenheads whisky shop. And although producing whisky from the same principle, it was a little bit different from Jura here at Springbank. Great tour ! So from the malting floor up to the bottling and shipping! At 11:30, we took off and made a detour to Arran, to Lochranza. At Arran distillery I filled a small bottle of the Arranach.
Then it went back to Troon. Where there was a large captain's dinner. As starter a cheese plate with Laphroaig and Arran cheese, "langoustines" as much as you want and finally small cakes. Until that time we had no wind, it was a great trip. Some anchorages would have been very suitable for a romantic wedding vow!
The next Islay festival 2015 tour unfortunately is already fully booked, but there are still other whisky sailing trips! A really brilliant "movie" on the treasure island was wound down in gorgeous weather!
Slàinte mhath, I will be back!