Built in 1975 as an Irish fishing boat, Glen Massan was acquired by two Scottish sailing enthusiasts and entrepreneurs in 2004. As the first boat in the three-vessel Majestic Line fleet, it was lovingly reconstructed and began cruising from the Holy Loch in Scotland the following year, quickly gaining acclaim from travellers who wanted to experience the natural splendour of Scotland from a seaborne perspective, in a relaxed and informal way.
In 2010 the Majestic Line began operations from Oban (a port town in Argyll, Western Scotland, known as a gateway to the Hebridean islands), and the sailing season now lasts from early April to late October. Glen Massan offers three- and six-night sailings to the Inner Hebrides, Isles of the Clyde and Argyll.
This boat is about as far from a glitzy cruise ship as it's possible to get. It has a low-key charm all of its own and exudes a rustic, reclusive ambiance. Many of the passengers have previously sailed on Star Clippers' vessels, joined expedition-style sailings to remote destinations in Alaska, or have owned a yacht, and the intimate low numbers onboard create the feeling of a very exclusive sailors' club.
Nautical touches are everywhere on this wood-clad former fishing boat -- from its navy and white exterior to the sepia prints of legendary racing yachts and brass clocks that decorate the decks. Even the ship's vernacular has more to do with yachting than cruising -- the captain is referred to as the 'Skipper', the toilets are referred to as 'heads', and the bridge is the 'wheelhouse'. The nostalgia for all things seamanlike even extends to the power supply -- the engine is the original 1975-vintage Kelvin four-stroke, eight-cylinder power plant, whose brass is polished daily by the young, enthusiastic ship's engineer.
The personable (mainly Scottish) crew comprises the skipper, engineer, bosun and chef, and all are referred to by their Christian names, adding to the informal atmosphere onboard. They all work incredibly hard and have a 'can do' attitude, meaning that they all muck in when required to ensure guests have everything they need to enjoy their adventure in comfort. They are also a great source of local insight and can advise on attractions guests might visit when exploring off-ship, as well as having good knowledge of the scenic highlights through which Glen Massan sails. It's little wonder that the most common comment in the Visitors' Book is, "I'll be back". Indeed the Majestic Line boasts an incredibly high level of repeat guests, with many on their 8th or 9th cruise.
With such a laid-back ambiance, life on board assumes a tranquil, relaxed pace, one that revels in its detachment from everyday life. There's no Wi-Fi on the ship, and when a signal is occasionally available in the passing small towns and villages, it's rarely 4G. The only thing tempering the off grid feeling is the flat-screen TV displaying geo-positioning information.
Guests join the Glen Massan in Oban via the boat's tender, and are welcomed aboard with a glass of Prosecco. All cruises board at 4 p.m. and arrangements are made with local venues for any early arrivals to leave their luggage or relax with a tea or coffee, before collection by the crew. Once onboard, the skipper gives a safety briefing and points out some of the operational constraints. Glen Massan is always at anchor overnight and the generators are switched off around 10.30 p.m. to allow for a peaceful night's sleep before they restart at 7.30 a.m. (providing a rather gentle wake-up call). Lighting and refrigeration are maintained by an array of batteries. With the complete silence at night and the boat gently rocking at anchor, a superb night's sleep is usually ensured.
The cruising speed is 8.2 knots, the draft is 10ft and there are no stabilizers. The ship's sturdy tender is towed behind the boat during sea-passages.
The epicentre of life is the comfortable saloon -- a bar-cum-lounge-cum-dining room. There's blue velour seating along one side, two brown leather tub chairs and an armchair in the corner. A toilet is close-by, and French doors lead out onto the open deck that encircles the boat -- 30 times around equals a mile. Tea, coffee and soft drinks are freely available at any time and a selection of house wines are included at dinner. Prices for alcoholic drinks are low and the measures are high -- a 35ml pour of the delightful Jura single malt is £4.40, while a similar measure of the company's specially-distilled "Bilgewater Gin" (tastes better than it sounds!) is just £2.50. There's also a good selection of Loch Fyne artisan ales brewed in Inveraray. A cabin tab is run for the purchase of drinks from the bar, which is settled at the end of the cruise with cash or by credit card.
There is a no smoking policy throughout the interior of the boat but it is permitted on the aft deck, with guests asked to show consideration to non-smokers.
Glen Massan's slightly newer sister, Glen Tarsan (which joined the fleet in 2007), enjoyed a phenomenal showcase when it was chosen as one of the four types of cruises featured in the Channel 5 series 'Cruising with Jane McDonald'. The result of the broadcast has been immense -- within the first ten minutes of the programme being aired the company's website crashed with the level of traffic. The 'Jane McDonald' effect has ensured bookings for all Majestic Line's vessels are at an all-time high. In addition to the selection of cruising routes available, Majestic Line also offers its ships for private charter by individuals. In 2018, approximately 50 per cent of the sailings have been sold as sole charters.
One unusual quirk of Majestic Line cruises is that they don't operate on a fixed itinerary. Rather, the stop-overs and anchorages along each route are chosen by the skipper according to the winds, tides and weather conditions of the day. The skipper will also consult the guests onboard, if there's a choice of suitable anchorages -- so, in some cases, you may get to set your own itinerary!
For passengers who prefer their cruises to be experiential rather than predictable, and sociable rather than carousal, the eclectic and chaste Glen Massan is beyond compare. As one passenger succinctly put it, "It's cruising Jim, but not as we know it."
Surprisingly, for such a niche cruise concept, the Majestic Line attracts passengers from Australia, Canada and the United States, however it is British passengers who are the core demographic and it's not uncommon for a high percentage to be Scots. The sequestered nature of the itineraries attracts everyone from retired company directors to doctors and lawyers -- often those wishing to escape the stresses of modern life. Yachties love the nautical take on this sailing experience, as do celebrities -- Dame Judi Dench and Sir Alex Fergusson are previous guests who have left glowing testimonials on the company's website! The atmosphere is friendly and pleasant, and for Brits wanting to get a view of their own back yard from an unusual perspective, these cruises are unsurpassed.
All passengers must be able to step in and out of the boat's tender and climb three fixed steps to the vessel, with the aid of crew members. Onboard there are stairs leading to the upper decks and down to four cabins, and excursions ashore require a reasonable level of agility. There are often single passengers onboard as all cruises have two double cabins available for single availability at no supplement (taking the typical passenger count down to 10).
Black tie is definitely not required on this ship. The dress code is extremely relaxed and is often dictated by the weather. During the day waterproof jackets and trousers are recommended, as are sturdy walking boots. For dinner at the communal dining table, guests may smarten up slightly. Sweaters and chinos or cords are ideal for the men, while ladies might dress up a bit more but there is no obligation. Sensible shoes need to be worn at all times -- never more so than when getting in and out of the tender -- and high-heeled shoes are prohibited onboard to protect the wooden decks. Head protection is also sensible as the winds can be chilly during the tender rides ashore.
In June, July and August insect repellent is a wise precaution from the legendary Scottish midge, whose bites can be painful -- although midges can't cross water so there's no need to worry about being swarmed on the ship. Layering is always a good idea when exploring ashore as it's no myth that Scotland can experience four seasons in one day. It is also prudent to bring pyjamas, as in the colder seasons it can get chilly at night, especially as the generator (and thus the heater) is switched off at bedtime.
The only thing that you'll be asked to pay for onboard the Glen Massan is drinks at the bar. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner are served at the appropriate intervals throughout the day, and tea and coffee, soft drinks, fruit and snacks are always available. House wine is also served freely with dinner. Gratuities are at a passenger's discretion and should be handed to the skipper on the final morning of the cruise (to be shared equally between all crew members).
Off the ship there are daily trips ashore offered (but these are not compulsory). All trips ashore are self-guided, but the crew will advise and provide maps if required. Any entrance costs or activities are payable locally by guests.
Pounds Sterling (£) is the currency used onboard, with cabin tabs for the bar settled at the end of the cruise by cash or card.