There’s one sure-fire way to irritate a cruise aficionado – or a captain – and that’s to call their “ship” a “boat”.
Yet the vessel I travelled on for one of my most enjoyable cruises was most definitely a boat.
Just 85f t long, and with a crew of four, Glen Tarsan is a converted Irish trawler. Four of its six cabins are down at the waterline in the former fish-hold; when the weather gets up, peering through the porthole is rather like looking into a washing machine on its rinse cycle.
Thankfully, there’s no trace of fish now; there’s not a great deal of room to move, and the shower’s a bit temperamental, but at least you get a proper flush toilet.
The boat has one public room – with not quite enough comfortable chairs for all 11 passengers – and everyone eats at the communal table, which might have to be pushed aside and lashed to the wall if the sea gets rough.
A table on an open deck at the stern is available for sunny days, and above is another deck – from where one gloriously clear night on Loch Linnhe I stood open-mouthed in amazement as more stars than I have ever seen in my life shone down on me.
That’s the thing about Glen Tarsan – it takes you completely away from the distractions of daily life in the city; it has no bright lights of its own, but it can transport you almost to heaven – on the west coast of Scotland.
It is one of two vessels operated by The Majestic Line – the name and gold funnel both inspired by an episode from the 70s TV comedy series about the Clyde puffer Vital Spark, which was captained by the irascible Para Handy.
Glen Tarsan and Glen Massan operate three-day and six-day voyages, usually sailing from Dunoon into the Firth of Clyde, or from Oban to Mull and the surrounding islands and lochs.
I took a cruise from Oban and had hoped to visit Iona to tour the monastery and Staffa to explore Fingal’s Cave but the weather had other ideas.
High winds would have made venturing out into the open ocean uncomfortable at the very least, and possibly dangerous.
We remained in more sheltered waters, and were joined by a lively otter as we anchored for the night near a mussel farm in Loch Spelvie.
The following day saw us touring Duart Castle before heading north to Tobermory and slipping ashore after dinner for a couple of pints in the Mishnish Hotel.
Over the next few days we sailed up Loch Sunart and Lochaline, Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil, taking time ashore to visit ethereal Eilean Munde, the tiny island where many of the MacDonald victims of the Glencoe Massacre are buried, and to shop for souvenirs in Fort William.
That final night, when the Milky Way was shining so brightly, had begun with a sighting of a group of seals basking in the rocks off Shula Island.
We folllowed that by heading ashore for a pre-dinner stroll to see the impressive ramparts of Castle Stalker – one of the best-preserved medieval tower houses in Scotland, despite the efforts of Monty Python to destroy it during filming of the Holy Grail.
On board the boat, Engineer Bob McLean – who doubled as our tender pilot – proudly showed us all round his spotless engine room, while chef Doug Wilson sweated in the tiny galley preparing the most delicious meals from fresh local ingredients.
Despite our best efforts with rod and line, we failed to supply him with any of our own freshly-caught fish.
Bosun Vicky Lindus did her best to keep us in order and supplied with drinks from the cubbyhole bar stocked with a selection of whiskies, the scary-sounding Bilgewater Gin, and award-winning beers from the Fyne Ales brewery at Cairndow. The cost of drinks was added to our bills at the end of the week, although wine with lunch and dinner was on the house.
Skipper Iain Duncan was never lonely in the wheelhouse – passengers could join him at any time of day to pore over charts, watch him plot a course and keep an eagle eye out for wildlife on the not-very-distant shore.
Not only did we get to see some stunning scenery, we also got to know plenty about our fellow passengers after spending six days with them from breakfast-time until after-dinner drinks.
A great bunch, and at least one couple returned to take over the boat with their family for an anniversary celebration.
Unlike Michael Winner, who chartered it just for himself and fiancee Geraldine last year.
They might not have had company, but even he couldn’t find fault with the food.
The Majestic Line runs 15 cruise itineraries from Holy Loch, Dunoon and Oban between April and October.
Prices start at £965 for three nts and £1,830 for six nts on full board, including house wine with meals. www.themajesticline.co.uk, 0131 623 5012.