Cruising the Scottish coast in a refurbished fishing vessel is a great way to travel, writes Tricia Welsh.
''Aye, thar's your wee boatie," says a fellow traveller as we alight from the Glasgow-Oban train and look across to Oban's harbour, where the 24-metre Glen Massan is moored.
The beautifully crafted wooden vessel is the flagship of locally owned The Majestic Line.
Owners Andy Thoms and Ken Grant bought the ship in 2004 and, inspired by holidays cruising the Mediterranean on Turkish fishing gulets, converted the former fishing vessel into a comfortable cruise vessel catering for just 11 passengers.
I am taking the six-night Heritage and Wildlife of the Southern Hebrides cruise. The itinerary is weather-dependent; skipper Jim Campbell and his four crew taking their cues from years of sailing these pristine waters.
The accommodation consists of six comfortable en suite cabins with a lounge saloon on the main level leading to the aft deck.
Stairs lead to the wheelhouse and more sun decks.
Chef Andie Montgomery produces outstanding meals, making good use of the abundant local seafood. Passengers enjoy a communal dining table where an intimate house party mood soon prevails, amid generous servings of fresh oysters, smoked salmon, mussels, crabs, langoustine and lobster. Wines are included with dinner, followed by a selection of mostly local cheeses.
With poor weather predicted, the skipper takes the vessel south, hugging the rugged coastline by day and sheltering in secluded bays by night.
But the sun shines defiantly when we go ashore to watch ocean-going yachts glide through Crinan Sea Lock, and to walk among ancient Scottish woodlands around Tayvallich village, before sailing to the Isle of Mull where we visit Duart Castle, the ancestral seat of the Maclean clan.
Then it's on to the delightful village of Tobermory, the main town on Mull.
Queen Victoria was a visitor to this region of Scotland's west coast, as was the composer Mendelssohn, whose life-changing journey through Scotland inspired him to write one of his most famous overtures – The Hebrides, also known as Fingal's Cave.
We look out for wild deer on yellow gorse and bluebell-covered hillsides; spy pods of porpoise, otter and minke whales around Tobermory, and see puffins in their natural sanctuary, the Treshnish Islands.
We encounter very few other boats. "And that's the way we like it," says the ship's engineer.
The writer was a guest of Cathay Pacific, The Majestic Line and ScotRail.
The Glen Massan is one of two traditional vessels of The Majestic Line. A six-night Heritage and Wildlife of the Southern Hebrides cruise takes place on selected dates from Oban between May and September 2014. The cruise costs from L1830 ($A3098) a person, twin share. Other six-night itineraries, as well as a three-night cruise of Mull and Loch Linnhe, and 13-night cruises around the Islands of Argyll and The Hebrides on the West Coast of Scotland, are also available.