Charmian Entwistle shares the rich history of a port fit for kings

Portree is the largest town on the Isle of Skye, which is itself the largest island in the Inner Hebrides and an attractive destination to include in your cruising itinerary, writes Charmian Entwistle.

As well as providing moorings and shoreside facilities in the sheltered harbour, it offers the visitor an opportunity to experience the culture of the area. The Gaelic version of the name is Port Righ, which translates as King’s Port, and it is thought to be named after a visit by James V of Scotland in 1540.

Portree is situated in the area known as the Inner Sound and is approached from the Sound of Raasay, which you may have reached from the Skye Bridge or Plockton or from the Isle of Rona, round the top of Skye or places further north or west.

Cruising Notes - Portree charts

It speeds up the passage if you have the tide in the Sound of Raasay flowing with you, but if not the flow isn’t fast enough to prevent progress for the average yacht.

The Sound of Raasay is a good place to see dolphins, seals, porpoises and a large range of seabirds, and occasionally minke whales as well.

Pilotage tips

A bit of careful navigation is required through the Narrows of Raasay, but the area is otherwise relatively clear of hazards if you stick to the middle of the channel.

Entrance to Portree Harbour is open and clearly marked but, if the wind is blustery, it is possible to be surprised by the odd katabatic wind coming down the steep cliffs on either side.

Set round its natural harbour and fringed by high ground and cliffs, Portree is a pretty town, with the first view from the sea being of the pastel-coloured houses along the front.

Once into the bay there are 13 visitors’ moorings, and the area is sheltered apart from strong south-westerly winds. There is also an anchorage east of the pier if all the moorings are taken.

Portree's pastel coloured houses

Portree’s pastel coloured houses

Full pilotage details can be found in the Clyde Cruising Club book Ardnamurchan to Cape Wrath.

The pier was designed by Thomas Telford in the 1820s and has more recently had a pontoon added for daytime use to stock up on water from a hose. (Fuel is also available in cans.)

Contact the harbour master 01478 612926 if you do want to take your yacht alongside as the pier is also used by cruise liners and day-trip boats, so it can be quite busy – especially in high season (July/August).

There are still local fishing boats using the pier, so there is always a lot going on there.

Lucky sailors may be rewarded with a dolphin escort. Credit: Midas Media TV

Lucky sailors may be rewarded with a dolphin escort. Credit: Midas Media TV

Attractions ashore

On heading ashore, there is a slipway where you can leave the dinghy next to the new Skye Sailing clubhouse or at the pier pontoon.

As befits the capital of Skye there is a good selection of shops and several excellent restaurants within easy walking distance of the moorings. There is also a swimming pool and a selection of other sports facilities at the Fingal Centre ( and a cinema at the Aros
Centre ( which is about a 20-minute walk from the harbour.

If you would like to explore a bit more of the Isle of Skye and admire some more of the spectacular scenery without actually taking your own yacht there, Portree is the best place to pick up a tour, taxi service, bus service or hire a bike or car.

Steep cliffs can cause Katabatic winds

Steep cliffs can cause Katabatic winds

Options can be investigated at the well-stocked Tourist Information Centre in Bayfield Road.

The nightly mooring fee should be deposited, along with a note of the vessel’s name, in an honesty box located in the door of the RNLI station on the main pier.

If you prefer to relax on board after paying your mooring fee, there is a stunning view of the Red Cuillins to be enjoyed from the moorings area while relaxing in the cockpit with some refreshments!

Skye Sailing Club, with its new clubhouse

Skye Sailing Club, with its new clubhouse

There is regular dinghy sailing and training from the sailing club so you may also get some entertainment in watching the Toppers and Lasers go by. If the weather isn’t right to enjoy the view, as they say locally, ‘if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes’ as the light is always changing on the hills. (It occasionally takes a bit longer than five minutes, though.)

Portree is a great destination from which to explore Skye if you don’t have time to visit all the stunning areas of the island.

It is also an excellent place to break your journey to the Outer Hebrides or on the way round the north end of Skye or on your return voyage.

As part of your sailing trip, Portree offers the combination of wonderful scenery with a lot of practical facilities that you can’t do without on your holiday!

Steep shoreline

Steep shoreline

About the author

Charmian Entwistle and her husband Mark run the Isle of Skye Yachts charter company. Charmian is also a director of Sail Scotland.

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Canna Harbour. Credit: Steve Goldthorp

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