Quirky Cruise
November 30, 2020

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Skarv Lines

Skarv Lines


Skarv Lines has been running since Sept 7, 2020.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

Skarv Lines are an owner-operated, single vessel, small cruise ship company who offer rugged adventures around Scotland’s incomparable Hebrides.

More unusually they also venture to the country’s Orkney archipelago and Scotland’s East Coast.

Scottish coast on Nova Spero

The 11-pax Nova Spero is a great way to explore the scenic Scottish isles. * Photo: Skarv Lines

While there is an outlined itinerary on this former fishing vessel — the striking Nova Spero — for every departure, the exact coastal and island calls and their sequence are dependent on the ever-changing Scottish weather.

As the vessel carries a maximum of 11, a cruise is very much a shared experience in close quarters — with, of course, any COVID-19 regulations in place at the time of sailing taken seriously.

If you ever wanted to explore Scotland’s coastline and the highly varied Hebrides without fussing over ferry schedules for your rented car or resorting to a confining bus tour with too many others, here is your answer.

Note that the Nova Spero does not have stabilizers and is built to roll with the seas; bliss for those with strong sea legs, but perhaps sometimes too much of an adventure for more timid sailors, especially on the North Sea and St Kilda expeditions.

The Nova Spero is available for charter; for rates contact them direct.

Skarv Lines' Nova spero

The Nova spero. * Photo: Skarv Lines


Nova Spero (built in Scotland in 1972 & 11 passengers) — Hebrides, Caledonian Canal, Orkney & East Coast.


Primarily from Great Britain, ages 50 and up. Children under 12 not accepted unless part of a charter.


$$ Moderate

  • On board meals
  • House wine at dinner
  • Tender excursions for exploring when harbors not available. Not guided.

RELATED: Nova Spero cruises the Scottish East Coast by Robin McKelvie.


Skarv Lines are offering public cruises, plus private charters for single families, for the rest of 2020, with a full schedule of cruising for 2021 now available to book online. The full 10-night return Forth Bridges cruise from and back to Inverness starts at around US$4,000 per person including all meals and wine with dinner.

Most cruises embark and disembark from Corpach Fort William, a port with ScotRail connections to the rest of mainland Britain. Exceptions include their North Sea cruises, which head from Inverness down the less explored East Coast towards Edinburgh and then back to Inverness.

Skarv also has a one-way cruise between the Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness via the Caledonian Canal. It’s short but a lot of Scotland is packed in with a train journey between Inverness and Kyle to join or disembark the vessel.

Nova Spero in the Scottish Isles

The Nova Spero cruising Scotland. * Photo: Skarv Lines

Scotland's Orkney Island

Scotland’s Orkney Island. * Photo: Skarv Lines

The vessels usually anchor by dinner time in a secluded setting, and get underway after breakfast. If the next stop is a bit further on, then the boat may depart before breakfast. The main exception to this set-up is their east coast itinerary as it uses proper harbors and goes alongside.


The 10-night “Forth Bridges Cruise” sets off from the Highland capital of Inverness and enters the sea through Thomas Telford’s remarkable Caledonian Canal. It then navigates the Beauly Firth out of the city until it becomes the dolphin-rich Moray Firth and opens up into the North Sea.

After rounding Troop Head, it pops into a string of fishing villages on its route south before cutting west into the Firth of Forth and passing under the majestic trio of Forth Bridges. The Nova Spero then does the same in reverse, stopping at different ports on the return.

Forth Bridges Scotland

The Forth Bridges. * Photo: Robin McKelvie


Scotland is beautiful when the weather cooperates — and even more dramatic when it doesn’t — and is noted for its world-class seascape scenery in many different lighting conditions, deep lochs to explore (similar to Norway’s fjords), a multitude of varied islands, castles and proud Scottish clan history.

 Scottish isles.

Gorgeous Scottish isles. * Photo: Skarv Lines

Wildlife is seen in the air, on the sea and on land during walks. Circumnavigate the Isle of Skye, cross Scotland via the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness, and cruise out into the Atlantic to see two of the world’s largest gannetries, in the form of Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth and the seabird-rich isolated archipelago of St. Kilda.

RELATED: Cruising Scotland’s Western Islands, an Overview.  by  Ted Scull

Scottish seals

Keep your eyes open for adorable seals swimming near the boat. * Photo: Skarv Lines


With Scotland’s reputation for unpredictable and constantly varying weather, there is no best time.

Be prepared for chilly and windy conditions at any time of the year, as well as long days of sunlight in May and into August.

Scotland sunset

Late sunsets in summer. * Photo: Skarv Lines


The Nova Spero buys most of its food and drink in advance, though they do make an effort to source fresh local seafood where possible, especially in the Outer Hebrides and in the east coast fishing villages.


On board, activities are board games, puzzles, and videos or relaxing and reading from the library selections in the library/lounge.

Lounge of Nova Spero

Nova Spero’s lounge. Photo: Skarv Lines

Traditional guided shore excursions do not exist as such. With maps and guidance from the crew, passengers go ashore independently to visit towns and take walks.

The tender takes passengers ashore — when not moored alongside — to land on a beach or to a dock with sightseeing aids for creating short walks or longer hikes of one to two hours. Passengers may also fish, mostly for mackerel, or help lower and raise the lobster pots.

Nova Spero's tender to shore

Nova Spero’s tender to shore. * Photo: Skarv Lines


Two communal booth-style tables. Typical meal times are: breakfast 8-9am; lunch midday-1pm and dinner 7pm. Wine is included with dinner.

Main courses feature local fish and shellfish, beef, lamb and venison, sourced locally where possible. Seafood platters for dinner are a highlight, as are ‘Arbroath Smokies’ for breakfast, which you can enjoy on the East Coast cruises.

A morning ritual is traditional porridge — for a real treat you can have it with a wee dram of whisky poured over.

Scotland’s waters are famed for both fish and shellfish, so it’s little surprise that each cruise features seafood of the likes of lobster, mussels, langoustines, scallops and oysters. The nightly cheeseboard often includes some of Scotland’s (excellent) cheeses.

Skarv Lines Nova Spero fish and chips

Fresh fish and chips of course. * Photo: Skarv Lines

whiskey on Skarv Lines

When in Rome … a wee dram. * Photo: Skarv Lines



Still in appearance very much a sturdy fishing boat, the exterior is rugged and sturdy, with few concessions to the frivolity of cruising. This gives it a great deal of character that the big ships just cannot match and for fans of traditional boats sailing on the Nova Spero is a real treat.

The compact wheelhouse is open to guests, but it has no frills and doesn’t offer sweeping views as it is hunkered in against the big seas.

Skarv Lines wheel house

Nova Spero’s Wheel House. * Photo: Skarv Lines

Nova Spero sticks true to her fishing heritage, with its inside space low to the water. Most cabins are below water level with negotiating a steep step of stairs required to gain access to the main deck.

The main saloon is the main gathering place for meals, relaxing moments with views and sometimes programs on the large-screen TV. The chart is beamed on to the screen if passengers wish.

Skarv Lines dining

The interior dining area. * Photo: Skarv Lines

Drinks, including a wide choice of Scottish single malt whiskies, are served al fresco on the sheltered aft deck, which is accessed by French doors. If weather allows, meals can be served here, too.

A library stocks books on local attractions and games. A real highlight in the open plan saloon is a highly unusual wood-burning stove. For early or late season cruising this is the social hub as guests snuggle in the seats that tempt by the cosy flickering flames.


The vessel is quite small, hence the cabins are compact with twin configurations. Bathrooms and showers are shared.

nero spero cabin

A cozy cabin. * Photo: Skarv Lines

Nova Spero plaid carpet

Decor sports a Scottish flair. * Photo: Skarv Lines


Hebridean Island Cruises‘ 49-passenger Hebridean Princess also cruises in Scotland’s Western Isles.

Also check out the four vessels operated by the Majestic Line and the small pair operating for Hebrides Cruises; as well as Argyll Cruising and St Hilda Sea Adventures, a pair of family-run companies with charming vessels cruising Scotland.


Skarv Lines, UK-based.

— Robin McKelvie

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