A Solo Winter Voyage

Ross Ryan is an impressive young Scottish artist based at Crinan on Scotland’s west coast.

Ross set off in September 2017 aboard the ‘Sgarbh’, a 1947 fishing boat. His aim was an off-season voyage of discovery and the ‘Sgarbh’ was to be his home and studio for the next 60 days. 

Ross Ryan’s exhibition of over 40 artworks, being held at The Scottish Gallery during May and June, is an incredible record of his solo voyage depicting the weather, the light and the scenery that he encountered.

Ross Ryan solo voyage charting the journey

Ross charted his journey through the dramatic, changing scenery of Scotland’s west coast.


Foreword from the Skipper

I set sail from Crinan, alone, at the end September 2017 aboard the ‘Sgarbh’.

She was my home and studio for the next 60 days.

The idea of an off-season voyage had been long standing.
Romantic connotations of nursing the stove as the wind played tunes in the rigging raised no challenge for the escapist. And where? I would of course allow tide and wind to contend for that.

The actual was somewhat less ‘cosy’.

Sgarbh’, 1947 fishing boat

Sgarbh’, a 1947 fishing boat, Ross’ home and studio for 60 mid-winter Scottish days and nights. Loch Scavaig

There could have been no more of a wind frayed autumn than the one past. Days were spent holed up in small guts waiting to be allowed to continue north.

Time slowed to half speed and my main comfort was taken from reading novels by explorers in far more harrowing conditions.

Nonetheless paint had to be laid down, and my canvases seemed to behave like un-walked dogs; champing for colour and time. Once a routine had settled aboard it soon became apparent that these were just the conditions I had been looking for.

Journal Entry – March 2018

‘Sgarbh’ is a forty foot 1947 fishing boat. I do charters on her during the fair weather months.

When you read ‘we’, ‘she’ and ‘us’, I am referring to the boat.

Every day I launched a message in a bottle. 6 have been found so far from this voyage. I started the ‘bottle project’ in 1998 during the first of three transatlantic sails.

Other messages have been discovered all over the world.

I have even had the good fortune to find some of the recipients. The next series of paintings will be about the ‘bottle project’.

Ross Ryan,
March 2018

Message in a bottle, heading on its way to The Minch

oil on board
49 x 122 cm

Poor weather did not hamper ‘Sgarbh’s course as she shouldered angry, cold seas to make Kiera’s 30th, an Oktoberfest on the shores of Loch Spelve.

On our approach you could almost smell the leather Lederhosen. Where tons of mussels would have been sorted, beer now chilled on an endless supply of ice. Reels sun late into the night.

The Scottish Gallery / Catalogue Entry No 1


Mussel Farm, Loch Spelve, Mull – oil on board, 49 x 122 cms

oil and pastel on board
170 x 92 cm

Shortly after I had descended the stair of huge lochs (Jacobs Staircase), the ‘Flying Dutchman’ ghosted into view all rig and spars, sending the landscape back 200 years. I joined my friends onboard for the last lock passing with the little whisky I had and a message in a bottle. This was a deployment during their crossing back to Holland. In return I was gifted a fish cook book for the boat’s library. Back on ‘Sgarbh’, I sounded three long blasts of the horn. She echoed back the sailor’s farewell in a low and lasting tone. A bond forged between vessels. An hour passed before I lost sight of her masts.

The Scottish Gallery / Catalogue Entry No 2

 The Flying Dutchman Astern, Fort Augustus Locks oil and pastel on board 170 x 92 cm

The Flying Dutchman Astern, Fort Augustus Locks – oil and pastel on board 170 x 92 cm

oil and charcoal on board
76 102 cm

Ardnamurchan ­ or the “Archie” ­ is the Highland sailor’s Cape Horn. Though unlikely to have your fingernails ripped off by an ice-coated, flapping sail it can still be a hellish headland. My 4 days weather bound in Sailean Mor were over. If I didn’t round the lighthouse today, another weather system would have me locked in for a further week. ‘Sgarbh’ dug her nose deep into the waves, casting spray right back to the stern.

Blankets of clouds layered up that would have kept even Mr. J. Turner busy.

A large swell rolled through with a cross wind and this was to build. When parallel to the tall granite lighthouse I altered course to the north, taking the seas on the beam and offering an angle that I could now hoist some sail.

Months of dreamy but slightly practical thoughts had now become actual. Was it possible to paint with a sea running, alone and on Sgarbh’? My heart pumped noticeably as I grabbed a large board and jammed it between some tyres and the mast. The other tyres I used to steady my pallet and a few fat brushes – this was no afternoon for fine sable hair.

Board wedged in the tyres - painting underway

Board wedged in the tyres – painting underway

Not just the light was moving but so was my studio… and in every direction. I worked with both hands to keep up while remaining intensely focused on my surroundings and the boat’s course.

All cylinders fired above and below deck. I lumped on the oil with my hands and drew into it with charcoal. Then a fast approaching squall soon had the boat and work awash. I moved onto my knees for balance and wrapped one hand around the shrouds (wire mast supports). The painting started to roll down the board into small streams of white and grey. To stop it going on the deck I bent the board inwards and let it flow onto the pallet like a melting snowman. The squall passed. I started again.

The first ’Sgarbh’ weather painting was done and was still aboard.

Eventually the Isle of Eigg lay off the port beam. I had been high with it all and then suddenly the energy just sapped out of me. Most of the day had passed without food. I retired to the wheel­house and adjusted course for Mallaig. leaving a trail of white prints all over the helm and auto pilot. Thereafter I proceeded to stuff my face with biscuits, washed down with chicken soup.

The Scottish Gallery / Catalogue Entry N0 6


Rounding Ardnamurchan point in a blow – oil and charcoal on board, 76 x 102 cms

The Exhibition Catalogue with details of Ross Ryan’s paintings can be viewed here:


Ross Ryan studied at Grays School of Art in Aberdeen from 1993 – 1997. From his home in Crinan, Argyll Ryan has travelled worldwide painting and sketching. Recent trips include the Galapagos Islands, Germany and the Finnish Arctic Circle.

Although a landscape painter Ross’s main inspiration is the human presence in nature. He feels the history of places acutely, and his series from the Auschwitz Birkenau woods explore the beauty in one of man’s darkest places. His sketches from Berlin with accompanying diary entries offer insight into an artist who thrives on chance, fleeting moments and often an element of danger. In May 2018 he exhibited at The Scottish Gallery with a body of work created whilst sailing on the west coast in the winter of 2017.