Route Canals

My first mistake when locking through the sea lock into the Crinan Canal at Ardrishaig, was to say ‘we are in no hurry’. Mooring in the basin inside the lock, two yachts exited and two more locked in and rafted alongside Hejira. We were then trapped and the two yachts outside us took the only two places in the next lock into the canal – such is life, I guess.

Moored in the basin inside the Ardrishaig Sea Lock waiting for friends to arrive. Two yachts came through the sea lock after this picture was taken and moored against us. They then monopolised the next ascending lock.

The Crinan Canal opened in 1801 and was built to provide a shortcut for trading vessels plying between the Clyde and the west coast. It is only 9 miles long but there are 15 locks and 7 bridges and it cuts across the top of the Kintyre peninsula avoiding the 100-mile detour around the Mull. It is now predominantly used by pleasure craft.

We had been joined by Paul and Mary who moved from Ascot back to Mary’s family farm at the head of Loch Craignish. They were with Steve and Simone who were visiting and I knew them all from Ascot. Paul and Mary had transited the Crinan with me ten years before when I only had one crew and their help with the locks had been invaluable – now we had 8 on board! Previously the locks had all been DIY manual arrangements, now, many of the gates have been replaced and they are largely ‘manned’ – can we still use that expression? This no doubt helps to justify the £550 fee for a 12-day licence for both the Crinan and Caledonian Canals.

Crinan lock. Simone, Paula, Steve and Richard on the lines.

We stopped for a picnic lunch on board just before the summit but then had to press on to get to the end of the canal at Crinan before the 5 o’clock curfew and we just made the final bridge in time. The canal is only 9 miles long but, had we not achieved the deadline, our visitors would have had a long walk to their car parked at the Crinan sea lock.

Moored just above Crinan on a canal pontoon. You wouldn’t want to meet another vessel coming the other way!

A strenuous circular walk through the woods the next morning offered some stunning views.

The walk while moored above the Crinan Sea Lock Basin
The top of Hejira’s mast, moored in the canal, viewed from above on the woodland walk.

We then locked into the Crinan Basin and out through the sea lock which, judging by the state of the walls, has been well used and abused over the years.

Fendered on a challenging lock wall…

Back into salt water we motored up to Ardfern Marina at the top of Loch Craignish. Here, the clarity of the water revealed that the hull had picked up quite a bit of ‘fouling’ which probably explained our reduced speed and under-reading log. Leaning over the side of the pontoon (painfully bruising my ribs in the process) and reaching down with a sponge showed that it just wiped away but our yacht speed had been insufficient to wash it off on passage, which is what is supposed to happen with this new ‘Silic’ treatment. This is really disappointing given the effort and expense in changing to this ‘revolutionary’, and much praised antifouling.

Paul picked us up from the Galley of Lorne pub and drove us to their wonderful house on the farm where we had a lovely meal with them all and yarned and drunk to excess.

Preprandial drinks on the terrace. Amanda, Richard, Paul, Steve, Mary, Paula & Nick
Looking out from the terrace, what a view !

Amanda, having been abstemious all evening, drove us back to the marina in Paul’s car where we left it for him to retrieve in the morning – what a star!

Our passage to Kerrera Island marina opposite Oban took us through the notorious Dorus Mor tidal gate and we flushed through amongst the whirlpools. Our attempts at sailing were again thwarted by the fickle wind and we pressed on under engine before the tide turned against us.

The Kerrera marina is very convenient in transit but with the complimentary ferry service across to Oban only operating every two hours and having just missed one, we chose to stay put and had a long walk instead. Part of the walk passed close to a herd of Highland longhorn cows and at least one had a ring through its nose. This induced certain members of the party to hug the perimeter of the field in trepidation.

Kerrera walk

Being bothered by the fouling situation, I donned a wet suit, and rigged my diving gear to take to the freezing water. Unlike at Ardfern, the water was murky, but it was clear enough to see that the fouling was much worse than expected.

Port side lateral rudder. Not a good picture but you can see some fouling.

Using a sponge, it cleared very easily and  I cleared around the log impeller and as much of the hull as I could before the cold took its toll and I returned on board shivering to the welcoming embrace of a hot shower and a cup of Bovril.

Preparing to dive under.

At least, my efforts resulted in the log speed more closely matching the SOG (speed over the ground) as we motored up to the sea lock and into the Caledonian Canal at Corpach, next to Fort William and Ben Nevis.

The Caledonian Canal was built between 1803 and 1822 to offer shipping a shortcut and an alternative to the hazardous Pentland Firth. It is along the route of the Great Glen and links Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness with 22 miles of man made canals. Overall, it is 60 miles long and has 29 locks.

We were promised that after an overnight in the sea lock basin, we would be in a convoy of yachts, and a fishing boat, ascending the Neptune’s Staircase series of locks at 08.00 in the morning. In theory, this could have worked out and we had our instructions so we would all fit in the locks. The reality was that the lock was rammed full, with the yachts on top of each other and particularly those at the front were in the turbulent water from the gate sluice openings as we flooded up. After the Norwegian yacht in front of us slewed sideways and bashed the lock wall at great force,  damaging his bow, the next lock was flooded so cautiously that it would have taken all day to transit the flight. The operators decided to split the convoy into two vessels proceeding, then our three following in the next locking . This meant that there was more room, and the locks could be flooded more aggressively. This policy worked and we eventually emerged, but after over 4 hours.

The first Neptune’s Staircase lock before we were separated. Awful weather! The Norwegian yacht at the front suffered damage to her bow.

It rained throughout the ascent and there was little to savour from the experience.

Paula enjoying the rain?

Stopping for the night at the Laggan locks at the end of Loch Lochy, we moored opposite the Eagle Barge Inn and enjoyed afternoon drinks, then an excellent bar meal in the evening.

Drinks on the deck of The Eagle Barge Inn at Laggan Locks with our accommodation in the background.

It was an eclectic and welcoming venue, blessed by the most stunning scenery.

Wonderful Caledonian Canal scenery.

Rented pleasure cruisers seem to be focussed around Fort Augustus at the staircase of 5 locks and, coupled with the number of yachts transiting the canal, this put pressure on mooring space. With many of the cruisers having incompetent crews, we watched the carnage, roving fenders in hand, wincing as they bounced off other vessels and docks.

After waiting for two lockfuls to ascend, one of them full of six rented cruisers, transiting at  a snail’s pace, 4 of us (yachts) finally descended the series of 5 locks and moored up for the night at the end of Loch Ness. Inevitably we made extensive use of the Bothy pub which, unusually for Scotland, served very acceptable beer.

What a treat, with a light south westerly wind, we were able to sail the 20-mile length of Loch Ness with jib alone at a serene pace in intermittent sunshine and warmth that did not necessitate layers of clothing and a coat.

Silently ghosting the whole length of Loch Ness under sail. Bliss after so much motoring.

The most pleasant day so far !

Enjoying the moment.

I should confess that I have not covered myself in glory on the restaurant front. Booking a couple of days in advance failed to secure a ‘fine dining’ table in the Eagle Barge and we had to content ourselves with a bar meal, literally sat at the bar. And so it was that I had been singing the praises of a restaurant in Dochgarroch which had impressed me ten years previously, partly because it was a ‘bring your own booze’ establishment. At my suggestion, we planned to take our evening meal there after the Loch Ness passage. When we arrived at the Lock, we learnt from the lock keeper that the restaurant had closed some time ago, so you can imagine my embarrassment – again. Thankfully, Richard rustled up an acceptable meal.

Richard at home in the galley?

Moored just outside the Lock to fill our water tanks, we were adjacent to a patch of grass used for camping. We met Paul and Ishbel who were canoeing the length of the canal and it was going to take just 3 days! They portage past the locks and there has been a tail wind but, even so, to my mind, this was some feat.

Moored at Dochgarroch lock. The canoeists emerging having packed up their tent and launched behind Hejira.

Paul, at 76 has cycled six times across his native Australia and is a real adventurer. They were very grateful for the tea and coffee we made them in the morning before they paddled off on their final leg.

Paul and Ishbel on their final leg.

We were held up at the top of the final flight of locks at Muirtown while the lock keepers lifted a convoy of yachts and then had their lunch. This gave us the opportunity to walk to the Seaport Office and organise a diesel fill, berth allocation and an extension to the canal licence so we can leave Hejira safely in the fresh water marina.

Richard and Paula warping Hejira down the final flight of locks at Muirtown, Inverness.

Many thanks to Paula, Amanda and Richard for being such good humoured, tolerant, patient and competent crew, we have had a memorable and enjoyable time!

We are taking the train back home to see our son, Oliver, his wife, Gini and baby Juno before their departure to America where they are going to live for the next two years.

The adventure starts again in July when we return and, hopefully explore more of the open sea.

Richard and Amanda write:-

Amanda and I have been incredibly privileged to be able to sail with Nick and Paula on their wonderful yacht Hejira.

We joined Hejira in Dun Loghaire where we enjoyed the ‘Forty Foot’ (the local Weatherspoons  and Nicks local), met an Angel and had a challenging walk. When we sailed, we saw Dublin and Belfast for the first time, crossed the Irish Sea to Campbeltown, then Lochranza, around to Rothesay, through the Kyles of Bute to Portavadie, then the Crinan Canal to Ardfern, shot the turbulent Dorus Mor, past the Corryvreckan to Kerrera Island (opposite Oban), along Loch Linnhe and into the Caledonian Canal, through Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness to Inverness. Wow, what an adventure!

We enjoyed wildlife in abundance with Dolphins, Porpoises, and a myriad of seabirds. We had had an amazing dinner in the company of Mary, Paul, Simone and Steve; at Mary and Pauls incredible contemporary house, with unbelievable views over Loch Craignish, and surrounding countryside and hills.

The weather has been, well Scottish with a mixture of sunshine, showers and Scotch mist! We have been alternately warm, freezing, soaking wet with no wind, too much wind and head winds! We have also had some amazing sails; including the whole length of Loch Ness with a following breeze all day.

The most notable things for us were the friendliness of the locals, (even post football), the incredible scenery and the lock keepers, who have been great. Downsides include the lack of alcohol (that’s a complete lie) and Nick’s inability to book restaurants! Joking aside, it has been an amazing experience and great fun.

5 thoughts on “Route Canals

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  1. So pleased the Blog is back working well. Sounds like a fantastic trip /passage in a beautiful part of the world. Thank you for the detailed descriptions of you adventures it makes for very interesting catch up! Internees about Oli and family too. Hope they have a great adventure!! All the best , pleased I have caught up! DVS

  2. It was so good to meet you at Dochgarroch Nick. Ishbel and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations with you and especially your wonderful hospitality in providing us with a hot beverage each.
    You are indeed an amazingly skilful sailor and adventurer as born out by the many daredevil trips you have undertaken over the years.
    We left you on our last 8 kilometre leg in total awe of your achievements and plans for future adventures.
    We will both be keenly following you on your blog from now on.
    Safe travels.
    Ishbel and Paul

    1. Really good to hear from you, Paul and for your very kind comments. We are so pleased that you successfully completed the Caledonian Canal challenge, I think your achievements definitely trump mine !
      It’s these chance encounters that make what we do so rewarding and add colour to our lives.
      Good luck with whatever you choose to do next.
      Best Wishes,

    1. There is very little in the way of cask ales, Bob, in both Scotland and Ireland – with the exception of Weatherspoons of course! It’s mostly only ’80 shillin’ or lager in Scotland, (As you know) But, I have to admit it is an improving situation with a few micro brewers here and there.

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