Sara and I were taking my grandsons Reyce and Prentice (brothers) with us on holiday with the outline plan (a) being to go up to Ardrishaig – through the Crinan Canal and meander up to Oban. If the boys were unhappy or bored we could then get them back via the train from Oban, and if they were happy we would simply continue with the holiday.
We arrived down at Troon on the Saturday morning, but the weather was pretty grim so we couldn’t leave, and sadly the same was the case on the Sunday so we took the boys by car up to Largs for the day so they could have some fun in the amusements etc.
Monday morning arrived and the weather was improving but the sea was still a wee bit lumpy, Scott from the marina knew we were setting off for the canal and came down onto the pontoon to tell us that there was some issue at the Crinan Canal and that it was now closed – it really was very kind of him to come down and let us know – cheers Scott.
Reyce making a final call to his mum Debbie prior to leaving Troon – Prentice had just finished doing the same.
I gave the Crinan office a call and the chap said their had been a bit of a collapse in the sea lock at Crinan and the engineers and divers were on their way to assess the situation, but he couldn’t say whether this would mean the canal was going to be closed for days or weeks. The only real alternatives were (a)to cancel the holiday for the boys, (didn’t fancy this as we were all looking forward to the holiday) (b) sail through the north channel (via Campbeltown) between the Mull of Kintyre and Ireland, or (c) wait to see what the outcome of the engineers findings were regarding the canal.
To go from Troon to Campbeltown on the Monday would have meant having a rolly old ride (seas would have been on the beam) in F4/5 conditions which would not be the ideal conditions for the boys at the start of their hols, therefore I took the decision that we would motorsail pretty much head to wind up to Portavadie for the night and then check with the canal again in the morning – the boys had a bit of a laugh going through the waves on the way up and this settled everyone down.
Boys taking turns on the helm.
Next morning I checked with the canal and the early indications were that the canal would not be fully operational for some time! As the weather was changing, the conditions meant that going round the Mull were favourable for today, so the decision was made – it would be a very long day for everyone. We would leave Portavadie immediately and be off Sanda Island at the turn of the tide and use this to assist in getting us over to Port Ellen on Islay.
The trip down Kilbrannan sound was pretty straight forward albeit the visibility could have been better, but we did have the option of going into Campbeltown for the night if we changed our mind. However when we reached the entrance to Campbeltown Loch the wind had indeed gone round as forecast to the south east, which meant we would have both wind and tide together in our favour, and also the sea condition was slight so we committed fully to going on to Islay.
The next decison was whether to take the inside route, which I have never taken or go south of Sanda Island into the main channel where the eddies/overfalls are less powerfull than they are inside, but there is the traffic seperation scheme for commercial vessels to contend with. Local knowledge for the inside channel says that you should always be close enough to the shore to be able to throw a digestive biscuit and hit the rocks on the shore.
It would be a bit quicker to go the inside route, and there were a fair number of yachts already heading for the inside route but with the visiblity still being pretty poor (at times down to a few hundered yards), and given we had no digestive biscuits to throw at the shore, I decided on the longer option so headed south past Paterson’s Rock and Sanda and into the main channel. We gradually started to benefit from the tide and by the time we were almost round the Mull, Sun Dog was belting along at 10 kts over the ground and the mist lifted enough that we could make out the Irish Coast and Rathlin Island.
Caption Competition could be …………Just remind me whose idea this was !!!!!! or Are we having fun yet?
Personally I would have liked the visibility to have been better but was happy that the God’s had decided to grant us a straightforward passage through an area that can, depending on conditions, be decidedly challenging – we were all happy and relieved that we only had another few hours until we reached Port Ellen in Islay.
With the Crinan canal being closed (there were as stated above,a lot of boats doing the same as us) Port Ellen’s marina was full when we arrived, so we decided to pick up a mooring buoy in the bay rather than drop anchor over in the sheltered bay………bit of a mistake !! After we had settled down and had our evening meal and the boys had finished fishing from the boat we all turned in early for a good nghts sleep, but the swell running into the bay had other ideas! Now I might not be the old man of the sea but I normally can sleep through most things on a boat – but not this night………………
The wind was strong enough to keep the boat head to wind which meant we had the joy of the Atlantic swell being on the beam and we had a terrible rolling motion – I could go on about this – but suffice to say I ended up slepping outside so that I could lie across the beam of the boat. It was so bad that I eventually wanted to drop the mooring and go and and anchor in a bay out of the worst of the swell at about 0200 but I won’t print what Sara said I could do with that idea!………
In the morning a certain angler was up early for a spot of fishing, and to enjoy a quiet moment in the now calm conditions.
After breakfast we decided to use the tide again and head for Craighouse on Jura which again we had to do under engine as there was no wind; but it was lovely to be under a warm blue sky and it was only a few hours until we were turning in past the Small Isles and picking up a mooring buoy close into the shore.
The bay has quite a number of mooring buoys for visitors and we are fortunate enough having a shallow enough draft to get the spare one near the shore on the 2m contour – which was fine for us as the forecast was for a period of settled weather so no waves to reduce the depth. We had to get ashore and get some provisions and also use the laundry facilities behind the Jura Hotel, so it was out with the dinghy and a bit of exercise with the pump, then over to the pontoon provided for dinghies at the pier. Jura is a large island with a population of slightly less that 200 people in total, so the facilities they provide are very good all things considered, and indeed should be supported. Cost for one night on the mooring was £10.
Also met a mate of Marcus & John (private joke)
Round the other side of the pier is a small safe and shallow sandy beach and the boys had a bit of a laugh splashing around in the water and practicing their rowing skills in about 2ft of water, and it was good that they were able to burn off some energy. When we eventually got back to the boat they had fun going for a swim and using the dingy as a swim/fun platform, and then fishing again in the evening – a really good day.
Next morning we set off for Crinan so that the boys could see the exit to the Crinan Canal that we would been at days ago if the canal had been open – but there again we would have missed out on the joys of going round the Mull, plus Islay & Jura.
Once again it was a lovely day – in fact I think it must have reached in excess of 30 C. The boys sat up the bow of the boat and also on the coachroof to take advantage of the breeze created by our movement and we were all entertained by porpoise on the way up the sound of Jura.
We got in touch with Crinan Boatyard to arrange fuel and a mooring, and the only spare mooring the had was on the south side which was fine by us, but we needed to get moving if we wanted fuel that night – a wee bit of pleading had them promise to stay open long enough for us to refuel as we were setting off with the tide early the next morning.
Once refuelled we did go past the entrance/exit to the canal, and it really did seem a bit strange to realise that had it been opened we would have been here days ago…….. anyhow we picked up the designated mooring buoy and once again the boys got out their fishing rods, while Sara and I were considering the next days possibilities.
We had to get through Doris Mor (Large Door) the next day as we were heading for Kerrera opposite Oban and could get there on the one tide (the tide turned at 0300) and according to the pilot book was at it’s strongest for the first couple of hours. We really didn’t want to wait at Crinan as the forecast was that winds were to increase to F5/6 from the NE within the next 24 hours and could last for a few days!
I awoke at 0430 and decided that we would get ready and head through Doris Mor and then up the sound of Luing (ling) and past Fladda Lighthouse by which point we would be through the strongest of currents.
Sara gave me a hand to get the boat ready and then quite rightly went back to bed. At the same time Reyce and Prentice came up as soon as they heard the engine fire up, and as ever popped on their lifejackets and then started pointing out the white waves on the shores of the island Garbh Reisa that forms part of Dorus Mor. Once again this was new territory as I hadn’t been through Dorus Mor previously, but I knew I was going through at the right time, with the tide, and knew to stay mid channel which we did and out we popped at 12 kts over the ground – the fastest Sun Dog has ever gone. I thought that 10 kts through the north channel was fast……………
Next point of close attention was the narrow channel at the head of the sound of Luing, and passing Fladda lighthouse the currents were pulling pretty hard and I was pleased that we had a decent sized engine and a big three bladed prop, that the tide was with us, and that we had at the time settled weather with calm conditions.
Doris Mor and this channel would no doubt be very interesting and different proposition (sic) in adverse conditions.
Once through the tricky bits the wind started to climb and soon we had 20kts true gusting 27kts on the nose, but I was a happy man as we were through the tricky bits before the wind had increased, and as Sun Dog has a lovely motion there was no drama or slamming. I also decided to go up the Sound of Kerrera and was momentarily confuddled by two starboard and one port hand marker halfway up – look at a chart and you will see what I mean. We entered into the bay where Oban Marina is located – it is actually on the island of Kerrera – and spotted a spare heavy mooring buoy which Sara picked up smartish in 25 kts of wind and got attached to Sun Dog. We then gave the marina a shout to tell them the number of the buoy we had picked up, and they said it was fine to stay there for a couple of days……….ticketyboo!
Oban Marina provide a couresty water taxi over to Oban town on an hourly basis and will also swing past and pick up people from boats on moorings and drop them back off when conditions are not ideal for rowing over to the marina itself. Only down side to this is, that whilst this is an hourly service, they are only allowed to take 12 passengers at any one time, albeit when really busy the do put on another boat – but it can cause a bit of angst when getting ashore or back to the marina in Kerrera during busy periods.
Thankfully we had no such drama, and whilst in Oban the boys bought new fishing gear (they do appear to have caught the fishing bug ) and we spent some time going round the shops and then going to the supermarket the following day to reprovision, and do yet another laundry at the Oban marina facilities. Where does all the food go, and where does all the laundry come from??
I think it’s fair to say that whilst I was sitting on the boat and having a moment to myself, I had a little frisson of excitment thinking that Sun Dog had come up from Ipswich with Marcus and I, then through the Forth & Clyde Canal with Sara and Eilidh, and had now had come the long way round to Oban from the Clyde with Sara, Reyce and Prentice……it was a really nice feeling.
Having arrived at Oban and spent a couple of days there until the weather calmed down again, we had the option of heading over towards Tobermory, Loch Sunart, Ardnamurchan Point direction – or taking the boys up to the Caledonian Canal where they would be busy with ropes etc and indeed more involved with the boat as per the original plan of taking them through the Crinan Canal.
After some discussion we decided this would probably be the best option, and after checking out the tides for the route and also with consideration being made for arrival time at the Corran Narrows (6kts at springs) we set off for Corpach which is slightly north of Fort William, passing en route the entrance to Loch Creran (pronounced kreeran) which would be our final destination and Sun Dog’s new home.
Passing through beween the north end of the island of Lismore and Port Appin on the mainland was kind of neat as there were a lot of jaggy rocks, all easily seen as it was close to low water, and as not all of the rocks are marked this required a fair amount of attention. This was a wee bit difficult at times with it all being so pretty, then it was on past Shuna Island up Loch Linnhe (pronounced Linny) and for me it was a treat to be able to see the Ballachulish Bridge (pronounced bala who lish) down Loch Leven; a bridge that has been crossed by us loads of times by motorbike and car so it was quite exciting (and different) to view it from the sea.
Once past here we had then to focus on the Corran Narrows where the ferries ply across this narrow fast running piece of water, we had the tide with us and fortunatly didn’t need to dodge any ferries in the narrows themselves, and popped out the other end doing about 9 kts. Once again we could feel the strength of the current pulling at the boat and trying to twist her around – and once again I was happy to have a big engine and prop to keep direction and control.
Arriving as we did at around HW at Corpach we gave the British Waterways office a call on the VHF and were told to go straight into the sea lock; which we did and were raised up to the level of the inner basin. Sara and I then went in to the office to fill out the necessary paper work, insurance etc and pay the fee of £173 for an 8 day pass whilst Reyce and Prentice were left in charge of Sun Dog.
Given that we did not have enough time to go all the way through to Inverness and get back down again we felt this charge was a bit high, but given that we had promised the boys, and it was an integral part of the holiday we had to grin and bear it……………well what else can you do!
A surprise bonus we had was my mate Ian had given me a call to say they Veronica and him were heading up on his new motorbike -Suzuki Hyabussa – and was looking to catch up with us, and perhaps even stay over for a night in a local hotel/B&B. The British Waterways staff as ever were very friendly and helpful, they suggested we tell them to meet us at Banavie, which would give us enough time to get through the intial locks and ascend Neptunes Staircase which is a series of 8 locks and like the rest of the canal is really an impressive piece of engineering from the board of a certain Mr Thomas Telford.
Whilst waiting on the other two boats that would be going through with us one of the BW staff took time out with Reyce and Prentice to explain how the locks worked and showed them the lock controls etc – really nice guy and a credit to British Waterways.
We explained to the boys how we would be using ropes etc and took time to demonstrate this to them in the first lock, they picked it up really well and by the time we were into Neptune’s Staircase they were doing an excellent job, being off the boat with Sara and controlling the ascent with the ropes and “walking” with these ropes into the next lock and repeating this all the way up.
I wish the guy from Norway who was in front of us had thought things through a bit better, as in one of the first locks he hadn’t put his bow line far enough forward to act as a brake against the current, and as soon as the force of the water from the sluice took hold his stern almost hit Sun Dog – suffice to say international language from me followed with him firing up his engine to keep clear – bugger me does he not do the same in the next lock – more international language followed as did a conversation with the lock keeper re positioning of his ropes at subsequent locks.
Thankfully after this there were no more dramas, and as they moved their bow line forward in the locks it not only made their control a lot easier and safer, it avoided their crew on the bow having a hernia – so all was well.
Given they were making a pigs ear of things it was rather neat for us to be moving the boat from lock to lock without any similar drama or shouting and heaving on lines, and all this being controlled by two young boys on the ropes (being watched carefully by Sara)- I was so chuffed! Well done guys!
With just about three locks to go Ian and Veronica arrived, and they had booked themselves into the Moorings Hotel at the side of the locks. They came back to the boat which we had tied alongside for the night behind a big motorboat for a coffee and a good ol’ chinwag before going back to the Moorings to get changed. Everything was peacefull and quiet when lo and behold Mr Motorboat decided to fire up a generator – the fumes of which we blowing straight down on us – why he should do this I don’t know as he could have plugged straight into a power supply which was right alongside his boat!! Luckily a boat moved off one of the pontoons further down and I decided to simply move the boat rather than have another “verbal exchange” on the canal – it really does however make you wonder about some people !
Ian and Veronica duly arrived looking a lot “cooler” than they had in their leathers, and we all went back to the hotel for a meal which was rather tasty with the boys opting for copious amounts of ice cream for dessert – the adults were all stuffed so declined. From there we all went back to the boat where Ian decided to show the boys how to set up their lines for river fishing and subsequently spent hours with them along the canal banking – not even the infamous Scottish Midgie could put him off – nice one mate the boys were impressed.
The following morning we set off with Veronica on board and Ian riding his motorbike round to Gairlochy at the start of Loch Lochy where once through the locks we went into a pontoon.
Reflections; I love this photo taken by Prentice
And this one taken by Sara
Sara on the phone to Debbie – seems like a day for laughter – great!
Ian joined us onboard for a short trip out into the Loch before returning to the same pontoon to have a late lunch before they set off home on the bike – a bit quicker than the boat no doubt!! We decided to spend the night here and the boys had a ball swimming around, feeding the ducks and fishing till it got dark.
We awoke to another beautiful warm day (with no wind) and motored up Loch Lochy to Laggan Locks which I have to say is delightful.
We had again to wait to get through due to lunch breaks so tied up to the waiting pontoon and another yacht came in and moored at our back. We used the time to look around and saw the sign on the lock keepers office said 1300 would be the next opening. With it being so hot the boys again went in for a swim then had lunch whilst drying off. Just before 1300 a hired boat (of which there are many) motored up to the lock gates not caring that there were already two boats on the waiting pontoon and was gesticulating and muttering loudly(as it turns out in Swedish) why the hell the gates would not open for him. I did try and explain that it was lunch time and that he would be best to tie up and wait – no sooner had he set off round the other side to tie up than the lock gates opened………was the lock keeper listening all the time and waiting for the most opportune moment to open the gate???? Anyhow Mr Sweden spotted the lock opening and the three of us went through together with Reyce and Prentice once again doing a grand job on the lines.
From there it was a short time till we reached the Laggan Swingbridge, once again a bridge that we have crossed so many times by road, and it was neat to have it open for us to go through by boat.
This then led into Loch Oich which for me was really pretty with plenty of marker buoys so it would be really hard, (despite it being narrow), for anyone to get wrong. From there we went through the locks at Cullochy and Kytra before arriving at Fort Augustas. Once again we were fortunate to get onto the end of a pontoon and whilst a number of boats had to raft up we were left alone – I’m never sure if it’s the low freeboard or rubber buffer that goes round Sun Dog that puts people off rafting alongside…..but who cares!
Once again the boys wanted to cool down by going in for a swim, and we also cooled them down with the water hose 🙂
We stayed the rest of the day here and came to the decision that we simply didn’t have enough time to go down through the locks and into Loch Ness. Once again we reprovisoned, then sat on the side of the series of locks and ate food from the chippie – washed down with cans of juice – not in the least bit healthy – but really tasty 🙂
The boys then disappeared with the camera to take photo’s of horses in a field next to the canal, and here are a couple of my favourites – these were taken by Prentice and I believe he really does have an eye for a good photo – he took the “reflections” one posted earlier in the blog.
Next morning we set off back down the same route and spending another night at Gairlochy which was by now a firm favourite with the boys for fishing, swimming and generally being able to stretch their legs and run around. The canal must be used regularly by the RNLI as during our time in the canal we saw three different lifeboats transiting.
Even when the rain came on the boys were not in the slightest bit detered, they simply put on their waterproof jackets and continued having fun with their home made boats c/w mast and sails with competitions to see which one went furthest.
The good weather came back the following morning, & our plan was to get to Banavie, get a final laundry done (and dried) then get down Neptune’s Staircase into the basin at Corpach to refuel and be ready to leave when the tide was right. As it turns out we managed the laundry part easy enough but when we asked if it was possible to get down through the locks we were told that it might be marginal time wise as “The Lord of the Glens” was on it’s way up from Corpach to tie up for the night at Banavie and it would take about 1.5 hrs to get her through Neptunes Staircase.
I had never heard of nor seen this boat before but apparently she was specifically constructed to fit the locks; as you can see above there is not a lot of free space! We were told that only those with a few thousands to spend can afford to take a berth on her, and that she was/is extremely popular with Americans and Canadians.
Upshot was we didn’t get through that night but managed on the first lock through in the morning (0800) with another couple of boats and got into the basin for fuel, after which we were put into the sea lock to be ready to leave when the tide was sufficiently high to float the gates. The boys spent this time fishing again and spending time chatting/fishing with some of the local boys. Below is a shot of Ben Nevis taken as soon as the summit cleared.
We really needed to leave with an outgoing tide to enable us to get through the Corran Narrows and head for Loch Creran. We needed to arrive that night as once again the forecast wasn’t looking so good for the following day and the timing didn’t allow us to exit from Corpach and get into Loch Creran on the same tide. At one point or another we would have to punch against the tide.
Plan A was to exit the sea lock and wait on the pontoon till the tide turned at 1800.
Plan B I spoke with the guys at the sea lock and they reckoned that with the boat being the way she was with a big engine etc she should be able to punch through the tide without needing to wait. Their caveat was to stay on the eastern mainland side of the narrows and if the boat struggled this would give space to turn, and that the eddies etc were lesser on that side.
I finally decided on a compromise plan, which meant we would exit the sealock and head down to Corran as slowly as possible and by my estimation I would arrive at around 1600 which would mean That there was still two hours of foul tide to contend with which we could punch through under engine, or we would simply sit out these couple of hours at anchor round in one of the bays.
When we arrived at the Corran Narrows I did stay closer to the eastern bank and whilst there was no white water there was whirlpool effects eddies etc and the boat was having to work harder and harder as I was increasing the revs to maintain headway whilst keeping sufficent sea room to turn around if necessary.
In the midst of this one of the ferries decided to set off across the channel, but let’s face it, it was really easy for me to slow down !! Upshot of all this was I ended up at maximum revs on the engine and was only making 4 kts over the ground, once again showing that a big engine can sometimes be handy.
From there it was a reverse of the upward journey, and we arrived at Loch Creran at the time we had hoped/planned just as the tide was at slack water – this is also a narrow channel and subject to 4/5 kts of tide at spring tides – which was my dilema in getting down from Corpach………..I was always going to hit an adverse tide somehwere.
On the run into Loch Creran the winds, as forecast started to to build and once again we were going from calm conditions to 25kts of wind within a matter of minutes, we arrived at the mooring and I’m glad to say that once again Sara picked up the line first time and secured us quickly, which pleased me greatly given all the boats around about us swinging about on their moorings.
We spent a windy night onboard and had a “smiley miley” competition on miles covered from Troon the next morning, with everyone being close to the actual figure of 274 nm, almost all of which was done under engine or motorsailing.
Next day it was a case of rowing everything and everyone ashore, then getting the dinghy into the secure compound – taxi to Oban (the rain was absolutely pelting down) to catch the train to Glasgow Queen Steet, then round to Glasgow Central were we caught a train immediately – then off at Troon – taxi to Troon marina to pick up my car. From there we had to drop the boys off first, and they had a welcome party all ready for them complete with flags, balloons and bunting.
Then home for us a wee bit tired and jaded- but we did achieve a fair amount this holiday and the boys were fantastic – great company – great fun and great crew – well done lads.