Caledonian Canal / Moray Firth
On the Saturday I met up with my crew for the next two weeks – Barny Creaser as well as another GP14 sailed by Mark Burgham. Also with us was David Mason who had brought his 22 foot trailer sailor. All three boats were heading down the Caledonian Canal and out into the Moray Firth to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle. In the end we sailed past there and did an overnight stop amongst the very large cruise ships and oil rigs at Cromarty (Nigg Bay).
The Caledonian Canal for us was a major expedition, other boaters see it as a bit of relief from sailing and as purely a short-cut from one sea to the other BUT these boats have ENGINES – our two GP’s just had oars. The canal itself consists of 22 miles of actual canal and 38 miles of open water (Loch’s). The longest of these is Loch Ness which is 22 miles (this took us two days). The facilities provided by British Waterways were very good and at most locks (not to be confused with’ lochs’) there were toilets and often showers. A camping site was also freely available nearby often with a picnic table. Our kit was carried by Dave in his 22 footer which was a great resource as it meant we could have two adults in the GP in better comfort and in the event of a capsize at least our tents and sleeping kit would be dry. Mark in the other GP cooked and slept on board. And no, he was not a midget nor did his legs unscrew from his body!
The longest part of the sail was 12 hours from the end of Loch Ness out into the Moray Firth and on to Cromarty. We arrived at 9 pm at night and set sail back to Fortrose the next day catching the incoming tide at 6 am. The forecast for the day was ‘winds 0 to 1 mph gusting to 1, sea state wavelets’. A forecast I have never heard off before and neither do I want to ever experience again. The sea state though did enable us to sail with the dolphins at Chanonry Point
THE CALEDONIAN CANAL Thursday June 23rd- at Corpach Loch Linnhe campsite. It is a superb location I have my tent next to my boat which is also next to a slipway. There is the most stunning view down the loch to the mountains. The steam train to Mallaig runs along the edge of the loch adding to the view. I take the opportunity to unload the boat and check all its equipment. The campsite is very big but I certainly recommend it for the small cruising sailor.
FRIDAY - met up with David and his 22 foot trailer boat. Dave is going to be the ‘mother ship’. This means that we can store our camping gear on his boat which is a relief really as we certainly are restricted for space. In the afternoon, after rigging his boat we sailed out of Corpach and passed Fort William we got with a mile of Corran Narrows, beating all the way. It was sunny and a nice fresh breeze made all the better as occasionally the summit of Ben Nevis was laid bare.
And the weather forecast for tomorrow is heavy rain predicted for the afternoon. Mark and his GP14 turned up this morning. We discussed a change in plan and decided to move into the Caledonian canal today and wait at the top. During the rain tomorrow we will take the cars to Rosmarkie (car journey’s of 160 miles). So it was that at noon we sailed off the slipway and into the first sealock. I amazed myself and everyone watching as I entered the lock under full sail and came alongside. The lock keeper said that was just how they did it in the old days. After a quick briefing by the lock keeper of what to expect over the next few days and more importantly paying the rather excessive fee of £68 (this is for a 14 foot boat) we were soon heading into the first sea basin. There we meant Barney who had just arrived and with clothes he had driven up in we then took all three boats up the Jacobs Ladder locks. Mark and his boat was rafted up to a enormous motor cruiser which had just two people on it. So our first night of the journey was spent at the top of the locks and if it hadn’t been dull, grey misty and drizzle we would have been in a good position for a proper view of the Ben. Camping for us was just off the towpath but full toilet and shower facilities were available.
LENGTH OF NATURAL LOCHS 38 MILES LENGTH OF CANAL CUTTINGS 22 MILES
TOTAL LENGTH OF CANAL 60 MILES OUT TO CROMARTY AND BACK 30 MILES
SUNDAY - Yes the weather was exactly as predicted heavy and consistent rain. So the big logistical nightmare of cars and boat trailers began. It was all over by 3 o clock so we moved off down the canal - the journey had began properly. Most of this section was on canal so we either rowed it or stayed rafted up to the ‘mother ship’.By early evening we had reached to opening on to Loch Lochy and as it was still raining quite heavily when set up camp. Nothing at all in this area ie pubs but the service provided my British Waterways were well used. We had hot showers and a drying room in which to meet and cook in. All of us are quite relieved that the first day of sailing has started and it is looking good. All of us in the locks at Corpach - Mark in his GP rafted up and me rafted to Dave in the mother ship.
MONDAY - Before setting off we all went down to the white tower that marks the entrance to the canal for those coming the other way. The weather was dull and grey but more importantly the winds were very light we ended up rowing 3/4 of the way on this loch it was not until we got to end that we managed to get the sail up. Typical of Scottish weather it was too windy at the pontoon but after rafting up again we went into the Laggan locks.
TUESDAY - Another short stretch of canal then into Loch Oich. This is turns into a great sail narrower than Lochy but with a lot more to see. We passed several small islands and if it had been later in the day we would have made every effort to camp on them. It is in this type of loch that the small boat sailor has the advantage. At the end of the loch is Cullochy Bridge and just beyond it is a set one lock but as it was 5.30 the lock keeper convinced us that this was a good place for the night. There was no facilities here but a nice view and a picnic table which suited just fine.
WEDNESDAY - Through another short canal section and down the locks at Fort Augustus before the tourists arrive. There was light winds and it was beginning to rain so we stopped for a big meal before heading out into Loch Ness. This is a phenomenal stretch of water at 22 miles long it is longer than Dover to Calais. Because of the light winds we started out with the intention of finding the first bay and to do some wild camping and wait for he wind to make an appearance . No sooner had we started out than the Loch showed who was in charge here. The wind came back and we had a fast sail to Foyers Bay. We had a great evening together and after a wee drink or two retired to bed. A great relief that in one afternoon we had sailed half-way down Loch Ness.