Sunday, 11 July 2010

Caledonian Canal Cruising

I'm back on my comfy sofa after a week spent on the Caledonian Canal. Who would have thought that cruising the canal in July could have produced such extreme weather conditions ?
We enjoyed three kinds of weather... Raining. Just stopped Raining. & Just about to start Raining.
Combined with Wind. Lots of Wind. & Oh dear lord is that a Hurricane?
But guess what ? We had a fantastic time. It's true that in the first few days my temper frayed and my language reached an all time low. But considering that none of us had done any kind of sailing before and that we sailed into the worst weather conditions on Loch Ness, I think we did surprisingly well.
Our first night was spent berthed at Urquhart Castle Bay. There is a big difference between watching an instuction video on berthing and tying up your boat and actually doing it, especially in strong winds and I was a bit scared that we would wake in the middle of the night to find ourselves adrift in the middle of the loch. It was quite a relief to wake in the morning exactly where we should be.
Our second night was spent at Fort Augustus, a lovely little town dominated by the five locks that take you up onto the Caledonian canal. The canal itself was created to give a safe passage from Fort William on the west of Scotland through to Inverness in the North East. It meant that ships could avoid the dangerous waters of the North Sea and get supplies through to the other side a lot quicker. It was started in 1822 and finished in 1847. It's all pretty amazing even by modern construction methods but way back then it was literally dug out by hand. The locks join up Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour and covers about sixty miles.
The locking system at Fort Augustus involved two crew members pulling the boat through each of the locks as we moved up the steps. Definately MAN work. Calum and Martin did a grand job and Rhona and I put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea when they got back on board.
Not really much of a sea dog but Angel got little treats from the lock-keeper at Fort Augustus. I think she is particularly pleased to be back home. She got quite good at jumping back onto the boat after her walks but had to be lifted off and she doesn't like being lifted. Poor baby...
Stopped off here at Kytra Lock for some lunch before heading out on to Loch Oich. It looks so peaceful and we should have appreciated it more at the time because as soon as we were through the lock the wind really got up and sailing across the loch in a little cabin cruiser was pretty scary. We heard along the way that a weather warning had been issued and that the next loch down was closed off to boats due the severity of the winds. So all we had to do was keep going and get berthed at the Great Glen Water Park at the end of Loch Oich. What a job we had berthing there... The wind was so strong and we were really grateful to a couple of fellow travellers who got to help secure our boat. We could never have done it alone. Our boat was one of the smallest in the fleet which meant it was easily caught by the wind and could go into a spin just when you were about to throw the ropes to shore. Pretty hairy......
A few days later....
Well, not many photo opportunities in torrential rain, and gale force winds. Pretty dodgy trying to get the camera out when you are concentrating on not falling in the water while securing your boat.
By Thursday the winds had died down, which was a huge relief. You know you have experienced a lot when you are holding ropes at a lock, rain dripping off the end of your nose and you agree with the lock-keeper that it's nice to be out of the wind.
I spotted this rainbow on Thursday evening just before dinner and guess what ?
After dinner we had four full hours of Just stopped Raining. Martin and I took Angel for a nice long walk along the canal tow path into Fort Augustus and stopped at the pub for a wee drink before heading back. We met up with two ladies who we had met previously at The Great Glen. They were canoeing the length of the canal. We talked about a yacht which we had seen tipped over on the loch earlier in the day. They had actually seen it go over and decided to get off the water for a while to sit out the worst of the storm. They were camping most of the route but were treating themselves to a night in a guesthouse. I was truly impressed by these ladies who had certainly earned a night of comfort.
Here are my hardy crew on our last night. Thank goodness I was the one with the camera and that it's not smelly vision. Damp, and barely washed, we weren't exactly at our best but we felt so proud of ourselves for everything we  had achieved during our journey. Calum did a great job steering though choppy waters and berthing in appalling conditions. Rhona, at only 13 has steered a cabin cruiser on Loch Ness and ably assisted in berthing and securing our boat. Martin did a bit of everything and was a true star keeping our spirits up during the worst bits. I like to think of myself as a master of knotting and anything rope related.
We treated ourselves to a fantastic meal out for our last night at a little restaurant nearby. Thankfully most of the diners were fellow mariners and there was no dress code, but the food was excellent and would not be out of place in a classy city restaurant.

Leaving Lock Dochgarroch and heading back to Inverness.
We will no doubt be comparing bruises and boat related injuries for a few days yet but we would definately do it again. I could tell you about a particulary ropey roping incident when I thought I might never crochet again.... Or the time we nearly lost Martin.... or the lady we saw who misjudged the distance to the pontoon and landed in the water while berthing (not me thank goodness).. But I think I've just about covered everything now.
Back to work in the morning.
Fiona x


Fiona said...

Looks like you had a great time despite the weather. Glad you seem to have returned with all your fingers!

Nikki said...

What an adventure. Wild and woolly Summer weather as only Scotland can do it....