August 11, 2008
Gary and I had signed on for a mile-builder and a half.
John Wetton who runs a sailing school and charter business (http://www.wetstuff.org.uk/) out of Gosport had gone walkabout with Prime Evil, his Sigma 400 and had been out cruising for 6 weeks in three sections, up to Oban, around the Western Isles, up to Orkney and down to Inverness
We were joining him for the final leg, to get the boat back to Gosport, via the Caledonian Canal, the Irish Sea, Lands End and up the English Channel.
I’m doing it for the experience, including the chance to do more night sailing. Gary, who I have been training up as my crew finds out that I’ve also signed him up for a Competent Crew course during the trip…
For the trip south we will have John and six crew (but two of them can only stay for the first week).
We join the boat on the Caledonian Canal, just south of Inverness, but about 6 locks up from the sea.
Early on the Monday morning we set off down the Canal and up into the Highlands.
And up it is as from where we joined the boat there are 23 locks, 8 swing bridges and 3 Lochs to pass through before we reach the sea again.
John hopes to get through the canal in a day, I’ll wait and see as I reckon it will take the best part of two days.
Along to Dochgarroch Lock and up we go. The lock-keeper gives us a warning notice about the fact that there is going to be blasting on the coast of Loch Ness later in the day but we work out that we should be well past Fort Augustus (at the southern end of Loch Ness) by then.
Now we are at the level of Loch Ness and motor onto the loch hoping to be able to sail the next 25 miles. No such luck, wind is on the nose (well in the Great Glen it usually is going to be either South Westerly or North Easterly, the mountains restrict it a bit!)
Ok so its motor along with a bit of drizzle on the wind, and yes we get to Fort Augustus in plenty of time. Moor up and go to report to the lock-keeper and he says “they are blasting on the Loch this afternoon so we have shut the locks to stop boats entering the Loch”. But we want to go the other way.. Sorry no movements until 16:00… So much for John and his through in one day.
Late afternoon and we watch them set off their blasting, 1 tonne of HE according to the BBC but looks a bit of a fizz from where we are watching (about three miles away!), then its back to the boat, through the swing bridge, up the flight of five locks and we are underway again.
Two more locks and we reach Loch Oich and the summit of the canal, it will be all downhill from now on, once we get to the end of Loch Oich, but its getting near dusk and the Laggan swing bridge has already closed so its time to moor up for the night.
August 12, 2008
We need as early a start as possible says the skipper, so we are all ready to cast off as soon as the bridge-keeper arrives. I go up and ask “when do you do the first swing of the bridge?” “As soon as you get the boat here is his reply” and hence quickly back to the boat and cast off.
Through the bridge and along to the Laggan Locks and we are going down!
Out onto Loch Lochy and perhaps we can sail. Cover off and no, there just isn’t enough wind. So back on with the donkey and chug along.
Down to Gairlochy, find the entrance to the next stretch of the canal and its two more locks with a swing bridge between them.
Now its the longest canal stretch all the way down to the sea.
We reach Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie just at lunch time, and the canal guide says “it may take three hours to get through” so off we go to see the lock-keeper to see if we have timed it right.
No such luck, he has just started to pass two yachts down the staircase, which is a flight of eight locks… It will take an hour and a half to get them down, an hour and a half to get the next group up so the next down session will be at about 15:00
Once we get started then it will take us another hour and a half to get down. So anyone thinking about using the canal please note that it can take up to 4.5 hours to get through the staircase!
So there we are sitting at the top of the staircase and we can see all the way down to Loch Linnhe and the sea, but we cant get going!
We clear the last lock of the staircase at 16:30 and the canal locks all shut at 17:30 so even my “two days to get through” is looking tricky. Up with the revs a little and down into the next pair of locks. Can we get diesel at the fuel quay we ask? Yes, but not if you want to get out to the sea today. OK so we will have to go with what we’ve got.
Into the sea lock at Corpach, the gate opens, and we are out!
No wind and a glassy sea so we motor over to Fort William and tie up next to a trip boat, before going ashore for provisions, beer and a meal.
It is a good job its a tourist town,at least the shops are still open.
Yes we are still in Scotland, we hear the swirl of the Pipes, and find the local high school Pipe Band is marching up and down the High Street!
August 13, 2008
So now we are a day behind schedule so its up and off at sunrise.
We are on the sea, we can sail, but where is the wind…
On with the donkey again as we plug on south down Loch Linnhe towards the Corran Narrows. At least it is Neap tides at the moment so we don’t have to worry too much about the eddies etc that you get here at springs.
Through the narrows, and its time to pick our way through the hazards into the Lynn of Lorn with Lismore Island to starboard.
On we go and suddenly its Sail Ho, there is at least one more yacht out today, and she has sails up. Yes she does but she has the engine on as well..
The wind is picking up so its raise the main, fly the jib and we are actually really under sail for the first time this trip. Off with the engine and peace at last.
About an hour later and the wind starts to veer and drop, oh blast, motor sailing it is!
into the Sound of Luing, past the mouth of the Corryvecken and into Ardminish on Gigha, and drop the anchor, just in time for a lovely sunset.
August 14, 2008
Up at first light and head South East to avoid the shallows, picking our way between the banks to get into deeper water and then steer for the point.
After a lovely sunrise the Mull of Kintyre has got a cloudy hat on and its still a motoring session. Clear of the Mull and with Skanda Island off the port beam and we are clear of the Traffic Zone and its time to lay off the course for Bangor.
Wind! Up with the main and fly the jib and we are off again.
Dodge the odd ferry and HMS Enterprise (a survey vessel, preumably out to update the Admiralty charts) and we approach the Irish coast, trying to pick our route to avoid the worst of the contrary tides that we would have found close in.
And its into Bangor marina for the night, Showers and Guiness, but first over to the fuel quay and fill her up please.
A pleasant night ashore in the pub and a relatively late departure in the morning, well its late for us it must be at least 07:00 when we get away.
August 14, 2008
A blog entry just to sort out the fact that our locations are coming out as where we left from rather than where we are!
August 15, 2008
A cracking morning sail sees us tacking to clear the northern point of the Isle of Man as we couldn’t quite hold the course we needed.
August 15, 2008
Round the point and its a beat down the Eastern coast of the Isle of Man towards Douglas.
Wind is getting up, in goes another reef, and over the bow comes another wave. Its getting wet up here!
About 8 tacks later and we can see the entrance to Douglas harbour and we are nearly into shelter. We get ready to round up and put the main away and suddenly its ferry time again, a big one coming out towards us. Let her go first, then drop the main and moor alongside one of the boats on the “waiting pontoon”.
The marina at Douglas has a sill to keep the water in and once the tide is high enough they lift the bridge, drop the sill, and you can take your boat in.
Well Prime Evil has a deep draft, and if we go in we wont get out until almost midday so we decide to stay on the pontoon for the night. Untie and hold off until the other boats have left to catch the bridge and snuggle her down for the night. Not too tight, there is a bit of a swell coming in and making the pontoon sections groan, and there will be ferries moving as well.
Off to the pub, and we get a call from two of the crew, “We can’t get back onto the boat as the pontoon is 15 feet off the wall…”
Back we go and they are right… The pontoon is not on piles it is simply anchored and has to have enough slack to allow for the tidal range. Come low water and an offshore wind and all that slack lets the wind blow it off. Luckily two of the crew have stayed aboard so its yell loud enogh to wake them up and they can start the engine and push the pontoon back to the steps.
I’m sure that the pilot book didn’t mention this little “feature”, it said the pontoon was untenable in an Easterly but nothing about it going walkabout at low water in a Southerly…
August 16, 2008
Well the forecast is looking gastly and its blowing a whooly out there and Douglas bay is full of white horses.
Thank God its coming from the South West, I can see why the pilot book says this pontoon is completely untenable in a North Easter.
John decides we aren’t going anywhere so its a long lie in, go and get the shopping in and then go for a wander around Douglas.
Well it is for some of us, two of the crew have to leave us today, and go home due to work commitments, so its an early taxi to the airport for them.
As we walk into town we see the remains of the Solway Harvester, a Scallop trawler that sank off the Isle of Man in 2000 with the loss of all seven of her crew. the wreck was later salvaged as part of the investigation into her loss and now lies rusting away alongside the harbour wall.
It is a sobering reminder of the risks we all face when we go to sea, especially with rough seas outside and the wind whistling past us.
August 17, 2008
Wind has died off a bit and so on we go.
Wind is West South West, too much West in it for us to head over to Ireland so it looks like somewhere in Wales for the next stop.
Beaumaris and the Menai Straits looks like fun, but as we head South the wind backs and we get set more to the West after all.
So we cant get East of Anglesey very easily and its into Holyhead for the night. A quick meal on the boat, up to the Marina to do the washing and have a shower and round to the Yacht Club for a few beers. And, oh yes it is pouring out there so we had to wear those waterproofs that we had hoped to get dry.
August 18, 2008
The wind got up in the night, sounds of the skipper adding extra springs etc, shall I get up to help. Oh well sounds as if he has finished anyway….
Shipping forecast isn’t good. Gale warnings for Fastnet, Lundy, Irish Sea and its sounds as if the Channel is really getting it Severe gales for Plymouth , Portland , White …
Sounds like another day in port then, time to finish off the washing and see what Holyhead has to offer.
Not that much it seems, a nice little Maritime Museum, where we discover that the Victorians had a steam lifeboat that used water jet propulsion, so that’s not as new as you might have thought!
Into the town and a cuppa in a cafe and then wend our way back to the boat.
There’s a big rib coming in with HM Customs on the side and its coming our way.. Excuse me Gents can we come aboard? Oh yeah so what if we say no!
No problem folks, want a cup of tea? Lets be friendly with them as they are only doing their job.
So we sit there for a while as they fill in their forms and one goes to have a quick look down below and do a few smear tests in case one of us has been snorting cocaine on the saloon table… I hope John hasn’t had any previous crew on here with any strange substances…
No calls from the boys in blue since we got home so I presume everything came back negative..
OK over to the local pub for a meal and then bed, we are now three days behind schedule…