We were slightly delayed in leaving as there was an accident just opposite our mooring. We heard a bang and a scream ………..a  woman had been walking along the road next to the canal……….. a delivery truck’s door swung open, just as it was passing her and hit her on her side and leg. I went across with arnica and ice and did my First Aid bit until the Ambulance arrived ……….. no blood, only bruising and shock. After the local excitement of another ambulance and two police cars arriving, we felt it was time for us to leave and set off through the swing bridge and locks.

Leaving Cairn Baan

Leaving Cairn Baan

A few miles on and we came to the next Swing Bridge above Lochgilphead and there was Marcus’ Hero’s 28ft boat, ‘Bolt Hole’. We moored up in front of her and were greeted by her maker and owner, Jimmy Woolf.

Moored ahead of Bolt Hole

Moored behind Bolt Hole

We were invited aboard …………….

Jimmy Woolf on his boat

Jimmy Woolf on his boat

 Bolt Hole's saloon

Bolt Hole’s saloon

Bolt Hole's galley

Bolt Hole’s galley

……….and then invited him on-board Island Kea for a ‘wee dram’………with a chaser of beer!……and spent a fascinating hour or so talking with him.

Ripping Yarns!

Ripping Yarns!

'My Hero!'

‘My Hero!’

It was time to leave and make our way down to the Sea Lock at Ardrishaig.

Puffer in the sea lock basin

Puffer in the sea lock basin

These ‘Puffers’ were built for the Crinan Canal and in their day took coal up the canal and returned with whisky. I wonder if either cargo arrived intact?

And so out into Loch Fyne and down to Portavadie,

Portavadie Marina

Portavadie Marina

……….where we met up with Steve and Rosie on ‘Wild Goose’, who shepherded us into Port Edgar.

Steve is setting up an RYA Sailing School and ‘Sail and Trail’ holiday charter business on Wild Goose at Portavadie…….. so tell your friends!

Steve and Rosie ..... Portavadie's resident Yachtmaster Instructor

Steve and Rosie ….. Portavadie’s resident Yachtmaster Instructor

We all met up for dinner in the very modern, nordic style restaurant which is part of the Portavadie holiday complex………so different to the stately victorian yacht clubs down south!

Monday ……… no photos today…….far to wet to get thecamera out!

No movement aboard until gone 1000!!

We waited for a gap in the rain and walked along the towpath to Lochgilphead to do a bit of shopping and restock before leaving the canal tomorrow.

Shoping completed, we got caught in the rain and sought shelter in a little bar, no bigger than a front room. It that had a coal fire burning and a mixed bag of locals and visitors. We talked with a couple from near Glasgow who were up for the week in their caravan……and an 75 year old man who was quietly sitting in the window, drinking his pint and chaser……..Who would have thought that he had built four steel boats in his time, including the 28 foot boat that he owns at the moment……….he sailed it up here from South Africa without an engine! He had been everywhere and had worked in all the exotic places we are hoping to visit. It’s amazing how the least likely looking people have the most interesting stories to tell.

Forget Jimmy Cornell ……… HE is now Marcus’ latest hero ……….. HE knew Bernard Moitessier in Tahiti and shared a joint or two with him. Unfortunately HE had to leave, but Marcus’ hand has now shaken the hand of the man who has shaken hands with Bernard Moitessier!!!……he may never wash again!

 

Sunday

More sunshine………are we really in Scotland?

Marcus set to with the scallops,

The Master at work

The Master at work

The Apprentice

The Apprentice……..gutting and washing

………….opening and cleaning them and with the help of his apprentice, Ian, they soon had a pile of empties lined up on the wall.

It was agreed that this was the best breakfast any of us have ever had!!

Scallops, baco, white pudding, haggis and mushrooms........mmmmmm!

Scallops, bacon, white pudding, haggis and mushrooms……..mmmmmm!

What a small world ………..It seems that we can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone who recognises Marcus…………He was strolling along to see the Lock Keeper when there, sitting outside the Coffee Shop, were 5 people from Edenbridge!

After a quick tour of the boat, we kidnapped them and took the a mile or so up the canal before letting them off to walk back to the Basin.

Our captives!

Our captives!

Released and free to roam

Released and free to roam

The Crinan is incredibly narrow and just at the narrowest bit, cut through rock on both sides, we met a boat coming the other way………….with bowthruster fully operational, we were able to give way and reverse into a passing place………….a bit like going down Devon lanes!!

This was a wider stretch!

This was a wider stretch!

The first locks appeared and we put a keen volunteer ashore to open and close the gates. I think it was a little more strenuous than he expected!

Going down!

Going down!

Some of the gates in that flight aren’t perfectly balanced and require a lot of persuasion to move……….we sent reinforcements to help.

Dawn helping Marcus

Dawn helping Marcus

Ian at the helm through the locks

Ian at the helm through the locks

One of the bridges across the lock!

One of the bridges across the lock!

We moved on through a few more locks to our overnight mooring. We decided on a spot close to the Cairn Baan Hotel ……. More wifi access required!

Cairn Baan

Cairn Baan

The outlook for Monday is rain for most of the day, so we decided to stay put near civilisation, rather than get wet and miserable working the locks. We sampled the Cairn Baan Hotel’s wares and booked a table for dinner ……… another meal that passed the exacting standards of ‘Monsieur Mange Tout’!

An early night was called for. After a series of late nights and the exertions of the locks we were all ready for a good night’s rest.

Saturday

We left our mooring in Oban at 0930 to make some use of the tide going our way.

Leaving our mooring

Leaving our mooring

A last look at Oban

A last look at Oban

As usual, we should have left at least two hours earlier, but it’s hard to get the Captain (and Dawn) in gear at that time of morning!

Once again the scenery was breathtakingly stunning, but today the wind was on the nose and we had to motor-sail all the way.

Plotting a course around the islands in this area is tricky. There are strong tidal currents and steeply varying depths……….. What appear on the chart as insignificant wavelets, turn into a boiling succession of whirlpools that slow the boat to 2 knots, then spit it out at 8 knots.

One of the Whirlpools!

One of the small whirlpools

We passed close to Corryvreckan whirlpool, which we gather is the 7th most powerful whirlpool in the world…….the ‘sides’ of the pool are over a metre in height and several boats ……… including part of the Spanish Armada, Carlos,……. have been sucked down and wrecked.

Progress slowed as the tide turned against us, but who cares when you’ve got this scenery to take in.

Scenery ......... are we getting blasee?

Scenery ……… are we getting blasee?

One decidedly Des Res!

One decidedly Des Res!

Cutting through another set of over falls that toyed with us, we dropped the sails and came in to Crinan.

The approach to the Crinan Sea Lock

The approach to the Crinan Sea Lock

The sea lock was a much smaller affair then the Caledonian………. up we went and entered the tranquillity of the ‘basin’

Our mooring in the Basin

Our mooring in the Basin

Tranquil serenity

Tranquil serenity

After a visit to the coffee shop and a stroll along the towpath,

Happy smiley people.......waving, not drowning!

Happy smiley people…….waving, not drowning!

we sat down to a traditional meal of Haggis, Bashed Neeps and Tatties, cooked by our resident chef……………..delicious!

Passing the Sea Lock on the way to the hotel, we saw some fishermen on a boat in the lock………we thought they looked familiar………they were the crew we went through the Caledonian with, but on a different boat. They had delivered the other boat for a refit and picked up this one. They’d just come in from scallop dredging out in the sound and after chatting for a while, the skipper sent one of the lads down into the hold with a carrier bag to fill with scallops for us………..we sent our skipper back to get a bag full of beer and chocolate for them ……. a fair exchange?…….21 plump, freshly caught scallops for 4 beers and a giant bar of Whole Nut??

A quick trip to the hotel to sit in their lounge, overlooking the loch, to hook up to their intermittent internet and review the day.

The view from the Hotel

The view from the Hotel

View across the loch to the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland.

View across the loch to the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland.

 ……the unanimous verdict on our day …………. perfect!

Looking forward to breakfast in the morning!!!

Friday

After thinking we were going to have a leisurely morning, the Lock Keepers had other plans! Within 10 minutes of being told that if we didn’t move immediately, we would have to wait four hours for the next  lock, we had the motor on, the lines off and were making our way into the lock.

We pulled up on the waiting pontoon just outside as Marcus had to go and settle up with the boatyard for yesterday’s  ‘expert’ ……. The lock keeper took our lines and then affered to drive Marcus to the boatyard to save us time and tide …….. yet another example of how kind people are when you’re least expecting it!

Once underway we soon had the sails up and were sailing down Loch Linnhe bound for Oban.

Leaving Copach

Leaving Copach

Leaving the mountains behind

Leaving the mountains behind

The weather was clear and sunny and, out of the wind, it was positively hot!! We sailed all the way to Oban pinching ourselves …………..were we truly sailing downwind in perfect winds and weather??

The RAF was getting some low level practice in before the Bank Holiday and one plane dipped its wings at us as it passed. From up there we must have looked an idyllic sight.

This part of Scotland is breathtakingly beautiful and the photos really don’t do it justice.

Amazing skies too

Amazing skies too

We picked up a buoy in Oban Bay, just down from the Yacht Club, and took the dinghy ashore.

Approaching Oban

Approaching Oban

Life here operates at a  completely different pace than down south………….on the landing jetty there was an Honesty Box, with envelopes provided for visiting yachtsmen to leave their mooring fee posted in the box.

Our mooring. The honesty box is at the bottom of the foot bridge

Our mooring. The honesty box is at the bottom of the foot bridge

Oban harbour with it's folly in the background

Oban harbour with it’s victorian folly in the background

Once ashore we walked down into the town to explore what the town had to offer. Like all these towns, the Victorians developed the town when the railways made access possible and lucrative. Oban is  a busy ferry port with ferries of all shapes and sizes, serving  the outer islands,  moving to and fro. We walked along the sea front and were greeted by one of the Town Ambassadors………..a bit like one of the Olympic Games Makers!……, who pointed us in the direction of his local, Auwly’s bar, where we revived ourselves, and the Ceilidh House where we ended the evening. We strolled a little further on and stumbled on a great restaurant, which led through to its own micro-brewery. Friday fish for us all and it passed our exacting scrutiny……..good food, and excellent service!

The ‘inner  man’ satisfied, we set off for the Ceilidh House……… again we found the refreshingly, un-cynical, simple enjoyment of people of all ages enjoying modern and traditional Scottish music being  played on accordion, piano and bagpipes, by young men. Everyone knew the dances and just got up, paired up and away they went. Unfortunately we would need to have more time to pick up the steps!

The Ceilidgh House

The Ceilidh House

Back to the boat for one of Marcus’ Winter Warmers and bed.

Wednesday

Today we seemed to have all four seasons in one day……….Just the day for a walk into Fort William along the Great Glens Way. Waterproofs at the ready, we set off along the banks of Loch Linnhe……..one moment sweltering sunshine, the next sleety rain.

Part of the Great Glens Way

Part of the Great Glens Way

No need for the GPS to tell us which way to the Distillery………..Marcus just followed his nose and we followed him.
After a slightly ‘cheesey’ film, we started our tour of the Distillery, which had been working up to last Friday, but had stopped due to a pump problem. We were reassured that there was still plenty to sample at the end of the tour!

The Fermentation Bins

The Fermentation Bins

The Stills

The Stills

After our very ‘wee dram’, we continued our ‘Four Seasons’ walk into Fort William and lunch.
Marcus insisted on buying a tacky souvenir hat………..so a tacky photo or two had to be taken!

Marcus McHaggis and his chum.

Marcus McHaggis and his chum.

Back to the boat and then up to the local bar with a pool table. The locals were on the table, so Marcus challenged them ……….winner stays on, so Marcus stayed on and we became his groupies for the rest of the evening!

Just before we left Benavie, the Steam Train came over the bridge ………

Woo! Woooooo!

Woo! Woooooo!

…….it startled a deer that broke cover and then decided we were more scary than the steam billowing train!

Our second sighting of a deer startled by the steam  train

Our second sighting of a deer startled by the steam train

The Sea Lock Tuesday morning

The Sea Lock Tuesday morning

The Sea Lock from I.K. Wednesday Morning

The Sea Lock from I.K. Wednesday Morning

The Canal lock Tuesday morning

The Canal lock Tuesday morning

The canal lock from I.K. Wednesday morning

The canal lock from I.K. Wednesday morning

This is the view we woke up to with Ben Nevis behind the trees and the cloud out of the back of the cockpit!
What a difference 24 hours makes!!? There is no more beautiful place than Scotland in the sunshine.

Today was ‘jobs list’ day. The first job was to make a list! ……..you may be surprised, but we actually managed to tick a lot of them off!

The major ‘blue’ job was sorting out what has caused the bowthruster to stop working. The boys spent a happy couple of hours fossicking in the forepeak!

The Happy Fossickers!

The Happy Fossickers!

It turns out that, contrary to all the information about bow-thrusters to be found on the Internet, this particular model is driven by a motorbike chain!

Having carefully opened up the patient, Drs. Hayward and Fellingham ascertained they were not going to sink the boat by continuing and proceeded to extract the innards from the ‘bowels’ of the chain chamber.

Forceps, in the guise of the kitchen tongs, produced the broken chain and a little fishing with a telescopic magnet brought the ruptured pieces to the surface. Swabs of paper towel soon staunched the oil and the patient is now resting comfortably awaiting replacement surgery by a Consultant on Thursday.

Other jobs completed were, re-victualing (pink!), mending the stay sail block that broke after Lossiemouth, packing away the bikes, passage planning, looking at the deck wash pump ……… needs a complete overhaul–not urgent, finding somewhere recommended on ‘Trip Advisor’ to eat tonight.
Jobs done for the day, we went up to catch a non existent bus……..luckily Ian spotted a taxi about to take his fare a wee way up the road . The driver said that if we were still waiting, he’d pick us up…….. so we got in the taxi and we made for the recommended ‘Grog and Gruel’ in Fort William High Street.

A very pleasant evening……….. and we have spotted the Ben Nevis Distillery that requires a visit on Wednesday!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Nothing better than a peaceful night on a mooring bouy.

After hoisting the dinghy onto it’s davits, we set off down Loch Lochy towards the Banavie flight of locks nicknamed Neptunes Staircase. We went through some stunning countryside with Ben Nevis occasionally looming out of it’s cloud mantle ………. just checking we were still there!Ben Nevis keeping an eye on us Ben Nevis keeping an eye on us

The Canal twists and turns along this stretch following the river’s course ……….there was always the worry that we would encounter another ‘Cruise Liner’ on our side of the road around the next bend. On Sunday we thought we were looking at the next lock until we got right round the corner and realized it was the Lord of the Glen steaming straight towards us ……. guess who had to give way.

Lower down the loch we came across a boat moored up which I had to include!

Especially for you Maureen!

Especially for you Maureen!

The lochs are incredibly deep and the water is clear, but with a peaty colour to it.

How deep?!

How deep?!

The lochs are used for hydro-electric power, tourism and fish farming.

The second fish farm we've seen

The second fish farm we’ve seen

We were surprised not to see more fish farms.
As we passed into the final section of the loch we saw a deer close to the canal, totally unphased by a yacht chugging by …… we had to whistle to gain its attention…..perhaps he thought it was a Wolf whistle!

Did he see us? No idea!

Did he see us?
No idea!

The lock keepers close the locks for an hour at lunch time, which is literally a moveable feast depending on how long the last boats took to go through. We arrived at the Gairlochy locks at 1.45, during that lock keeper’s lunch break, so we tied up on the pontoon and took a stroll up to the lock. As we approached I realised it looked familiar………two years ago we came to this lock to look at the Caledonian Canal with the idea that, one day, we would bring our boat through here………. and here we were!!

Waiting at Gairlochy ...... Deja vu?

Waiting at Gairlochy …… Deja vu?

The boat in the foreground is a similar design and size to our last boat, Chandie, which we thought was big!……Island Kea doesn’t fit onto the pontoon and we were sticking out at the back.

Once through the lock it was a short stretch to Neptune’s Staircase. As we were approaching the wind picked up and, without the bow thruster, the next mooring up to a waiting pontoon proved to be entertaining! I managed to pull in perfectly to get Ian ashore, but the instant he set foot on the jetty, the wind took the boat away and poor Ian was left with both lines……..unable to cleat either off, he was being stretched in both directions. We aborted the attempt and the Captain took the helm for the second approach …….. success! The trick is to use a centre line and power against it as a spring……. something which we normally do, but somehow forgot!

A rare sight .........Marcus the deck hand

A rare sight ………Marcus the deck hand

Marcus still busy with the lines!

Marcus still busy with the lines!

Happy crew

Happy crew

And so ……. on into the Benavie locks. There are 8 locks that form the staircase. We put Dawn and Ian ashore to take the lines that control the boat on the descent. We were the last boat through for the day, so had the locks to ourselves. This meant that it was easy to move through between locks and Dawn and Ian could walk the lines on, avoiding the tourists who wanted to take their photos of a boat going through the locks.

Ian about to lower us down

Ian about to lower us down

Dawn waving at Steve from the top of Neptune's Staircase

Dawn waving to Steve from the top of Neptune’s Staircase

In the bottom lock, waiting for the bridges to open

In the bottom lock, waiting for the bridges to open

Got the shot........now to get back on the boat!

Got the shot……..now to get back on the boat!

Once at the bottom, we moored for the night beyond the road and rail swingbridges, looking up at the Staircase and just 20 yards from a pub……result!!

Our mooring for the night

Our mooring for the night

Needless to say we visited the hostelry and played pool………Marcus and Dawn 4 – Ian and Margie 0! Then on to The Moorings Hotel to pay too much for too little………food and service. Then back to the boat for one of the Captain’s Winter Warmers.

.......and for you Sir?

…….and for you Sir?

Sunday

Another day on the Caledeonian………..cloudy to start, sweltering to finish and……… we heard our first Cuckoo today!

Being one of the bigger boats we made it into the second lock of the day along with the Swedes from Clachnaharry and a fishing boat, that was being delivered somewhere on the west coast, to be lifted out and refitted and resprayed ……… she looked like it was a while since she’d landed any fish, so not too smelly in the confines of a deep lock!!

The fishing boat we shared a lock or two with

The fishing boat we shared a lock or two with

The morning was warm but the ‘heavy heat haze’ stopped the sun from breaking through. Loch Oich is a much smaller and prettier affair than Loch Ness and has a clearly bouyed channel. Along the banks there are jetties and anchorages and at one point we saw the sad sight of a good looking boat that gone aground ……. a little bit of Googling brought no definitive answers, but it has been there for at least two years……… amazingly all the deck fixtures fittings are still there! Can you imagine how much the local locusts would have left down on the south coast?

A sad sight

A sad sight

Two of our 'lock buddies' heading for the next swing bridge.

Two of our ‘lock buddies’ heading for the next swing bridge.

Moving on down the canal there are the occasional signs of tourism, but they are generally totally in keeping with the surroundings. We have seen two log cabin parks on the banks of the loch ……..

Log cabins near our mooring

Log cabins near our mooring

They do look a little like hen coops, but ideal for an outdoorsy get away.

Having completed the locks in Loch Oich we have started to descend in the locks …… an altogether easier process than going up! No more hurling the lines up 3 or 4 metres for Ian to catch…….just hook the lines over and let them out as we go down.

Just through the lock at the top of Loch Lochy we decided to stop for the night. We found an idillic bay with a conveniently place mooring bouy and tied up for the night. There is just one small snag that has arisen today …… the bowthruster has ceased working. It stopped, with a prononced ‘Clunk!’, in one of the locks and couldn’t be persuaded to go again. After an underwater video inspection at our mooring in Loch Lochy the consensus is that the likely cause is a sheer pin on the prop has sheered……..whatever the problem is, we can’t do anything about it until we dry out somewhere, so we will have to cope like we always did before without the luxury of a bowthruster.

On a mooring bouy in Loch Lochy

On a mooring bouy in Loch Lochy

The lock we had just been through offers showers and a floating pub …. The Eagle!……What better incentive to get the dinghy down off it’s davitts, the motor fixed on the transom and ‘the Boys’ to take it on a test drive across the loch?!

The Boys...... on the plane!

The Boys…… on the plane!

After that it was ‘All Aboard for the Skylark’ and a visit to the delights of The Eagle!

We struck gold ..... a floating pub!!

We struck gold ….. a floating pub!!

The sun was out, the beer was excellent and the company great.

Four Happy Bunnies

Four Happy Bunnies

We met a couple who were doing the Great Glen walk with their dog, a woman who was staying in one of the log cabins and a couple of guys from Birmingham, who are cycling the Caledonian………(I showed them your website Dan!)

The sun was positively hot and we moved to the top deck, up a decidedly rickety gang plank and sampled more of the Eagle’s delights than we had intended……….was the gang plank more rickety on the way down??

We spoke with the landlord and his wife……..they have been there for eight years and are open for 7 months a year …….. the canal is closed during the winter. When they heard we were planning to go through the Crinan canal he said he could guarantee we would have 7’6″………… they had personally ploughed a furrow through it a couple of years ago with the old wooden yacht behind the Eagle!

Inside The Eagle ..... floating pub

Inside The Eagle

Inside The Eagle ..... floating pub

Inside The Eagle

Saturday

We knew that the weather was going to be chilly and wet today so we decided a walk in the drizzle was a better option than standing out in it at the locks.

Fort Augustus is a stop off point on the ‘Coach Tours of the Highland’s route. There is a Londis at the Garage, McVeans shop and cafe, a post office, a butchers and a couple of souvenir shops and a couple of Chippys……….not a lot of town when 3 coachloads descend at once. One coach of camera toting Japanese tourists ventured down along the towpath and we had a succession of people posing in a proprietorial way against the boat. I invited one girl on-board to have her photo taken, causing a lot of hopeful looks and smiles from the following group, but we had boots and waterproofs to don……… the call of the wild beckoned us.

Walking in the drizzle, Fort Augustus

Wild walking in the drizzle, Fort Augustus

At the visitors centre we found a map of circular walks and plumped for the shortest, as the fine drizzle was not so fine anymore. We walked along the towpath doing a recce for tomorrow, past the golf course, where the green keepers were a small flock sheep and across some heathland with cattle lying down in preparation for rain??

A very posh cow

A very posh cow   ‘You don’t see many of those around here, do you?’

Aaaah!

Aaaah!

Walk completed, we went for afternoon tea at the McVeans, overlooking the river Oich……..probably the rudest female version of Basil Fawlty to be found in Scotland was operating the till……..didn’t score too highly with the maestro!
So back to the boat for a cosy evening in front of the hot air blower, a tasty lasagna, cooked by Dawn and a game of Boggle……. the joys of a relaxing,’ not got to go anywhere’ day.