Its the Crinan Canal for me

It was time to bring White Knight into the Clyde for her first major refit for nearly 20 years. Our summer around the islands of the Inner Hebrides had got us used to her foibles and the survey listed several advisory items which the insurers insisted were resolved before the 2020 season. This included a gas safety certificate, changing the aged standing rigging and servicing all the sea cocks. There was also a longer list of nice to haves to address. From Croabh to the Clyde we had two reasonable options, around the Mull of Kintyre or through the Crinan Canal.

In the words of a song sung by Neill Munro’s  Dan MacPhail “Enchuneer” of The Vital Spark

The Crinan Canal for me,

I don’t like the wild raging sea

Them big foamin’ breakers

Wad gie ye the shakers

The Crinan Canal for me.

A bit of history:- The Crinan Canal was built to provide a short cut for commercial sailing and fishing vessels between the industrialised region around Glasgow to the West Highland villages and islands, avoiding the notorious Mull of Kintyre. The canal was designed by Civil Engineer John Rennie with work starting in 1794. In the early years the canal was beset with problems including; finance, poor weather, labour shortages. After the Canal was opened in 1801 the problems continued with bank and reservoir collapses.  Thomas Telford was commissioned to assess the problems and suggested improvements to the locks, and some parts of the canal were redesigned including the swing bridges which were replaced in cast iron in 1816.  Today the canal remains a popular route for leisure craft between the Firth of Clyde and the west coast of Scotland, used by nearly 2,000 boats annually.

White Knight’s Delivery Trip to Kip via Crinan Canal and Loch Fyne

23 August 2019: Jan, Elin and I drove up to Croabh from North Wales, arriving 20:45 just in time for a late dinner in the Lord of the Isles.

24 August: Loaded, victualled and final dues paid at the Marina, we removed the fenders from the berth and liberated a piece of old sail cloth from the skip to protect White Knight’s topsides in the Canal. It was a cold grey start with spray over the decks as motored down to Dorus Mor.

That film has a lot to answer for

Calling ahead the Lock keepers opened the sea lock ready for us. The sun finally broke through the murk as we entered Crinan Sea Lock. With lines secured the lock filled lifting us to the canal basin. Time to nip to the office and pay our dues, £124 for passage through the canal with a discount for a return trip within 12 months. A short break in the canal basin while Elin admired a small dog and we grabbed a mug of tea.

The sea lock and next lock were both manned and set in our favour, so we passed quickly onto the long pound. With the bridges maned we did not have to wait long to pass through. Wonderful scenery and serene, the Crinan Canal certainly lived up to its reputation as “the most beautiful short cut in Britain”. The views across the salt marshes gave way to the wider wetlands around Dun Add seat of the kings of Dal Riata.

Arriving at lunch time the main flight of locks was DIY. A large yacht ahead of us left all the locks set against us. It was heavy going working the locks while Jan and Elin steered the boat and tended lines. A Lock Keeper finally appeared as we came through the next to top lock but was not very helpful. He was more interested in chatting up the passing ladies. My back starting to feel it as we came through the last up lock. As the midges started to bite, Elin blagged some mosquito repellent from an Australian couple in a nearby motor home.

We just missed the day’s racing at the Mid Argyle Radio Sailing club in the reservoir by the top lock. Water levels in the short top pound were getting low at the end of a long day. Starting the decent we were able to get through two locks before we were stopped by the lock keeper for the night at Cairnbran.

End of a long day

All very tired, stiff aching and a bit grumpy. Hot showers in the lock keeper’s hut were followed by a restorative dinner in the Cairnbran Hotel.

25 August

Through Lock 6 and 7 as soon as the loch keeper left the lock keys and unlocked the gates.

Dew on the decks bodes well for the day

After an easy run we were held for an hour at Ardrishaig top lock for road traffic through the lower locks and bridge openings. The very helpful lock keeper suggested Jan & Elin take the opportunity to go to Morrisons and stock up with food. We rafted through the final locks with 2 other boats.

Leaving Ardrishaig Sea Lock and the Crinan Canal we broke out into a flat calm in Loch Fyne.

Out of the sea lock

An unplanned MOB practice when a fender broke loose.  Dolphins were playing around the channel markers as we streamed the log. Elin took to the boom for a doze in the sunshine as we made our way slowly down Loch Fyne.

Gently down a calm Loch Fyne

We looked into East Loch Tarbert harbor for future reference. The new marina looked very welcoming, but we did not stop.

A light SW wind carried us across Lower Loch Fyne towards the Kyles of Bute.  Rounding Ardlamont Point we set the Spinnaker for the first time. Then had a fine spinnaker run up the West Kyle to Tighnabuaich then wind dropped. Time to recover the spinnaker. Something which will need more practice to perfect.

Spinnaker run up the West Kyle

From Tighnabuaich we motor sailed up to Caladh Harbour and the Burnt Islands, doffing our caps to the Maids of Bute as we passed. The wind dropped so we motored down East Kyle to Port Bannatyne.

Port Bannatyne Marina is a very friendly place with loads of people just wanting to chat. The facilities are clean, warm and unfussy. Last time Elin and I visited Port Banatyne was in our Cornish Shrimper Daisy in 2014 before we joined the Commonwealth Games Flotilla. A boat we had met on that trip Ancaster iV was in the marina but unfortunately nobody was on board.

26 August

Breakfast at the Port Banatyne Post Office Café with its stunning views up Loch Striven and its George VI post box

Breakfast at Port Bannatyne Post Office

Departing in a light South Westerly the wind increased as we crossed Rothsey Bay. By the time we rounded Toward point it was blowing F5 gusting 6 and the swell was rising. After the calm waters of the Canal and Loch Fyne the mal de mare reared its ugly face.  

The chance for a sail around Great Cumbre was rejected. Elin was keen to head home and secure her collage place. So we sailed direct for Kip Marina. Furling the sails in a lively swell off the old jetty for Inverkip Power Station was challenging before heading for the calm of the marina. We were quickly moved from the visitor pontoon onto the main marina. There was no additional charge as our berth at Croabh was already paid for. Elin quickly made up for the saving with a visit to the on-site chandlers.

After a quick tidy up Jan & Elin caught the train home to arrange an interview and confirm Elin’s college place.   With peace descended I was left for a quiet evening’s working through the “to do” list and dinner at the marina restaurant.

27 August

My brother Donald and his sons visited in the morning. After a breakfast of bacon grill butties, part of the boys missing education, we went for a short sail up the Clyde to the Cloch lighthouse then back to Inverkip.

Afternoon saw us back on the road to Croabh to collect the car and the new cooker. Lunch at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar en-route. Donald & the boys then headed onto Fort William to climb Ben Nevis.

I spent the evening installing the new cooker, removing the U/S refrigeration unit and relocating the spare battery in its place. The Fish and Chip supper was not particularly nice.

28 August: Home.


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