Caledonian Canal 5 – 10th Aug

Team A-Jay motored from Inverness round to Clachnaharry Lock and jillied for a few minutes before entering with a large Oyster yacht. Lock procedures are not as difficult as the local names and all are manned by keepers who have seen it all.

They offer varying degrees of assistance depending on the number and competence of the crew, from degrees of verbal to handling your ropes. I guessed we were middle ranking, not quite a liability but not entirely competent. Mind you, I felt we were quick learners as lock terms such as “flood down” soon tripped easily off the tongue.


Seaport Marina

Seaport Marina, Pontoon 5, berth 44 was our address that night and the Clachnaharry Inn provided supper, unsubtle and the wrong side of large but nice enough. A huge floating crane, Woodstock, was the keeper’s priority next morning so it was 1100 before Team A-Jay ‘locked’.

Keepers’ Lunch stopped play at Tomnahurich but here you take your time and go with the flow. Open water sailing techniques and the ways of modern marinas help not a jot – just keep in touch on VHF 74, follow instructions and smile – oh and always ensure your warps are long enough and you’ll need two spare pairs of hands in the later locks.

Through Dochgarroch, which opened as we arrived a line of private craft providing an interesting view for the nautical anorak, then out into Loch Ness head butting 19 – 25 knots on the nose; what else? Not wishing to be left out, rain occasionally joined us. Nessie, of course, is a long dead ‘fish’ a friend had declared so we did not expect any exciting sightings.

Destinations were flexible but we had been advised to miss Drumnadrochic, now off to starboard unless we were desperate for a fluffy Nessie, which we weren’t funnily enough. So Team A-Jay pushed on to Fort Augustus, as a flat bottomed hire boat nosed out of Drumnadrochic Bay, only to scuttle back to shelter, probably because of the wind and frothy sea.


Good Name!!

A-Jay limped splashily on, the wind peaking at 30 knots though the Loch water had none of the venom of an open sea. The River Foyers emptied itself into the Loch to port, and everywhere tall, guardsman straight sentinel pines climbed the slopes, leaving others of a lesser order to line the loch’s edge, lower branches slumped into the murky grey waters.

The wind eased a few knots and the weak evening sun occasionally escaped the cloud’s embrace. Rough rock pierced the green canopy in places, like scabs on an ancient elbow. Log cabins in a line, hired, posh to the left, mere mortals to the right, the sun now an occasional refugee from its cloudy cavern, tantalisingly absent – all images of the Loch.

The ship’s log said it was cold as Team A-Jay joined the crowd at Fort Augustus, the end of the day.

Firmly in Saga Mode, we missed the early lock opening next morning which gave the skipper an unwelcome opportunity to fettle the ship’s composting head, assisted by the First Mate. This is not a particularly messy or difficult procedure, except for the degree of subterfuge insisted on by the skipper as part of his ‘potty modus operandi’.

Later Team A-Jay climbed out of Fort Augustus, 6 in the lock, watched by 100s, filmed by many, a crash or skipper’s cock up a very public affair. Our new lock friend opined on matters various, G&T permanently in hand, as a large plastic soap dish of a hire boat repeatedly threatened to escape the grip of its 2 juvenile handlers.


Awaiting Tomnahuric Lock



En route to Laggan

On we marched in line astern through Cullochy Lock and Laggan Swing Bridge, ever upwards though not for much longer for we peaked at Laggan. Supper there we shared with the swallows, fat with Highland midges most of whom seemed to avoid the skipper, probably because of his diesel and coolant marinade.


Fort Augustus Abbey


Fort Augustus

From here it would be all downhill, geographically speaking and so it was we  ‘Flooded Down’ in Laggan Loch before shooting out into Loch Lochy where, unbelievably, Harry 2 spat out his £450 dummy, 2 1/2 months after he replaced Harry One!!! The skipper exhausted his repertoire of expletives and enjoyed a good sulk before coming alongside at Gairlochy, by which time determination had replaced sulk. This was not good news – a replacement autopilot at Oban was very much needed.

Emotions rather detracted from the brooding grandeur of Ben Nevis, its top flanks incredibly still carrying scabs of snow, cowering in deep rock scars. The Met Office suggested a gale that evening, so it was time to snug down and do the dobey, watched by a squadron of geese and a squabble of ducks.



Ben Nevis remained abed at reveille, buried deep in the bosom of dirty rain cloud; beautiful though the scenery was, the overwhelming impression was one of soggy, grey wetness not that the sleepy ducks minded.


Squelchy Gairlochy Morning

0830 and Team A-Jay made its solitary wet way through the 2 Gairlochy Lochs and a swing bridge and on to Moy’s Bridge, a manual affair where the Keeper opened just one span keeping the Skipper alert.


A-Jay waits at Neptune’s Staircase

The Met Office was quite right – it rained, it was cold, it was gusty and the landscape remained stubbornly grey. By 1000 Team A-Jay was alongside at Banavie to await the descent down the 8 Lochs of Neptune’s Staircase towards the sea, oilskins and gloves steaming on the engine block building a nice fug in the little cabin, as Barry the Barometer sulked in his corner above the chart table.

Time to ponder a few stats…..

20 Lochs and 9 swing bridges from Clachnaharry to Corpach: days of sunshine and warmth – nil; days without rain – nil; days Ben Nevis visible <50%; days MyWiFi provided internet – 100%☺ Rumour has it that there might be a high somwehere out West …….


Neptune’s Staircase towards the sea


The sea, A-Jay’s natural environment, was visible through the rainy murk. But now it was time for lunch as elevenses had long since gone and thence Neptune’s Staircase, helped by some charming German ladies and then alongside in the basin, just inside the sea lock.

We shared this space with Germans and Norwegians and we all agreed we did not wish to leave before lunch next day despite the wishes of the Lock Keeper; the Norwegian skipper threatened to report to the office naked, which wouldn’t have had the local ladies in raptures as, like the Skipper, he was more Norman Wisdom than Daniel Craig in physique.

You meet all sorts on such a trip, like the 2 roughy toughy Norwegians who had crossed in their open RIB from Bergen to Shetland, taking just 7 hours. Needless to say they very soon departed in a cloud of blue turbocharged smoke.


Corpach Sea Lock


Corpach Basin



View from Corpach





By ajay290

3 comments on “Caledonian Canal 5 – 10th Aug

  1. Those Lochs and Swing Bridges
    sound like hard work …… can understand why you can’t wait to get back to the open sea! Just a pity your return has been greeted by the same old weather. Blue sky, sunshine and generally warm weather does exist, really!

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