Thursday, June 21, 2007

Crinan to Corpach (Fort William)

Jaime writes:

As Craig is reading a rather long book (only 690 pages to go), and he has neglected the blog for some time, I have been invited as a "guest writer". So here goes:

We finally left the Crinan, where we had become quite comfortable and lazy, and sailed gently in to the maze of islands, sounds and lochs beyond. We headed up to Dorus Mor. This is a deep and narrow channel which is noted for its strength of tidal streams, small whirlpools and patchs of deceptive calm. This is nothing compared to what lays further to the west: the notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan, (Speckled Couldron in Galllic) where the currents of the Atlantic force themselves through a gap half a mile wide. An early writers' (Martin Martin, whose mother had a stutter) description sets the scene quite nicely: "The sea begins to boil and ferment with the tide of flood, and resembles the boiling of a pot; and then increases gradually until it appears in many whirlpools which form themselves in sort of pyramids and immediatley after spout up as high as the mast of a little vessel and at the same time make a loud report". This "loud report" can be heard for miles around, or maybe it is the wails of the lost souls in the depths of the menacing maelstrom.......

Needless to say it was our intention to avoid this area, however it can't be completely avoided. The swift tidal currents spat us through Dorus Mor, and as Sod's Law would have it, the wind vanished. We were left drifting in the currents which funnel their waters and those who travel on them to the unremitting grip of the Corryvecken which waited three miles to the west. The engine was started and carried us safely to the north. Like a door opening, the wind reappeared and the fresh breeze carried us up to the Sound of Luing on a reach. We had been monitoring the radio for the past couple of hours as a May-Day was called in to the coastguard. A yacht had run around on rocks on a falling tide to the south of Luing. We recognised this boat as having shared a pontoon with us in Brighton. In the end he had managed to free himself somehow and was long gone by the time we reached the position. As quickly as the door opened it was closed again; from 20kt of wind down to nothing in a blink. We could see yachts ahead of us on all sorts of points of sail and within 10min we were sailing down wind in the same direction.

Sailing in these parts is tricky. Suddenly, out of the sky there was a deafening explosion and Craig started shouting excitedly. A fighter jet had been flying low over the water, so low that it was shielded by the sails. The jet approached in silence and you cannot hear them until they pass over you when the phenonmenal sound of their jet engines in close proximity hits you - you can feel it vibrating through the air, your body and the boat. It would seem that jet planes often do this. They choose walkers, sailors etc. and 'buzz' them - training for the next Iraq I suppose.. ummmm.

The day was moving fast and we chose to anchor in a place called Puilladobhrain ('Pool of the Otter' in Gallic). It is a beautiful sheltered anchorage. As the wind had become a little more reliable we decided to beat up the narrow rocky channel which is less than 90m wide and about 750m in length. It took ages and once the anchor was dropped we had a well-earned tasty beer.

Puilladobhrain anchorage

I have read many a time in tourist brochures that Scottish waters are teeming with fish. We have trawled a line on most days and tried fishing at anchor and we haven't had even a nibble, until now.... The water came alive, fish were jumping out of the water and it was positively teeming. You could see the progress of the shoal as it made its way around the culdesac anchorage. That evening we enjoyed 4 sweet mackerel fillets with fresh wild garlic. I have to say for me that this was one of the best days of the whole trip so far.

The next morning we explored the Islands and made our way to the Bridge over the Atlantic that was built in 1792. We didn't have any money so we couldn't go to the lovely looking pub for pint.

The Bridge over the Atlantic

The tide began to ebb and we set sail, goosewinging the cruising chute to Loch Aline up the Sound of Mull, which was quite a dull place. The next day we found ourselves in Tobermory with its colourful buildings whose colours are dictated by the local planning department. I expect there is a whole commitee dedicated to the delicate decision of which colour the buildings should be - I think it is called Ballamory. We went to a pub and chatted to the old men (again), - where are the young people?- actually where are the women?!! No disrespect but there seem to be chatty old men everywhere.- mostly in pubs. we haven't spoken to a young person since Falmouth...



That evening we decided to change our plans. We have been moving slower than we expected and we wanted to get up the the Orkney Islands ASAP. We also thought that there might be some more Scandanavians up there, who might be younger than 50. Craig didn't seem to offer much resistance to the prospect of meeting young Scandanavian women and the next day we headed back down the Sound of Mull and up what seemed to be the never ending Loch Linnhe to the entrance to the Caledonian Canal which is a short cut to the north of Scotland at Fort William. Loch Linnhe is like a corridor, with mountains on each side, including Ben Nevis. We tried sailing, but it was pathetic, the fresh wet wind was on the nose and the tide was running against us. The motor went on and we drove in to it for hours until it was dark in the middle of the night. We arrived in Corpach and dropped the anchor and fell in to a deep happy sleep.

Anchorage at Corpach (Fort William) and Ben Nevis in cloud.

Crinan Canal

Our passage through the Crinan Canal, which divides the Kintyre peninsula from the mainland, took only a few days from Ardrishaig to Crinan. It was quite a change to be motoring along a narrow road-like canal at a steady 3 or 4 knots, with no need to think about tidal streams, heights of tide, or conditions for anchoring. A bit like being on a conveyor belt. Working our way up through the locks was also a new experience, but something we got to grips with fairly quickly. The canal staff are all very friendly and there are often a few people around to help out if necessary, but we worked out a routine to lock in and lock out and were able to manage with just the two of us. Many of the locks are unattended, and all manually operated, so quite a bit of effort can be required to swing the huge levers which open the gates after winding up the sills. Once inside, the lower gates are closed again, and then the sills on the upper gates are opened slowly to flood the lock. I did all the lock work while Jaime remained aboard, manouvering the boat in and out, and adjusting the mooring ropes as the water level rises. Once the lock is fully flooded, the upper gates are opened and the boat can motor out and continue the canal 2 or 3 metres higher up.
Ardrishaig Basin


Lady Ayesha in the lock

After Ardrishaig we made a quick visit to Lochgilphead to buy provisions and visited the butcher's shop where we got hold of a haggis, freshly caught that morning, according to the butcher, who like many of his profession, fancied himself as a bit of a comedian. We weren't to be fooled. Also bought some local kippers, known as smokies, which were very tasty. That evening was spent at Cairnbaan, tied to a pontoon. There's not much at Cairnbaan, except for a hotel and a few houses. But atop the surrounding hills are numerous ancient stone markings, their meanings unknown, and so the viewer can invent all sorts of theories to explain their presence. There are many known as Cup and Rings, aswell as long intersecting lines. Perhaps they indicate tribal boundaries or ceremonial places, or they may have astrological or religious significance. No doubt some will even claim they are evidence of UFO landings in previous millennia due to the many 'saucer shapes'! I suspect most are no more than idle graffiti, or artistic doodles. But who can tell. This part of the country is covered in these things and we saw many more along the way

Cup and Rings

...and lines

Our second canal evening was spent enjoying the late sunshine near the lock at Dunardry on the 'downhill' stretch. Jaime even got the hammock out, and somehow managed to rig it up on the spinnaker pole to enjoy the last of the afternoon rays, which at this time of year means up to about 10pm.



On Saturday we arrived at lock 14, above Crinan Basin. Modern toilets, showers and waste bins are provided all along the canal, which was a welcome change. We visited the hotel bar at Crinan, and drank a few pints with some of the locals, including one chap who came aboard the next morning to give me a hand fixing a small diesel leak on the fuel pump outlet that had been needing attention. Very much appreciated, and he refused payment of any kind. I had suspected I may need to get an engineer in, always an expensive option, so I was really glad to get it sorted out for nothing. In the ongoing broken windlass saga, I managed to contact SL Spares at Paisley who agreed to have a look at it for me, so I will need to send it to them next time I find a post office. It rained all day Sunday so we stayed aboard, reading mostly. I've never had so much time to read and we've both been consuming books at an incredible rate. Always on the lookout for book-swaps and charity shops. By Monday the rain had reduced to intermittent drizzle and so we did a long walk in the nearby forests, and climbed to the top of Castle Dounie, which is little more than a pile of stones on a high peak which provides a magnificent view up and down the Sound of Jura. Along the lower grassy and mossy woods we discovered huge fragrant patches of wild garlic and picked some to cook with that evening. On Wednesday morning we finally had better weather and made it through the final lock out of the fresh waters of the canal and into the brine again!

Crinan Basin

View from Crinan Hotel

Crinan Harbour
Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic Bread!
Locking out into Crinan Basin