Friday 18 April 2014
We set out from Dochgarroch with just Nicky, Adrian and Star aboard and a forecast for stunning weather as a high pressure weather system moves into Scotland for the Easter weekend. The wind however was the strongest we have ever tried to motor against (force 5) and because we were heading down Loch Ness (30 miles) the waves were big and foamy as we rounded the marker buoy at the end of the narrows leading into the Loch at Lochend. Those waves had traveled all the way from Fort Augustus, our destination, and they gave us a feeling of being at sea. The barge rolled and spray broke over her bow.
By the time we reached half way down the loch, near Foyers, the wind had moderated to force 3 and with the blazing sun and warm air, we were exultant. Star was still wearing her lifejacket (handy handle on the top of her back for grabbing if the worst came to the worst) and always looks deeply offended by it (could be projection of my own feelings when wearing this vital bit of kit). Fort Augustus comes into view with snow showing on the mountains behind and glittering water.
The arrangements for arrival are always a little uncertain; we needed to pick up Liz in order to go up the flight of locks in the center of the village (2 people cannot easily manage the ropes on this barge because the wheelhouse is not on the same level as the deck with the bollards for attaching and controlling the ropes). Luckily public transport had obliged to coincide with our arrival and she was waiting on the jetty before the swing bridge.
We spent the night at the top of the locks with a huge dredger, a shiny yacht, several hire cruisers and a fishing boat, all crammed into the tiny and idyllic basin leading into the next section of canal. Andy, our second crew arrived there with a huge bag of wild garlic to steam for dinner.
Saturday 19 April Loch Oich
After breakfast we set off up the canal, passing Scott II in a sorry state. She used to be the ice breaker on the canal (see the strange shape of her bow close to the water) and also used to tow Loch Ness when she was called Fairway and had no engines of her own (she had a steam powered bucket and winches);
My favourite lock on the canal is Kytra, for its incredibly remote feeling location – no road access, and its beautifully kept garden and most of all for its lock keeper Linda and her old yellow labrador.
Here we had a peaceful cup of coffee, rose up the lock, cast off when the gates opened and then found our peace shattered by the starboard engine shearing off its fuel line and stalling. So we stayed a while longer and Adrian mended it; a reminder that we must not relax too much…
on to Loch Oich through Abercalder bridge
Loch Oich is where trees grow down to the lochside, the channel meanders and rivers create small flurries of current against our hull. Adrian takes the helm with his saxaphone, steering with his foot, he only puts the instrument down to go through Laggan Bridge into Laggan Avenue
Loch Lochy and Gairlochy, saturday 19 April (still)
After crossing loch Lochy in perfect weather conditions we arrived in Gairlochy, sadly we were put on the jetty at the west end of the village, below the locks. A very peaceful place, just a little inconvenient for most services and more importantly a little dark and without the stunning views back down the loch and to Ben Nevis… ah well, next time.
Easter sunday, 20 April
We had a day off. Walked along the shore of Loch Lochy, swam by the ruined ferry with a stunning view of a snow streaked Ben Nevis. It felt like we were on a beach holiday! Even Star had a swim, she was immensely relieved to be ashore at last.
Andy left us to go home to Skye, promising to return to help with painting Loch Ness when she goes on the slipway at Corpach.
Gairlochy to Banavie, Monday 21 April
Having become incredibly relaxed yesterday, I didn’t even check the weather forecast… it felt like the sun and windless conditions would last forever…
Well not exactly.
We woke at 5am to the sound of wind thrashing our mooring below the locks; what on earth would this north easterly be like once out of this protected berth?
We had been asked to leave for Banavie before 8.30 am to avoid meeting Lord of the Glens head on in the reach. Casting off at 8.15 with anxiety at the way the wind was accelerating our speed up the canal, I suddenly realised that we would not be able to reach Moy bridge on the radio to have the bridge opened, until the lock keepers came on duty at 8.30. With the wind fueling our speed, we desperately tried to call Gairlochy and Moy on the radio. As we rounded the last bend before the bridge, Moy came on the radio to say it was open for us… pheweee! We had slowed right down, using both engines astern, we still moved at a knot in the other direction; our superstructure acting like a sail.
Star was appalled at the chill of the wind, the noise of our engines counteracting the gusts of wind and our anxiety. She retreated to our dinghy, our life raft last resort, and kept her head down until we berthed at Banavie 2 hours later.