25 April 2014
Rose early to start engines; being alone on the boat without Adrian increases the feeling of responsibility. There is a chilly North Easterly wind, which adds to the slight feeling of seriousness. Today I must be responsible for the engines, speak to the lock keepers to book times to go through locks and bridges, organise crew and oversee all their movements (despite not being able to see or hear them from the wheelhouse, only by leaving the controls and leaning over the railings of the upper deck) and skipper the boat. Usually I share these tasks with Adrian, so I sleep badly, wake up early, and as a result, in my sleepy state forget to open the seacock on the port engine. This results in an airlock in the system and I have to bleed this before the cooling system will work. So instead of the crew from boat yard arriving at 8am to find engines running and the skipper calm and ready, I have only just got the engines ready and have already had one drama.
Luckily one of the crew, Archie is an experienced boat man and engineer, so I calm down and we set off for the first lock of Neptune’s Staircase, teaching the other crew member Martin, how to manage ropes as we go (he has never been on a boat on the move before).
Neptune’s Staircase is a series of 8 locks and as usual there are quite a few tourists to witness your passage through. At the bottom we go through the Banavie road bridge, a railway bridge, and into the final length of canal before reaching Corpach and the sealocks.
We set off for the Corpach Boat Yard which is a short distance away in Loch Eil. We are slightly early for the slip time, in order to spend time getting used to how Loch Ness behaves in the tide. We have the tide and the wind both at a ninety degree angle to the cradle that we have to steer into alongside a huge jetty. This is pretty difficult with the flat bottom and tall superstructure of the barge. I am not helped by being intimidated by the huge scale of things in this new environment, such as the enormous ship alongside the end of the jetty;
At this moment the port engine fails in reverse. Feeling the change I shout out to the crew that there is trouble, and we reverse out of the approach with only the starboard engine working and using the rudder to compensate in order to go in a roughly straight line away from the jetty until we can sort out the engine.
Archie goes down to the engine room and cannot find anything obvious wrong, so we call the boat yard to bring out their small tug to help us on to the cradle.
With quite a bit of sweating, we get the boat into the cradle and I feel totally exhausted with relief. Suddenly I realise that I will never get the dog off the boat once the tide has retreated leaving the boat sky-high on the slipway held in the cradle. At this point the only way down is to climb down the cradle uprights or a wobbly ladder against her bow, something that Star will be unable to do… The tug comes to the rescue again, and takes me and the dog off the boat, and suddenly the journey West is over; Loch Ness Barge is high and dry;
High and Dry!