Last year for Sail Caledonia we had fierce South-westerly winds, low temperatures and lots of rain… we did wonder why we spent a week putting ourselves through long hours of work for a whole lot of scary cruising which took weeks to recover from.
This year however was magical; the sun shone every day, the wind was enough to please the sailors, yet not enough to worry me skippering the barge in the narrow reaches of the Caledonian Canal and through the numerous locks and narrow bridges.
Not only did the bright spring sunshine remove much of the stress of moving a large boat amongst tiny sail and oar boats, but the light winds meant the race days were longer, we had time to relax. We moved slowly and in control in the big lochs, creating time for the crew aboard Loch Ness Barge to look at the view and do leisurely things such as listen to Mark playing the sax or pipes on deck, Juliana did headstands, David was fishing, Adrian imagined better systems in the engine room, I cooked flapjacks.
The air in the canal sections of the journey was filled with the scent of sun-warmed gorse and blue bells, and we had all our meals outside on deck
Racing Regattas and flags
When taking part in a boat race you can dress your boat in flags. In Sail Caledonia the ‘dressing up’ day is in Fort Augustus, half way through the journey. The lock keepers there are expert at moving big numbers of boats up and down the locks and pack in 3 yachts and 3 motor cruisers behind us. As the boats sink down the deep sided lock chambers, the steel bulk of Loch Ness Barge towers over the fragile fibre-glass craft around her.
As the small racing boats pack in for their locking down, the lock keepers choose the best dressed boat as they move them down the staircase of locks towards Loch Ness.
Sun on fluttering flags creates a festival atmosphere, which reduces everyone nerves as the boats reach the start of the 2 days of racing up Loch Ness.
Through-out the journey from Fort William to Inverness Ros Crana (a big dutch barge) and Loch Ness Barge moor in the evenings alongside each other, creating a double space for the crowd of sailors and safety boat crews to use.
The saloon of Loch Ness is the bigger space and so the musicians gather to ceilidh there and Ros Crana provides a professional galley and chef, so food and fun follow the racing boats creating a mobile home each night at a new mooring
When we reach the end of the week the mobile community is reluctant to part, a routine of inhabiting the boats as home has started to emerge. The crews of the support boats create this sense of belonging for the Sail Caledonia race, but a water gypsy way of life takes hold of each of us and a new mooring becomes one part of the whole idea of ‘home’ and the crews become a loosely knit extended family.
When all have gone, Loch Ness barge becomes Loch Ness Laundry, flags and bedding flying in the breeze