spring is a time of reckless abundance;
gorse fills all views from the wheel house as we cruise to Dochgarroch from Muirtown
Dochgarroch is where the river Ness meets the canal and so water is everywhere
a duck swims past the boat with 10 ducklings in tight formation, I try not to think of the fact that I know they will mostly make a nice meal for something predatory.
Later, as I water the thirsty garden aboard Loch Ness Barge, I wonder if I will find 6 duck eggs like last year. None are in the plant pots and I am partly disappointed and partly relieved. Last year we found the nest when we were already on the move and therefore without the dilemma of whether to make the eggs into breakfast or to try to transfer the nest to the bank where the mother might find them.
We set off up Loch Ness in a soft grey watercolour light with almost no wind. Adrian, Mark and I are so in tune with the sounds of the boat engine, her hull and her systems that we all notice that our starboard engine is faltering a tiny amount now and then. This is a kind of relief as we have been discussing this problem as something we think is related to dirty fuel tanks clogging the filters on the fuel lines to the engines and starting to hinder the flow of fuel. We have just changed the port engine filter and cleaned that fuel tank, the starboard one is due next. This might confirm our theory. We change the filter and the problem disappears.
The weather gradually changes, the mist and cloud rising, the light strengthening. As the sun comes out, Mark starts resealing the saloon wall joint to the deck and I start to scrub off a winter of green slime from the decks, Adrian is steering. As I crouch down on the foredeck by the huge coil of rope looped over an old windlass, I spy our spring quota of duck eggs. There are 2 blue-ish eggs nestled against the long soft bristles of the broom I brought back from Mauritius, tucked behind the windlass. A few pieces of string and some other debris make up the sum total of the nest. Again the eggs have traveled far from the mother duck by the time of the discovery and are transferred to the fridge.
Today a few friends sat drinking coffee aboard Loch Ness, all of us live aboard our boats and all of us have invested huge amounts of time, emotion and money in our dreams for these boats. Discussing how absurd some expenditure is, usually brings us around to our own hopeful investments. It occurred to me that boats seem to have a disproportionate quantity of dreams attached to their futures, and these dreams cause some wildly irrational choices but also some wonderfully creative and light-hearted additions to the looks and functions of the boats. All our boats have spent more time being worked on than they have spent cruising the waters of Scotland.
Charlie has a Chinese junk that had a psycho-drama filmed aboard it last year. The choice of the boat for this bizarre fiction did not just stem from the boat itself, but the way the boat embodies the desire to travel to exotic places without leaving its mooring and also how the boat has taken on some of the eccentricities of the owner, it is an individualist’s boat.
Mark has a wooden ex-fishing boat lying ashore being replanked (the exceptionally high tide representing a freak of atmospheric pressure when he beached it gave him as much a view of the bottom as possible but has left him unable to refloat his boat again for a year). His boat is introduced to all potential partners; the boat seems to act as a filter for relationships; the dreams of travel to far off places that Mark has all the skippering skills to carry out, are dreams carried in a boat that cannot float. Each potential relationship must respond to the romance of the idea of the future journeys and survive the reality of the stationary present; all cabins canted over on the shore.
Loch Ness Barge has a similar kind of conundrum; it is spacious inside and we use it for events that cover a large spectrum of interests. Many people stay aboard, many feasts are eaten, celebrations take place, the boat has become a fertile ground for imagining and dreaming. However good her accommodation is for these events, the main object of all the work and money invested so far is her engine room… and still we can only travel to the other side of Scotland (a journey that takes one and a half hours in a car). I have come to the conclusion that a lack of symmetry is common between the scale of things and the scale of the dream of things. Loch Ness Barge embodies a particular kind of dream; a domestic unit travelling through a landscape on a water way that allows the plant pots and crockery to remain in place. Everybody thought she would never move again once she stopped being a dredger. Her previous owner ignored this restraint and created a fantasy resembling a Mississippi river boat aboard the deck of the dredger, and assembled much of the rig in the engine room, but his dream ended before she ever cruised with any conviction. This start gave us a determination to finish his set up and enable the dumb barge to become a self propelled boat even if we never reach the other side of the Atlantic to blend into the Missippi river scene. It is all in the scale of dreaming, not the scale of the journey.
Another good example of the power of dreams is the Greenpeace boat Beluga 2 seen here in Loch Dochfour as we cruise out of the canal by Dochgarroch and head towards Loch Ness. Her bow has a rainbow painted on it, her rig is wildly eccentric and old-fashioned, her function is to aid political ideology and environmental campaigning rather than personal dreams, but her look has the same romance as our private dream boats and this changes things.
Any ideas for films for this festive night?
contact Nicky on email@example.com
Adrian had a few days off work, so we decided to combat the cabin fever of oncoming winter with a trip to Dochgarroch for his birthday.
The canal was all pristine reflections, warm autumn colours and light, the transition from city to countryside felt miraculous. Jackie Little took a beautiful photograph
We had a hell of a party aboard Loch Ness which warmed the boat nicely. The birthday cake was not such a success; I thought a summer pudding made from the croft fruit would appeal to Adrian, but had not factored in the difficulty of making a pudding of that size and finding a plate to invert it onto. I tried to turn it out onto a similar sized plate that had a raised bowl-like rim, and the whole thing inverted and collapsed… one medic labelled it a placenta cake, and the association made it difficult to eat.
Returning home to Muirtown basin was very different in character, the seasons had sped on and the lock keepers warned of ice in the reach, the bridge at Tomnahurrich froze on its blocks and had to be opened and closed a few times to achieve a full swing. The deck was covered in ice and we had to wrap up well to survive the freezing fog
it was Aart and Amanda’s first taste of ‘cruising’ and quickly dispelled the myth of glamour and boating
Aart took to helming as a natural bargee, looking born to it.
It felt strange to be back in the city again, using the other door to the saloon, the sounds of the city seeping in through the hull and our winter ropes tying us to our mooring tightly in preparation for the strong winter winds to come.
this weekend, Adrian and I traveled to Dochgarroch twice; on friday taking Loch Ness Barge West, then on Saturday we crewed for a friend aboard her narrow boat. On both trips I realised we suffered from the same problems; mostly to do with the distance the skipper has to communicate across to see/shout at the crew! Above, the picture shows me leaving the boat bridge and controls to lean over the railing in order to see the deck below and the crew working the ropes. Not only is this a matter of sight lines, but of noise too. In this case Adrian on the stern warp is standing directly alongside the engine room hatch, which surrounds him with the roar of the engines (magnified in the lock chambers).
On Arach, the problems were similar; this time the skipper is standing on top of the engine roar, the crew on the foredeck a long way away
I find it very relaxing being on the foredeck and demoted to crew, despite the yelling to communicate in the lock chambers.
I particularly enjoy the trip out into Loch Dochfour, and notice the dragon on the bow of Arach, the sun sparkling on the water, the cloud shadows on the hills above the loch.
I am also celebrating the fact that another female skipper is now cruising this end of the canal!
19 August 2016 we set off from Muirtown basin in glorious weather, heading from our home mooring in Inverness to Dochgarroch, the next village along the Caledonian Canal.
By car this journey takes 10 minutes, by bike along the tow path it takes half an hour. In Loch Ness Barge the epic journey takes between 3 and a half hours and 4 hours, depending on how many other boats they cram in around us in the Muirtown locks.
If there are a lot of boats in the lock chambers, then we rise slowly in order to keep the boats in position, rather than the rush of water pushing the barge (weighing 150 tonnes) backwards into the fragile fibreglass boats behind her.
Now we are more experienced at moving the barge in the constricted space of the canal, we have only one extra crew, David Edes on the foredeck. He helps us up the locks and then jumps ship at the top of the flight. Adrian and I set off along the canal to Dochgarroch alone. We pass through the outer reaches of the city of Inverness at Tomnahurrich Bridge, and then trundle along the wooded section of the canal that is alongside the river Ness. This part of the journey takes about 45 minutes, then we reach Dochgarroch, pass through the lock and berth on the large wooden jetty that is our setting out point for adventures in Loch Ness.
On Saturday night there is a BBQ in Dochgarroch and then we return to Muirtown basin on sunday, this time with friends along for the ride. Graeme and his family have worked hard on helping paint the barge in the past, and this is their first time cruising and Rhona and Tim are the foredeck crew. Both Graeme and Rhona have a go at steering Loch Ness Barge on the return trip and Arach is just astern of us, following us back home.
The event project ‘architecture in a bottle’ for Loch Ness Barge was cancelled sadly, not only creating a hole in the kitty, but we now need a new reason to cruise this summer, to blow away the cobwebs (literal as well as metaphorical)