Now this may seem a bit strange to many of those who have joined Kasara so far on her windless western wanderings, but this last fortnight she has shown her sailing pedigree & seaworthiness.
The Canal Team of John, Pat & Rob have grappled with a fantastic medley of sailing conditions, locations & experiences.
Our stopovers from Troon have been East Loch Tarbert, Loch Giliphead (Crinan Canal), Croabh Haven, Port Appin, Corpach/Fort William (Caledonian Canal), Fort Augustus (Caledonian Canal), Clacknharry Inverness (Caledonian Canal), Whitehills, Peterhead, Arbroath, Port Edgar (Firth of Forth).
Here are some key facts:
9.6 knots under sail - surfing the Moray Firth
in 34 knots of breeze.
250m on the Depth gauge in Loch Ness.
Furthest North of the entire circumnavigation @ 57.45N - off Lossiemouth- more North even than the North of Skye
44 Canal Locks, 17 Swing bridges
Narrowest Harbour entrance so far!
I was a bit nervous about this leg because of the distance we have had to cover - 360 miles. But I had no need to be. The team have smashed it once again. Always keen to move on, our daily targets have been met or exceeded.
Weather Report: First day was a lively F6, first night was a windless sunny evening in glorious East Loch Tarbert. Sun, gloom, shooting stars, mizzle, no real downpours, fresh blue days, lots of wind, then no wind - a real mixed bag. Unlike the journey Northward on the west coast, the wind has always a been “abaft the beam”, as opposed to “on the nose“ so Kasara has been able to enjoy leisurely broad reaches, seat of the pants goose winging runs and a fair share of motoring in between.
Top moments for the team include Pat’s now famous Lasso Lotto when approaching our allocated downwind pontoon mooring in F6/7 entering Croabh Haven. I remember glancing across at the rapidly approaching dock and thinking to myself - “go on Pat, make that throw” - sure enough the loop landed purposefully over the cleat and Kasara came to a grateful halt - we had made it. Great throw!
John recalls our entrance to Tarbert after a gloomy, bumpy 5 hour crossing from Troon (a challenging initiation). The sun came out on cue, the warmth with it & John’s first real site of a delightful West coast Scottish harbour.
Rob takes the trophy for Canal “Man of the Year” by learning the trade of locks & swing bridge operation, & assuming the role of land man - ropes, sluices, gates, repeat & repeat again.
Travelling from West to East through the canals has been like transiting from one world to another. There has been so much variety. We all couldn’t get over how vast, yet accessible this amazing area & Island we live on actually is. Furthermore, we are incredulous as to how “empty” it is from the perspective of boating. We travelled the length of the Caledonian Canal (60 miles) and were aware of no more than a handful of boats doing the same thing in either direction! Before we entered & and after we emerged from the canals we have seen even fewer! Believe us when we say (from the water at least) Scotland is not full!
The scenery in both canals is just stunning. Our arrival at The Crinan Canal was challenging due to brisk wind threatening to pin us to the waiting pontoon- removal of mainsail and stowage of kayaks below decks reduced our windage & and we managed to transit safely in through the sea lock and in to the canal.
Arriving at the Caledonian Canal a couple of days later we anchored off the sea lock whilst the Lock keepers finished their lunch (always sacrosanct) when the “Harry Potter Train” appeared on our Starboard beam.
Going through the canal you feel really privileged to be sailing right in the heart of the Great Glen itself with the grandeur of the mountains & lochs & the history of the place all around - sometimes it felt almost eerie.
A very memorable canal passage was our 15 mile slay ride in 24 knots of wind funelling through Loch Ness to Urquart Castle where the wind suddenly just stopped.
It actually took us only 26 hours to transit the Crinan Canal & 66 hours to transit the Caledonian. We could have spent longer, but we didn’t feel we were rushing through. We just moved on from lock to lock and bridge to bridge, taking it all in and accompanied by the holiday tripper boats where some of the boat handling was hilarious and frightening in equal measure!
Furthermore we had a date with the East Coast.
Emerging from the sea loch at Inverness we were in a very different world. A world none of us had sailed in before. The force and solitude of the Moray Firth lay ahead. Fewer practical landfalls, bigger distances in between.
That said, this could quite easily be a leisure sailing wonderland. The talk of new marinas in Edinburgh & The Tay as well as the transformation of some of the small fishing harbours to welcome sailors as a new much needed source of livelihood to replace depleted fishing fleets would put this sailing region on the map. A coastal capital city without a marina - what is the world coming to - come on Edinburgh if you can moor Britannia - you can moor us!
Best sailing: has to go to our wonderful, powerful run under full sail through the Moray Firth from Inverness to Whitehills (57 miles). Boat speed touched 9.6 Knots and wind indicator 34 Knots as Kasara surfed assuredly down the waves. So much for a F5 forecast! It was impossible to get John & then Pat off the helm 😂.
Best Landfall has many contenders - but without doubt the winner is Whitehills, a small solidly walled fishing harbour on the Banff coast. The pilot says don’t attempt entry in a fresh North Westerly - but with the wind & sea subsiding, a phone call to the harbourmaster issued the challenge “a semi-competent skipper should be able to make it“ In we went - committed - no way back! 😱😱.
A sharp turn to Port, followed by another through a hithertoo unseen gap in the unforgiving harbour wall saw us safely into a delightful little harbour - phew - whisky please! 🥃.
One point to add about Whitehills, as I had read in another blog. The Harbour Master from 10 years ago and more is still there, a most engaging character, Bertie Milne, still there to greet visitors, take lines, talk you in on the VHF and in our case take photos of our entrance. What a guy & what a great shelter - no wonder they are often voted Harbour Master & Harbour of the year.
Whitehills is an excellent example of how this coast could be for yacht use.
Once again food & wine have been a great accompaniment to our travels.
Best Eat Out goes to the Brewhouse Restaurant in Arbroath (especially John’s knickerbocker Glory!
Best Eat In honours are shared between Pat’s Kedgeree, Arbroath Smokies, and Fish Night on the Crinan with a starter of Scallop on Chilli & Lemon Avacado, & main of baked Haddock on a vegetable & sweet potato medley. (Note -all fish).
Wildlife during this passage was a little limited (we missed seeing Nessie which was a disappointment). However, we were visited on a couple of occasions by passing Dolphins & some nonchalant seals.
Best however, was an amazing fish diving display by Gannets in the Firth of Forth. It was sort of like watching a rapid fire firework display as one after another they pierced the water.
Cultural highlights included many a historical Castle including the spectacular Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.
The story of the Canals makes them well worth a visit even by land as they are a major reminder of our Industrial heritage and the ingenuity of those amazing engineers of the late 18th/19th century, as are the rail & road bridges over the Forth. To keep the canals open just for leisure users must be a major drain on resources and it has been a real pleasure to be able to use them
A brilliant museum in Arbroath tells the story of the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse and its communication with the mainland by way of the signal Bell tower next to our mooring In the fish dock. (They were dredging so it was not possible to get in to the inner wet dock marina).
The red sandstone cliffs of the Angus coastline display amazing caves & coves when up close as we discovered on a cliff top walk on a drizzly layday.
One place we were quite pleased was closed when we passed was the Prison Museum at Peterhead - a useful stop over, used by yachts heading for the Canals from Scandinavia and northern Europe. A little dreary & unexciting at present.
In summary, The Canal Leg turned out to be a game of 3 thirds, The West Coast, The Canals & The East Coast of Scotland. Each section was challenging and delightful in its own way. The Canal Team have been an amazing unit coping with all the variety in great humour - as if they were on holiday really. Well done to Rob, John & Pat.
Kasara is now in Port Edgar (15 miles up the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh) for a couple of weeks while I catch up with family back in Hamble. A little break until the final push South and homeward bound.
Very much looking forward to the East Coast adventure.