Tuesday, 29 August 2017


Into the Corpach Sea Lock to begin our trip up the Caledonian Canal.

Caledonian Canal runs 97km, is 5.5m deep and two-thirds of its length passes through several Lochs in the Great Glen.  It has 29 Locks, 4 aqueducts, and 10 bridges. Neptunes Staircase is the biggest flight and comprises 8 locks rising 20 meters. 
The Vic. An old steam Puffer. Runs on coal and does trips up and down the Canal

The famous Canal Engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to survey, design and then build the Canal in 1803. It was conceived of as a plan to reduce unemployment in the Highlands after the Highland Clearances, a period of over 100 years during which Landlords removed tenants from their lands in order to farm sheep. The tenants who had no security of tenure were evicted on mass and as a consequence lost their homes and livelihoods.

Taipan in the Corpach Basin with Ben Nevis in the background.
The Canal would also provide a safe passage for ships from north east to south west Scotland. The canal finally opened in 1822 after many unforeseen difficulties and a big blow out in the budget. The shipping traffic never really eventuated because in the intervening time steamships were invented and were too large for the canal. It was closed for a while between 1843 and 1847 for repairs after defective materials caused Corpach Lock to collapse. In 1962 the locks were mechanized. Now a Scheduled Ancient Monument the Canal attracts over half a million tourists each year.

Taipan in Neptunes Staircase with a group heading north.

Corpach Sea Lock at the south western end of the Canal near Fort William, on loch Linnhe, was our starting point. We had anchored in a neat little puddle with the occasional sea otter coming for a look. The magnificent Ben Nevis towers over Loch Linnhe and Fort William. To approach the first sea lock we had to coordinate with the lock master and prebook a locking in. 

Looking bach towards Corpach.

Once through the sea lock we arrived in the basin at  Corpach where we met Rex and Susie Whistler old friends from Asia who drove up to meet us. With so much to catch up on we didn't go any further that day and renewed acquaintance and had a fair few ales and some of the local brew with a group of Scottish and Dutch crews.

The new crew settling in!!
Next morning, leaving their car in the care of the Lock keepers, we set off up the 8 locks of Neptunes staircase. This involves about 2 hours of line handling whilst steadily moving upward as each lock fills and we moved forward to the next. Its a pretty intriguing process and was made all that much easier with extra hands. The first day we did the locks and then called it quits again. We had traveled about 500 meters!
Captain Dave, Rex and Susie.

All our days were short and pleasant with good wine and food and friends to share it with. In Laggen Lock we met David and Andrea McKay, Australians on Diomedea, and we all had a great night together. In Girloch we bumped into Zen Again with Mike and Nicky Reynolds who we last met in Bermuda and who are also Australians from WA, We go back a long way. The Splash in 2002 from Fremantle to Darwin was where we first met!!

Rex David Andrea Kris Susie and David
In Fort Augustus, the only town on the canal, our friends Jane and Bill on Vagrant, who we met in Stromness a short time ago, were just taking a stroll up the locks and spotted Taipan proudly flying the OCC flag they gave us. Can you believe our luck. Two wonderful line handlers to help us down the 5 locks and into Loch Ness. Another fun night aboard before we went our opposite ways the following day, with us to help them up the locks.

Charter Canal boats ply the waterway with tourists. 

In all we spent seven days transiting the Canal and Rex and Susie left us about half way. We had such a great time with them and were sorry to see them off at Laggan Lock. There is good public transport following the Canal so they were able to grab a bus back to pick up their car and head home. 

Each Lock is manned by Canal Staff and they were all extremely helpful and the whole locking process was stress free. The locks of Holland and Sweden on the other hand, were pretty stressful because there was no assistance and the bollards we had to tie to were recessed into the lock walls making them very difficult to get. They were also designed for ships so were spaced too far apart for smaller boats.

One of the more unusual vessels in the canal. A Czechoslovakian  adventure sailing charter headed to Ireland. Complete with cannon.

The scenery is fabulous and for the most part the weather was really good. No wind and some nice sunny days.  The mountains were just blooming with the purple heath and the wildflowers often lined the canal. There is the occasional castle and Loch Ness has been sailed down but Nessie wasn't spotted.

Urqhart Castle. Loch Ness.

Overnight pontoons are provided at very regular intervals along the route. They are often equipped with power and water but because you motor through the canal power is not such a big deal. We paid 3GBP per night for power where we used it.

Fort Augustus. 5 locks down to Loch Ness.

The cost for us to spend eight days in transit was 283GBP and this included all pontoons overnight and water.  There was no free wifi but we had a moderate signal with the cellphone most of the way. Inverness at the northern end of the Canal has a marina called Muirtown in which we spent the final 2 nights and were able to walk to the supermarkets for provisioning.

Goodbye Caledonian Canal

Looking at the season, the shortening days and with the East Coast of Scotland and England to tackle we have decided to get moving rapidly south. Check back and see how that goes.