Log #16o Crinan Canal & the Clyde

October 22, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 16 Scotland, The Logs

Log #16o Crinan Canal & the Clyde

Covers the period July 25 to
Written Oct. 22, 2000
At Langy sur Marne, France

After leaving the anchorage at Puilladabhrain The 19 mile motor sail down to the Crinan was uneventful, arriving just as three other boats were entering the first lock. Inside the lock (#15) Judy went ashore and paid the £90.50 for a three day permit. It was a tight squeeze with four boats in the lock, which was manually operated. That meant that the boaters had to do all the work of locking through. With four boats, we had lots of crew to efficiently handle the lock, after which we proceeded up a lush pastoral landscape, meandering through the Scottish countryside.

The Crinan is a smaller more primitive canal system, with narrow channels and locks, originally built from 1793 to 1801. It is now mostly used by pleasure craft and some fishing boats. The locks are only 88 feet long and 20 feet wide, with a draft of 9.5 feet, and mast height of 95 feet. The 5 bridges are controlled by British Waterways staff, and their hours of operation determine the limitations of lock operations. That is, you could go through the locks on your own at any hour, theoretically, but you could get by the bridges only during the civil service hours they work. We saw one bad example of that where we went through a bridge at about 1700; a German boat was waiting to go through in the opposite direction and could then have gone for several more locks, only to have the bridge closed in their faces as they approached it. Very poor PR for the British Waterways staff!

The manual operation of the locks is tiring to exhausting, depending on how many people are helping. The first lock was no problem as we had 4 boats together. However, at the second lock we were left out as there was not room for 4 boats and the other three went on, leaving us by ourselves. We (Judy) was pretty tired after getting us into the second lock. We then said it was too much and waited for another boat which we saw approaching to come along so we could do the locks together.

I understand the narrow canal boats do this all the time as they go through the small locks and canals that have these manual self operated systems, but for us it was a first. I understand some of the French locks are also manual, and we may be facing some in the 160 or so on our way through to the Med in the fall. The operation is basically simple, but involves a lot of running up and down lock embankments, handling lines, cranking open sluice gates, and pushing VERY heavy lock gates by means of long square timbered arms to open and close them.

For example, going up, if a lock is closed on the approach (and they are supposed to all be left closed), the boat has to land a crewmember who climbs up the lock embankment to walk up to the lock gates, to see whether the lock is full or empty. If full, the crew has to go to the far end to ensure the upper sluices are closed, then run back to the lower gates, crank open (25 to 45 turns with a large crank handle (one per lock, which is usually at the other end of the lock, wherever you are)) the sluices to lower the water level in the lock. When the level in the lock is at that of the boat, the gates can then be swung open, by a long (15 to 20 foot) timbered arm that the  crew has to push against, forcing the heavy, poorly balanced gate against the pressure of the water. If the water level is not completely matched, the gates cannot be opened. Once the two gates are opened (one has to run up to the far end of the lock and over the closed upper gate and back to the other side to open the second), the crew on the boat motors into the lock.

Of course it was drizzling much of the time.

The shore crew then has to put the lines from the boat on appropriate bollards to secure the boat, then close both lower gates, ensure the sluices on each side are closed, then run back to the upper end of the lock to open the sluices in that end, allowing the water to fill the lock (but not too fast as the turbulence can wash the boat away from the sides of the lock). When the level has been raised to that of the upstream end, the gates can then be opened by the shore crew. The crew then takes off the lines of the boat which then motors out the lock. The crew then closes the gates and closes the sluices in the gates, then runs either to jump on the boat, or runs along the bank to the next lock, anywhere from 100 to 500 yards, to start the process over again. Judy got a considerable amount of exercise going through the Crinan Canal

That is why after being abandoned by the three boats after the first lock and starting the second lock by ourselves, we waited for the next boat to work through with them. There were two gentlemen on that boat and so Judy had another crew on shore to help her with the locks. It went more smoothly and we had a steep learning curve to identify efficient ways to negotiate the many tasks to be done at each lock, such as not forgetting to take the crank handle with you when going from the downstream to the upstream gate.

The locks are numbered from the #1 sea lock on the Clyde side to #15 lock where we entered the system. We got through five locks and three miles in four hours before stopping on a waiting wall for the night at Dunardy Locks.  The next day, leaving at 0800 as soon as the system opened, we went through nine locks and 4.5 miles to Adrishaig Basin just before the sea lock #1 by 1230. It was a heavy four and a half hours. We stayed there for the night, wandered the town, got some supplies and were off by 1000 next morning (in rain again!), going through the sea lock into the open water of Loch Gilp.

We sailed and motor sailed down Loch Gilp into the Firth of Clyde, south of Bute, then north up to Kip Marina at Inverkip just south around the corner from the River Clyde. It was a 38 mile run, not raining all the time, and we actually had a chance to fly our spinnaker for a frustrating half hour before giving up in the light fluky winds. Kip is a good first class marina with many facilities for hauling and repairing boats. We wanted to have our rudder checked (Remember Scalpay on the rocks?), our new Mariner outboard fixed so it would start properly and tilt reliably, our stern pulpit welded (It has been broken since our North Sea crossing with only a temporary repair we did by inserting and duct taping a piece of rebar in it.), our GPS checked as it was still sporadically “losing satellite coverage”, and the tracking of our autopilot which frequently was wandering plus and minus ten degrees around our course line. In addition we wanted a secure marina where we could leave Veleda to do a bit of inland touring via train. We were quite happy with our stay there from July 27 to Aug. 8, and got all the work done (except the Mariner), and touring completed.

This was our first time in a marina with electrical hookups since entering the Caledonian Canal eight weeks ago. Now we were back to the mainland and “civilization” after a fantastic trip through the Scottish Highlands and lochs of the Great Glen, Moidart and Knoydart peninsulas and many of the Western Isles including Skye, Rona, Rum, Mull, the Outer Hebrides, Staffa, Iona, Canna; a trip of a lifetime through that glorious  part of Scotland!