Lochs and Locks - A Cruise Across Scotland

Recommended places to take your Cape Cutter 19 with details of anchorages, marinas etc

Lochs and Locks - A Cruise Across Scotland

Postby Runrig » Thu Jan 09, 2020 5:43 pm

Lochs and Locks – A cruise across Scotland from the Clyde to Inverness

This cruise was undertaken in July 2019.

Troon to St Ninians Bay, Bute (22nm)
There is an excellent slipway at Troon Marina (£8 per launch) and facilities to park trailers and cars. The marina has a full range of facilities including chandlers and an excellent bar restaurant (Scott’s).

Close to the marina The Harbour Bar offers food, live music and a warm welcome. Further along the promenade is a Morrison’s supermarket.
Troon is served by a rail connection to Glasgow.

Departed Troon Marina at LW to make the most of the north running flood in the Firth of Clyde. Course set NW toward Inchmarnock, west of Bute. Once across Irvine Bay be aware of ferries plying between Ardrossan on the mainland and Brodick on Arran.

With a f5/6 over the starboard beam this was a fine leg with lovely scenery, particularly as you approach the north end of Arran.

The intention had been to sail to East Tarbert at the top of the Mull of Kintyre but after a drenching thunderstorm the wind died and the plan amended to anchor in St Ninians Bay on the west side of Bute.

Heading N from the southern end of Inchmarnock Sound anchor in St Ninians Bay being careful not to anchor too far N where the bay dries completely.

St Ninian’s Bay, Bute to East Loch Tarbert (11nm)
Rounding St Ninian’s Point, stay well clear of the point as rocks extend a good distance underwater beyond the point. Once clear of the point head NW to clear the north end of Inchmarnock and then set a course across Lower Loch Fyne to East Loch Tarbert avoiding the rocks around Sgat Mor.

Kilbride Bay, north of the course, has a wide sandy beach where it is possible to dry out and explore locally if the winds are light.

Portavadie is an excellent marina further round the West Kyles of Bute. It is based in an old quarry which was developed as a construction site for oil rigs for the North Sea. The project failed on the realisation the newly built rigs would need to be towed round the top of Scotland.

To enter Tarbert harbour from East Loch Tarbert keep to the well-marked channel south of Eilean A’Choic as you enter the harbour. Also be aware of ferries plying between Portavadie and Tarbert, these leave from the south shore just before the narrow channel around Eilean A’Choic.

The harbour of Tarbert has been developed with more pontoon moorings and modern shower block. The town is close by and has a good range of local shops and a Co-op supermarket. It is a pleasant to stroll around the town whilst waiting for the tide to run N toward Ardrishaig and the entrance to the Crinan Canal.

Tarbert to Ardrishaig and the Crinan Canal (10nm)
Leaving Tarbert by the same channel south of Eileann A’Choic keep clear of the north side of East Loch Tarbert and the headland of Garbhaird before turning N up Loch Fyne. Be mindful of the work-boats working the fish farms close to the shore along Loch Fyne and the boats fishing in the loch. They appreciate you giving them a wide berth.

Approaching Ardrishaig there are submerged rocks in the channel marked by lateral buoys. Pass with the red buoy ‘48’ to port and the green buoy ‘49’ to starboard as you approach the entrance to the Crinan Canal.

It is important to have contacted the loch keepers at Ardrishaig sea-lock before arrival. They will inform you of lock times and will try to accommodate your arrival time.

Only the sea locks at each end of the Crinan Canal are operated by staff. All the others are operated by the boaters passing through. If single handed or inexperienced it is highly recommended to engage one of the canal pilots contactable from a list at Ardrishaig Sea Lock office.

The cost of a pilot was £60 for the journey from the basin inside the sea lock to the sea lock at the other end. They do not travel on the boat but walk or cycle between the locks to prepare the lock and then manage the mooring lines on arrival and leaving the lock. It would be impossible to manage the locks safely single handed without relying on the assistance of others. For me it was £60 well spent.

Entering the sea lock at Ardrishaig requires preparation to avoid potential difficulty. The locks are designed for small ships not small boats. Particularly if entering the lock on a low tide, there is a tremendous force of water into the lock once the sluice gates are open.

To prepare I used a floating block on the forward and stern cleats on the starboard side. The mooring line were run through these blocks and back to the cockpit where I could control both lines. I also raised the bowsprit for the duration of the passage through the canal.

Being the only boat in the lock I was able to be at the rear of the lock to avoid the initial force of water. Even so it was a battle to keep the bow pulled into the side of the lock. The force of the water between the wall and the bow will try to push the boat away from the wall, the further round you are pushed the greater the force of water acting on the bow.

It is possible to moor in the basin above the sea lock overnight and begin passage through the canal the next day. Ardrishaig has a pub serving food and a good café on the main street. It is a pleasant walk along the canal to Lochgilphead which has more shops, hotels and a Co-op supermarket.

The journey through the Crinan Canal will use a surprising amount of fuel with much waiting around in locks. The only petrol available along the canal is the petrol station on the road by the canal in Lochgilphead. Make sure before leaving Lochgilphead you have sufficient reserves for the passage and beyond the canal. Only diesel, not petrol, is available at Crinan boatyard.

Ardrishaig to Crinan through the Crinan Canal
‘Britain’s most beautiful short cut’

Once the art of entering the locks and passing the lines up to waiting hands on the lock side has been mastered it is a pleasant cruise along this beautiful waterway.
A boat hook is useful for passing the lines ashore and a bowline in the shore-end of the line means they can be speedily placed on a cleat and controlled from the cockpit.
From the basin at Ardrishaig there are 12 sets of inland locks before the sea lock at Crinan. The locks are uphill until Dunardry from where they begin the descent to Crinan.

The downside of using a pilot to assist is that they expect to take you through the canal in one day. Mooring along the canal is permitted and included in the transit licence fee (£60). There are many pleasant points to stop along the canal but there is little time to rest if completing the passage in one day.

The basin above the sea loch at Crinan was busy and crowded when I arrived. I opted to take the last lowering of the day and exited the canal into the bay. A short motor, west around the headland brings you off Crinan Boatyard where there are mooring buoys (honesty box on the pontoon) and a pontoon with a hose for fresh water.

Crinan to Puilladobhrain Anchorage (20nm)
Puilladobhrain is a fine anchorage just to the south of Kerrera Sound which is the approach to Oban from the S.

From Crinan it is necessary to pass through the tidal gate of Dorus Mor on the route N. This lies at the bottom of Loch Craignish, between Craignish Point and the island of Garbh Reisa.

The time to pass through Dorus Mor heading N is 1½ hours before LW Oban. This will give up to 8 hours of tide running N although most of the tide runs in the first 3½ hours.

From Crinan boat yard I set a course NW through Dorus Mor, continued passing S of Coiresa and then NNW through the channel between Scarba and Luing.

North of Luing it is possible to set a course east of the Bogha E Cardinal Buoy and pass through Easdale Harbour.

With a fair wind and good tide I passed W of the Bono Rock W Cardinal and outside Insh Island before turning E toward the island of Eileen Duin. Passing N of Eileen Duin the route then bends S into Puilladobhrain between Eilean nam Beathach and Seil Island. From the entrance you can proceed S for about ½ mile into the anchorage. This is a popular mooring spot in the season but being shoal draft it is possible to find the best spots well into the anchorage.

Whilst in the anchorage it is a must to go ashore and climb over the hill to the famous Bridge Over the Atlantic which sits across Clachan Sound. The pub by the bridge, Tigh an Truish, is friendly and serves good food.

Puilladobhrain Anchorage to Oban (7nm)
The flood tide heading N begins LW Oban -1½ hours. Leaving the anchorage in time to catch the flood through the Kerrera Sound it is a straightforward passage through the narrow channel into the sound. The channel is marked by a green lateral buoy to starboard and a light on the rocks off Kerrera. Vigilance is needed in the sound to set a course E of the Little Horseshoe Rocks, then W of the Ferry Rocks before turning NW heading for Oban North Pier.

Oban North Pier Pontoons are a short stay marina for visitors to Oban. You can berth for up to 3 nights or pay a day visitor rate if wanting to replenish supplies and use the shower block. The pontoons are handily placed right in the heart of the town.

Oban to Loch a Choire – 0n the W side of Loch Linnhe (17nm)
Leaving Oban 1½ hours before LW it is possible to set a course N through the Lynn of Lorn into Loch Linnhe towards Fort William. This route requires careful timing so as not to be caught by an ebbing tide at the narrows around Inn Island and Appin.

I opted for the route S of Lismore Island and up through the Lynn of Morvern toward Loch Linnhe. This route requires less careful timing of tides.

As you enter Loch Linnhe proper, N of Lismore Island, the mouth of Loch a Choire opens up to port. Entering Loch a Choire keep to the port side of the channel to steer clear of the fish farm extending from the N shore.

I anchored near the head of the loch in 3m of water. Being unsure of the quality of the anchoring I stayed on-board during the evening. There are a couple of moorings in the loch and using one may be a more relaxed option to anchoring.

There is a small marina across the Loch Linnhe at Appoin which has a pontoon accessible at all states of tide and a pub close by which serves food.

Loch a Choire to Corpach-Entrance to Caledonian Canal (20nm)
The key to this leg of the cruise is to arrive at the Corran Narrows as the tide is turning to flood. The in-going stream starts HW Oban -6hrs.

There is now a pontoon on the promenade wall at Fort William. Its main use is as a landing stage for passengers from cruise ships but when not being used for this purpose (free most of the time) it is a useful stop to moor and visit Fort William. As one of the tourist and outdoor centres of the Highlands Fort William has a full range of shops, cafes, bars and a large supermarket near the railway station. If you have an hour to spare the small museum just off the High St is well worth a visit.

Approaching the entrance to the Caledonian Canal the River Lochy flows into Loch Linnhe from the E bank just before the marked channel begins to turn W. The various island and shallows close to the channel create strong currents, particularly if the tide has turned. Be careful not to be swept out of the channel by these currents.

The entrance to the Caledonian Canal is marked by a small lighthouse on the N shore as the channel bends W. There is a useful pontoon behind the lock as you approach from the S. If you have not contacted the lock-keeper beforehand this is a useful place to moor and complete the formalities before entering the sea lock. If arriving after the canal operating hours it is possible to moor on this pontoon overnight. If strong westerlies are forecast this can be an uncomfortable spot as the wind funnels up the loch. In such conditions finding a spare mooring buoy in a more sheltered spot may be a better choice.

If mooring at Corpach there is a shower block for use of boaters but there is a better shower block and laundry at the top of Neptune’s Staircase and it is worth the walk.
On the east side of the canal before Neptune’s Staircase is a decent local pub, ‘The Lochy’. At busy times it is advisable to book a table in advance if planning to eat there. On Neptune’s Staircase there is a hotel with café and restaurant facilities, ‘The Moorings’.

If mooring in Corpach there is a small Co-op supermarket in the village which opens very early and provides decent in-store baked goods and coffee to go.

Corpach to Inverness via Caledonian Canal (60nm)
The transit licence for a 5.8m boat was £126

More than half of the canal distance consists of the Lochs of the Great Glen: Loch Lochy (8.3nm), Loch Oich (3.4nm) and Loch Ness (19nm), so there are opportunities to raise the sails during the transit of the Great Glen.

All the lochs on the canal are staffed and all staff were very helpful in taking lines and even pulling the boat through on flights of locks.

For the initial flight of locks, Neptunes Staircase I was paired with a larger boat to help manage the locks more easily. I was with a large RIB which was circumnavigating the UK. This proved fortunate as they were happy to have the RIB against the lock walls with Fraoch tied to their port side. This meant my passage through the first locks required little effort beyond supplying tea for the RIB crew.
Once tackling the later locks without a RIB to protect the sides of the boat a fender board is very useful. The walls of the locks are not all smooth stones. Particularly near the bottom of the locks rougher undressed boulders are sometimes part of the construction. A fender board will help to reduce the number of issues to contemplate when transiting the locks. As a small boat it is also useful to be near the back of the lock when going up the canal so larger craft can take the initial force of water as the sluices are open.

I completed the transit of the canal in 3 stages:
Corpach to Laggan Locks
Laggan Locks to Loch Ness Harbour in Urquhart Bay by Drumnadrochit
Loch Ness Harbour to Inverness

Laggan Locks is home of the Eagle Inn, the only floating pub on the canal. The pub is very popular and booking is often necessary if planning to eat. There are also toilets and showers at the locks.

Fort Augustus is a popular tourist town at the beginning of Loch Ness. Complete with piper playing on the quayside as you descend the flight of locks into Loch Ness. There is a small supermarket by the petrol station in the town and a good bakery by the flight of locks.

Loch Ness Harbour is a small harbour in the corner of Urquhart Bay on Loch Ness. The moorings are principally for motor-cruisers which are hired on the canal. The mooring on the wall to port as you enter the harbour is reserved for sail boats and with no tide to contend with a floating pontoon is unnecessary.

It is a short walk along the road from Loch Ness Harbour to Drumnadrochit – a town which is centred on the Loch Ness Monster tourist trade. There is a range of cafes and restaurants in the town but most seem to close early once the day trip visitors have left.

Once through Loch Ness the River Ness winds towards Inverness. There is a friendly boat yard, Caley Marina, just above the Muirtown Locks as you approach Inverness. It was possible to leave Fraoch on a pontoon berth whilst I travelled south by train from Inverness to collect car and trailer. The boatyard staff were very helpful in using their small tractor to retrieve Fraoch on to the trailer from their slipway.
Inverness is a lively tourist centre and student town with many eateries and bars to conclude your cruise in style. ‘Johnny Foxes’ on the river front by Bridge St is a local institution with a lively bar, food and live music every night.
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Re: Lochs and Locks - A Cruise Across Scotland

Postby erbster » Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:44 am

Sounds like a great passage, Paul. A nice mixture of scenery. What was the weather like? I’ve heard that sailing in Loch Ness, the wind is either right behind or on the nose. It’s a trip I’d like to do, but I don’t think I’d combine the family to join me...

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Re: Lochs and Locks - A Cruise Across Scotland

Postby Runrig » Sat Jan 11, 2020 8:46 am

With the surrounding mountains it’s probably right about the wind being astern or on the nose in the Great Glen. Luckily I had a f6 astern which meant I flew up Loch Ness in great style and short time.
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Re: Lochs and Locks - A Cruise Across Scotland

Postby erbster » Sat Jan 11, 2020 9:52 am

Runrig wrote:With the surrounding mountains it’s probably right about the wind being astern or on the nose in the Great Glen. Luckily I had a f6 astern which meant I flew up Loch Ness in great style and short time.


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Re: Lochs and Locks - A Cruise Across Scotland

Postby Malcolm Sadler » Fri Jan 17, 2020 1:04 am

I add my thanks to Runrig for a really useful set of sailing directions for those of us interested in Scottish waters

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Re: Lochs and Locks - A Cruise Across Scotland

Postby oak » Thu Apr 02, 2020 11:40 pm

Really enjoyed reading that log.Brings back memories except evrything seems to cost vast sums of money .
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