Leg 3. The Caledonian Canal, part one

0900 Monday morning, saw Kingfisher and Nightsong promptly depart Inverness Marina, for Clachnaharry Sea Lock and the entrance to the Caledonian Canal, on Leg 3 of the Sail for Macmillan. The weekend break in between each leg allowed those not heading home or arriving as fresh crew to catch up on housekeeping, the local sights and a “walk to town for ice cream”.

the walk to town for ice cream
The famous Victorian market







It is always interesting to have a look around the local boats moored nearby when in port. In Inverness this stunning classic boat, whose previous owner was sailor, traveller, raconteur and motorcyclist Tom Cunliffe, was moored right beside Kingfisher and Nightsong, so they had plenty of time to admire her beauty before beginning their week’s sailing.

A classic beauty, once owned by Tom Cunliffe

The stunning location of the Caledonian Canal offers a unique boating experience. Short stretches of the man-made canal link the scenic Scottish lochs and provide an East-West short cut for those wishing to avoid the long and arduous voyage around the Northerly Cape Wrath. Of the canal’s 60-mile length, 38 miles are along Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness, with the remaining 22 miles being through canals proper. The mountainous terrain may be scenic for those travelling through the glens but this terrain presented the biggest problem to be faced by the designers and builders –  one of level; and along the length of the canal there are no fewer than 29 locks. It is not all canal cruising though – Loch Ness is large enough to give the sense of a sea crossing.

The Caledonian Canal runs for 60 miles from the North-eastern Inverness to Corpach near Fort William in the South-west. Following survey work by James Watt, and using plans drawn by Thomas Telford, construction of the canal began in 1803. This building scheme, the biggest of its kind undertaken by the Government, was created to provide work and stem the flow of emigration from the Highlands. The original schedule and budget were soon to be proved hugely optimistic and after 17 years and £840,000 spent on construction, it finally opened in 1822. At only 14 feet deep it was too shallow for the increasingly large ships being built by that time, so it was unsuccessful initially and a second phase was required and undertaken to bring it to Telford’s specifications, opening in 1847.

Golden gorse bushes brighten the banks of the canal

In smooth sea and slight winds our two vessels entered the lock to begin their journey through this stunning feat of engineering. With banks of bright yellow gorse on either side, the boats motored through swing bridges and four locks before mooring in a quiet backwater for a home cooked meal, created from scratch on board. A couple of glasses of wine aided a good night’s sleep before our crews set out on the search for Nessie.

Anyone interested in taking part in a Sail for Macmillan should contact Colin and Jan of Premier Sailing, who will be happy to share more details and if you wish you may express an interest in taking part in 2018, without obligation.

Donations to support the cause may be given to the Just Giving page

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