Next day opened with overcast skies, but no rain, and predictions of “slight” seas. We left a bit early to make sure that we had enough water to get out, and we were able to set sails for a while, moving along the south coast of the Firth. We had occasional patches of sunshine, and Robin got her first opportunity to take the helm and steer. Seas were indeed slight, and we caught a good current into Inverness, where we found all sorts of strong eddies under the bridge and at the mouth of the river. No problem, and we settled into the marina for one night before our entrance into the canal.
The Inverness Marina is much like the Roscoff marina, except that it is actually open, with an office (in a trailer). This is not a problem for us, but the location is quite a bit away from the center of Inverness. We walked in and out twice the first day, to find and make reservations at the Mustard Seed, and then to go to dinner. A look at the map revealed that the marina inside the Canal would be closer than the Inverness Marina, so we took the decision to enter the canal the next day.
Into the Canal
The next day we had the morning to make last-minute preps because the Canal sea lock did not open till after noon. The bumpers had to be carefully placed and the canal batter-board had to be rigged for the trip. We left after noon, after the boat next to us had refueled and departed. We discovered it just after we left the marina. It had run aground on the sandbar right outside the river that boats have to avoid as they travel from the Marina to the Canal entrance. It was leaning over with the tide rising and the wind pushing it further up the bank. Not a good situation. It appeared that there was a boat from the marina trying to help them kedge off, or at least to set an anchor to prevent further movement. They were also being hailed by the canal. It appears that they were supposed to make the entrance with us, but did not quite make it. We hope they did not suffer too much damage – we did not see them at all during our trip thru the canal.
The entrance at Inverness is a big complicated, because you have to use the sea lock, and then move about 500 meters to the railroad bridge and then use a single lock just past the railroad bridge before you can get to the marina. Luckily for us, the railroad was not being difficult, so we made the entire transit on schedule, and settled down in the marina. There is a large Co-op supermarket right next to the marina, and the walk into town was much better than the walk from the Inverness Marina. Also, Caley Cruisers is just up the road, and they have a very good chandlery. We needed the chandlery to replace our red running light, which had lost its lens during the leg from Arborath to Peterhead. This is the second time we have lost this light (and a different model, as well). We have now replaced it and are using some black tie-wraps to provide further protection to the lens from wave action.
We went up the Muirtown Flight of locks on June 26, and discovered that it is much easier to do a flight if the line handlers stay on the lock instead of on the boat. They don’t have to pull the boat, but it is easier to walk the lines rather than have to throw them up to the lockkeeper.
We stayed the first night above Dochgarroch Lock, and had a nice meal at the Oakwood Restaurant. It was a favorite from our last trip thru the canal.
Down Loch Ness - Foyers
We slept in quite well the next day, and decided to take it easy. The wind gods smiled kindly, and we actually got the opportunity to sail(!!) on Loch Ness. Trolling for Nessie(just kidding) at a slow rate, in limited visibility with occasional patches of sun. We were not in a hurry. We eventually decided to stop on the east side at Foyers, where the hydro facility was located. It was blowing a bit when we stopped, but the pier had plenty of water, and the wind was from the NE, right on the nose of the boat.
This was also where Dante and Calypso started their great Scottish vacation. Dante did some hunting, and caught a large vole, while Calypso decided to head off into the deep heather for some solitary contemplation. Dante was thwarted in his attempt to bring the vole back on-board, and the judicious use of boat-hooks as beating sticks eventually convinced Calypso that she should come back herself. All-in-all, a good spongecake day.
Only one item spoiled the day. About half way down the loch we lost the autopilot, and it appears to be seriously damaged. One of the surface-mount resistors on the main board is black, and there was a burned electronics smell. The autopilot can still steer, but it no longer receives input from the ring gyro or the rudder transducer, so it is dependent on the GPS for data. Which makes it hunt a bit. It appears that this is not repairable in the field, and it will have to be sent back to Raymarine in Portsmouth. Either on the way back, just before we head to France, or from home.
We reached Ft. Augustus on Jun 28 and decided to wait below the locks while we did some shopping and visited our favorite restaurant on the canal, at the Lovat Hotel. There is an excellent butcher on the east side of the locks, where we bought some fabulous sausage rolls, rib-eye steaks, and venison salami.
The Lovat also uses this butcher, and the meat and fish were quite exceptional.
After Ft. Augustus we continued down the canal. We did a late morning transit up the lock staircase at Ft. Augustus, and then a transit of Loch Oich, where the sailboat wreck that we had seen two years ago was still resting. It looking like all their rigging was till in place, and no one had touched it. Sad.
We tied up in Laggan and had dinner in the Eagle Barge/Pub. An amusing place with good food and great company. Highly recommended.
Next day was another long lake (loch) to transit. This time Loch Lochy, which is also a source for a hydroelectric facility. We noticed that the water level seemed to be much lower than we remembered it from 2 years ago. The clouds and rain had not changed, however. Also the scenery was a beautiful as ever.
We tied up for the night at a waiting pier just west of the Moy Bridge. This is the only surviving original bridge on the canal. It is used by the farmer who owns the land on both sides of the canal, and he can ask to have it closed whenever he wants to move a cow, or a sheep or drive his tractor across. Then, all the canal traffic has to stop. Luckily for us, we did not get held up, and we got a very nice place to stop. We finally got to try the rib-eye steaks we bought in Ft. Augustus, and they were fabulous.
Neptune’s Staircase and the Jacobite Train
We arrived at the top of Neptune's Staircase at about 10AM on July 2. This was an important stop, because we had made reservations to take the Jacobite steam train (AKA the Harry Potter Train) from Ft. WIlliam to Mallaig. There are two trains a day during the summer, and we were booked on the afternoon train. It was highly worthwhile to get the full steam train experience. The locomotive was built in the UK in 1945, and somehow they manage to find the parts to keep it running, while the passenger cars are the same ones that would have been used at that time.
The train stops right after the Glenfinnan viaduct (known to all HP fans) at a spot where two trains can pass one another. The scenery is spectacular, the sound of the train unforgettable, and the coal ash that drifts into the cars when the train passes thru tunnels will remain in your lungs forever. It also drifts over the countryside, and when we were at the lower basic next to the sea locks, it drifted over the boats.
Ahhh the days of steam...
Our license to cruise the canal was valid thru July 3, and we wanted to descend Neptune's Staircase first thing in the AM on July 3, so that we could get to the sea lock and out on a favorable tide. However, there were divers working in the sea lock early in the morning, so we did not get to lock down till about 11AM, so we decided to stay in the basin next to the sea lock for one more night to wait for a favorable tide. This delay at the top of Neptune's Staircase also gave the kitties an opportunity for one last hunting trip, which has had some severe consequences...
We left the canal on the 4th of July, at 8AM, just before high tide, so we got a good push down Loch Linnie towards Oban.