Caledonian Canal / Moray Firth - 2011

The GOM Review


This was a a good adventure. Canal facilities (and Canal operatives) were very good. I think we were lucky with the weather. The run out of Inverness to Cromarty was superb but I again state we were very, very lucky to have a weather window. The main issues and a real pain in the arse, was getting the dinghy trailers and cars back to the boats.

July 26, 2011

On the Saturday I met up with my crew for the next two weeks – Barny Creaser as well as another GP14 sailed by Mark Burgham. Also with us was David Mason who had brought his 22 foot trailer sailor. All three boats were heading down the Caledonian Canal and out into the Moray Firth to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle. In the end we sailed past there and did an overnight stop amongst the very large cruise ships and oil rigs at Cromarty (Nigg Bay).

The Caledonian Canal for us was a major expedition, other boaters see it as a bit of relief from sailing and as purely a short-cut from one sea to the other BUT these boats have ENGINES – our two GP’s just had oars. The canal itself consists of 22 miles of actual canal and 38 miles of open water (Loch’s). The longest of these is Loch Ness which is 22 miles (this took us two days). The facilities provided by British Waterways were very good and at most locks (not to be confused with’ lochs’) there were toilets and often showers. A camping site was also freely available nearby often with a picnic table. Our kit was carried by Dave in his 22 footer which was a great resource as it meant we could have two adults in the GP in better comfort and in the event of a capsize at least our tents and sleeping kit would be dry. Mark in the other GP cooked and slept on board. And no, he was not a midget nor did his legs unscrew from his body!

The longest part of the sail was 12 hours from the end of Loch Ness out into the Moray Firth and on to Cromarty. We arrived at 9 pm at night and set sail back to Fortrose the next day catching the incoming tide at 6 am. The forecast for the day was ‘winds 0 to 1 mph gusting to 1, sea state wavelets’. A forecast I have never heard off before and neither do I want to ever experience again. The sea state though did enable us to sail with the dolphins at Chanonry Point

THE CALEDONIAN CANAL Thursday June 23rd- at Corpach Loch Linnhe campsite. It is a superb location I have my tent next to my boat which is also next to a slipway. There is the most stunning view down the loch to the mountains. The steam train to Mallaig runs along the edge of the loch adding to the view. I take the opportunity to unload the boat and check all its equipment. The campsite is very big but I certainly recommend it for the small cruising sailor.

The Start

FRIDAY - met up with David and his 22 foot trailer boat. Dave is going to be the ‘mother ship’. This means that we can store our camping gear on his boat which is a relief really as we certainly are restricted for space. In the afternoon, after rigging his boat we sailed out of Corpach and passed Fort William we got with a mile of Corran Narrows, beating all the way. It was sunny and a nice fresh breeze made all the better as occasionally the summit of Ben Nevis was laid bare.

SATURDAY- And the weather forecast for tomorrow is heavy rain predicted for the afternoon. Mark and his GP14 turned up this morning. We discussed a change in plan and decided to move into the Caledonian canal today and wait at the top. During the rain tomorrow we will take the cars to Rosmarkie (car journey’s of 160 miles). So it was that at noon we sailed off the slipway and into the first sealock. I amazed myself and everyone watching as I entered the lock under full sail and came alongside. The lock keeper said that was just how they did it in the old days. After a quick briefing by the lock keeper of what to expect over the next few days and more importantly paying the rather excessive fee of £68 (this is for a 14 foot boat) we were soon heading into the first sea basin. There we meant Barney who had just arrived and with clothes he had driven up in we then took all three boats up the Jacobs Ladder locks. Mark and his boat was rafted up to a enormous motor cruiser which had just two people on it. So our first night of the journey was spent at the top of the locks and if it hadn’t been dull, grey misty and drizzle we would have been in a good position for a proper view of the Ben. Camping for us was just off the towpath but full toilet and shower facilities were available.

SUNDAY - Yes the weather was exactly as predicted heavy and consistent rain. So the big logistical nightmare of cars and boat trailers began. It was all over by 3 o clock so we moved off down the canal - the journey had began properly. Most of this section was on canal so we either rowed it or stayed rafted up to the ‘mother ship’.By early evening we had reached to opening on to Loch Lochy and as it was still raining quite heavily when set up camp. Nothing at all in this area ie pubs but the service provided my British Waterways were well used. We had hot showers and a drying room in which to meet and cook in. All of us are quite relieved that the first day of sailing has started and it is looking good. All of us in the locks at Corpach - Mark in his GP rafted up and me rafted to Dave in the mother ship.

Wild camping at the side of Loch Ness (only half-way). It is longer than the distance between Dover/Calais.

MONDAY - Before setting off we all went down to the white tower that marks the entrance to the canal for those coming the other way. The weather was dull and grey but more importantly the winds were very light we ended up rowing 3/4 of the way on this loch it was not until we got to end that we managed to get the sail up. Typical of Scottish weather it was too windy at the pontoon but after rafting up again we went into the Laggan locks.

TUESDAY - Another short stretch of canal then into Loch Oich. This is turns into a great sail narrower than Lochy but with a lot more to see. We passed several small islands and if it had been later in the day we would have made every effort to camp on them. It is in this type of loch that the small boat sailor has the advantage. At the end of the loch is Cullochy Bridge and just beyond it is a set one lock but as it was 5.30 the lock keeper convinced us that this was a good place for the night. There was no facilities here but a nice view and a picnic table which suited just fine.

WEDNESDAY - Through another short canal section and down the locks at Fort Augustus before the tourists arrive. There was light winds and it was beginning to rain so we stopped for a big meal before heading out into Loch Ness. This is a phenomenal stretch of water at 22 miles long it is longer than Dover to Calais. Because of the light winds we started out with the intention of finding the first bay and to do some wild camping and wait for he wind to make an appearance . No sooner had we started out than the Loch showed who was in charge here. The wind came back and we had a fast sail to Foyers Bay. We had a great evening together and after a wee drink or two retired to bed. A great relief that in one afternoon we had sailed half-way down Loch Ness.

The Finish

THURSDAY - Not looking good - Loch Ness was flat calm. I am in danger of beginning called a liar. My constant warnings about this Loch and its potential for danger seemed so far away when you see this sort of mirror flat calm. Wanting to push on anyway we decided that we would all meet at Urquhart Castle and several hours later we did. It was a slow sail which had as bemused at which direction the wind was coming from. At Urquhart Castle we were dwarfed under its ramparts from which there was constant flashing of cameras . We stopped for a short while in the private mooring nearby that had a pay and display machine for boats! Soon we were on our way again it was if we were on a different water fairly lumpy waves and a stiff breeze which after our morning was superb. We were supposed to have stopped at Dores which is a village in a bay right at the end of the loch but by the time we got the winds were increasing and we were going quite fast. We might have landed OK but the tents and boats would have had a rough night on the lee shore. So it was we sailed up the River Ness and under full sail went passed the long section of a weir that separates the River Ness from the Canal. At the first set of locks we stopped and camped (Dochgarroch). This was a full facility place and even had a restaurant (Oakwood)and this place was comes highly recommended - a sub post office gift shop all in one.

This part of the canal section into Inverness runs alongside the River Ness. Both were merging into each other!

FRIDAY - an important day started with the long downward set of locks in Inverness and all too soon we were cast a drift into the Moray Firth. The water was very lumpy and crashing waves over the boat but after crossing over to the other side the water settled down and we set of a steady pace under the Kessock Bridge central span. I have a mast height of 7 metres so luckily there was room to spare - by about another 200 metres! The weather for the first time was sunny and also for the first time we had to take account of tides and currents. We were initially heading for Chananory Point and the campsite just around the corner (Rosemarkie). We arrived there at about 3 pm and luckily we were stopped on the beach when there was the most tremendous hailstone shower. We obtained a weather forecast and all decided that we would continue on to Cromarty (a further 10 miles). So off we went - the wind died and it become a very slow slog and we resorted to the oars for most of the way. It was 9 pm when we finally rafted up to the mother ship for the night. We barely had time to go ashore and got fish a chips just before the shop closed. With no winds predicted the next day we would have ride back with the tide this meant getting up a 5 and sailing by 6. So in by the end of the day we had been sailing for 12 hours followed 6 hours sleep.


A quick refreshment stop at Rosemarkie. This where we had left our trailers. We would come back here tomorrow after carrying on to Cromarty. It was while we were parked up that there was a short, shrp downpour. It it had happened while we were out in the Firth it would have been serious

Passing Chanonery Point with Fort George in the background

Not many 'dive-in' places on the way to Cromarty Bay- a lot of 'false entrances' as well. So look out for landmarkes to judge your progress.

Lots of dolphins in this area - do not bother trying to photograph them - this is all you will get.

We crossed over to Culbin Forest to see the seals

SATURDAY - Our last day on this particular trip. Left Cromarty at 6 am but not before a very very large cruise ship came through the narrow entrance to Cromarty. We drifted about a bit on the way back by going all the way across to the Inverness side to see the seals. Sailing with the tide meant we were back at Chananory Point at the right time to see the dolphins. The slip way there was unusable because of the amount of pebbles on it. Barny, Mark and Dave took the boats on to Fortrose while I transported the trailers from Rosemarkie to them.

(Not my image but shows the entrance to Cromarty). Fortrose Sailing Club provided the facilites to get our boats off the water.

So ended the Caledonian Cruise 60 miles in an open boat. The winds were unchallenging but we all agreed it was better that way. Dave’s 22 ft trailer sailor was a great boom especially for the carrying of our equipment - 2 in GP14 does not leave much room. Mark in his GP ate and slept on board and was entirely self sufficient.

The bylaws did not allow boats to be under sail in the canal sections. Rather than row and to assist the lock keepers with their gate opening we choose to raft up a lot of the time and get taken by Dave. Still we did it - and it a memorable and interesting cruise which we have proved can be done in an open boat without an engine!

If anyone is thinking of doing this journey in a GP14 then there are a number of considerations:

      1. Do not do it alone.
      2. The logistics of getting cars and trailers from the start to the finish are a nightmare.
      3. Do not under-estimate the sailing conditions that can exist on Loch Ness (it has its own RNLI lifeboat station).
      4. There is a rule that no sailing is allowed on the canal sections.
      5. Consider a small craft ‘mother ship’ with an engine as it does get you through the locks quicker.
      And 6, remember that wild camping is permissible in Scotland (within certain criteria).

    The most memorable nights of the trip was when we just pulled over to the side of the Loch, built a small fire and set up camp for the night.

This information is from the Skippers Guide (see their web site)

Length of natural lochs 38 miles
Length of canal cuttings 22 miles
Total length of canal 60 miles
Summit level at Loch Oich: 106 feet
There are 29 locks and 10 swing bridges along the waterway, all of which are operated for you by British Waterways staff.
HOURS OF OPERATION The canal operates on a seasonal basis as follows: Summer: Monday to Sunday 0800 — 1800. Locks and bridges may be closed during lunch break.
MAIN ROAD BRIDGES The main road bridges at Muirtown, Tomnahurich and Banavie are used daily by people driving to and from work. British Waterways assists traffic flow by allowing road vehicles priority at peak times.
RAIL BRIDGES To assist the flow of rail traffic, the bridges at Clachnaharry and Banavie are periodically closed to canal traffic. Normally will not be opened during until 0900.
TIDAL OPERATION Special note should be taken of the tidal restrictions at sea locks. Within normal operating hours Clachnahary Lock is normally available 4 hours either side of high water. At low water and spring tides the sea locks are CLOSED 2 HOURS (or a little longer) either side of low tide. Within normal operating hours Corpach Lock is available with a tide over 1 metre. This restriction is caused by the need for sufficient depth to float the sea lock gates, they are fitted with floatation tanks in order to lighten the loads required to open and close them.
SLIPWAYS A slipway is located at Caley Marina, Canal Road, Inverness. Access and use should be arranged directly with Caley Marina, telephone 01463 236328.
BOAT SAFETY SCHEME All users of the canal must show us evidence that they hold insurance for a minimum of £1 million third party liability.
V.H.F COMMUNICATION Sea locks and most locks and bridges are equipped with VHF and operate on Channel 74.
DRINKING WATER Taps are available at Seaport Marina, Dochgarroch, Fort Augustus, Banavie, and Corpach.
TOILETS AND SHOWERS These are available at locations throughout the canal. Keys are issued by sealock keepers on arrival and collected on exiting the canal. There is a £10.00 fee for keys not returned on exit.
LAUNDRY FACILITIES These are available at Seaport Marina, Fort Augustus, Gairlochy and Banavie

Early morning view of half-way down Loch Ness