• JAL

Sailing the Raft Part 2

Updated: Jan 6

After the Crinan canal was the open sea again and the riskiest part of the voyage. ​My old friend John volunteered for this leg so after a late night meeting in Crinan we set off early the next day. From this point you follow the coast North past Luing, Seil, Kerrera, and to Oban which makes a convenient stopping point. 

Sailing Dorus Mor
The Dorus Mor from Crinan Hotel

However, before all of this you must first pass a couple of islands called Jura and Scarba, and between them is a patch of water called the Corryvreckan. And this is some place to behold. For in this quiet patch of Scotland is placed the second largest whirlpool in the northern hemisphere of the earth. Get this wrong and you won't be telling the tale on your blog site later in life. Oh no. After navigating the Dorus Mor which is full of eddies and tide rips and often spins the boat in all different directions you sneak carefully up past the grey dogs (another such area) and hope that you don't get it wrong and end up in a current pulling you into this beast. If you have waited for a weather window and worked out your tides correctly, then you should be fine. If not... they say on a bad day you can hear the roar of the Corryvreckan ten miles away. Eventually though we passed sailed past it and stopped for lunch and supplies in Oban. Being unsure of the mooring arrangements here we ended up tied to a commercial jetty, but it was as close as we could get for the shopping! After a brief rest in the sunshine we headed back into the maze of lochs which make up the West Coast of Scotland, up Loch Linnhe and to our next destination: Fort William. We were nearly there and it was a perfect summers day (though sadly with little wind) and it could not have been more relaxing. However, change was coming... Looking ahead John and I were interested to notice that in one small area between the mountains somebody had simply painted the sky black. It seemed like some trick of the light but eventually Mother Nature gave us a clue. Painfully loud thunder cracked along the mountains next to us and I felt the hot wind like a brick wall straight afterwards. Diving forward to secure the hatches I yelled at John to tie the anchor chain around the mast and let it hang in the water. John thought this some sort of religious idea, but anything that helped right now was good. I told him later it was a pathetic effort to try and re-route any lightening strike. As we watched the squall approach and felt the white water hit us, visibility clocked down to zero very quickly, and the boat was being tossed in all directions. What made it worse was that we were now dangerously close to the Corran Narrows, the entrance to the final loch that we needed to traverse to make our land fall. If we couldn't find our way through this into the narrow gap safely the boat would be smashed up like balsa wood on the shores. More worryingly so would we. John slapped me on the back as we settled down to ride out the squall and said some peaceful and well meaning words. In return I scowled at the fact that he was luckily ignorant of knowing that the boat was about to fall apart at any moment. The duct tape and para cord were starting to wear thin. As it turned out, within 20 minutes the whole scene had reverted to peace and quiet; as if nothing had ever happened. We had managed to stay on course through some luck and judgement, and the only remaining aspect was the rain.  Corpach near Fort William was a very welcome sight. Now we were in the Caledonian Canal - the biggest canal in Scotland at around 70 miles long and taking in Loch Ness amongst other lakes. You start the journey from the south here with 'Neptune’s Flight'; a series of nine lochs in a row which climb steeply up into the main canal and takes about two hours to get through, but it is a good experience. The Caledonian links Western Scotland to Eastern; Fort William to Inverness and the Moray Firth; and the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea. Hence the steps are for Neptune to climb to the North Sea from the Atlantic when he feels like a visit.

Sailing Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis in the background

Along the canal's route there is much beauty and you can stop nearly anywhere for the night. You could do it all in a couple of days but it is much more fun to take your time and make it last a week or more. John left in Fort William but rejoined me again in Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness, giving me time to sail Loch Lochy, Loch Ness, and Loch Oich alone which was very tranquil (and very wet with constant rain). ​

Incidentally, while I was sat in Drumnadrochit a man came up to me to make conversation and to tell me what a terrible place it was - he was clearly unhappy. It turned out he was full of regret of coming to spend a week here as it lacked any real shopping centres, night clubs, and not even an established restaurant chain. I thought he was joking but sadly not, thus I could only look at him with the same look as the fishermen had earlier given me before returning to my tinned ham. In Fort Augustus I found decent fish and chips and sat and ate them (in the rain) before returning to the boat which leaked so bad inside it was much like sitting... in the rain. When John returned again we had an easy time for the final trip to Inverness where we met a French guy named Jean-Paul who was a skipper on a large luxury yacht. Of all the folk that gave us a wide berth during our BBQ on deck (actually, using parts of the deck...), he shamed them all by coming to join us and even inviting his clients to come and see our little boat. They declined after about a quarter of a second, but it's the thought that counts isn't it? We had one final glorious sunset to bask in and we had done it.  And what a wonderful voyage it had been. For all of the exotic places I have sailed before and since if you can get the weather and the timing right, Western Scotland is one of the best.  I had a great time sailing, met some great people, saw the most beautiful scenery, and drove home the point that even when it seems impossible, you can still come and live the life if you really want to.

Sailing boat sunset
Evening in Corpach

"Imagination is more important than Intelligence.” Albert Einstein I like to think that Einstein meant that our ability to create our life experience in our mind directly influenced how our life played out...

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