Voyaging through Scotland’s Crinan Canal

My transit of the Crinan Canal last fall aboard my J46 Cielita was a great experience. We were on our way back to a mooring in Ardfern in Scotland following a circumnavigation of Ireland (ed. note: look for Ned Cabot’s story on his trip around Ireland in the May/June 2007 issue of Ocean Navigator).

The Crinan Canal connects Loch Fyne at the town of Ardrishaig with Loch Crinan on the Sound of Jura by cutting across the base of the peninsula known as the Mull Of Kintyre. It is a total of nine miles long. Here are some observations from our canal passage.

These are controlled by huge wooden doors, two at either end of the lock, one on each side. The doors themselves are opened and closed by heaving on huge, long lever arms that have to be opened and closed one at a time by walking the long lever arm through a 90-degree arc. This requires a lot of back work. And if being handled by a single person – as in our case – it also requires a lot of hiking from one end of the lock to the other and across the tops of closed locks to get from one side to the other. Depending on whether the lock is full or empty when going up or down, it may also require putting the crew ashore before getting to the lock in order to open or close the first set of gates as needed and take the lines as the vessel enters the lock itself. All this puts a considerable strain on a crew of only two and requires a good deal of planning and boat handling, as well as a lot of muscle.

Having said this, however, it’s a lot of fun and a great way to see some interesting scenery and chat with passers-by along the way.

After going through a lock around 1600, we were about halfway through and since they closed the canal at 1630, we tied up to one of the docks that are provided for the night and stepped ashore for a short walk to the nearest pub for a pint or two and our evening meal. It couldn’t have been more pleasant.

Speed in the canal is strictly limited. This is in part due to the need to prevent wakes, which would otherwise cause erosive destruction of the banks on either side. But given tortuous curves and the narrow width of the canal, which in many places seemed barely more than the beam of our boat, it would have most imprudent to travel at anything more than three or four knots.

We did have one unfortunate mishap along the way that was exacerbated by being short-handed. At one particular lock somewhere in the middle, a would-be helpful attendant appeared out of nowhere to give us some instructions. He had no intention of relieving my single crew form most of his duties opening and closing the gates, but he insisted on instructing me how to secure my dock lines and then use my engine in forward gear to maintain some distance from the side of lock without having to fend as the boat went up (or down). When one of the lines slipped off its cleat, the boat surged forward under power, and the bow struck the lock door in front of us, damaging the cathead rather badly and the drum of our roller reefing as well. Needless to say, I was not pleased with his advice or the resulting damage.

For a different kind of adventure, a transit through the Crinan Canal is well worth it.

By Ocean Navigator