Back to Onegin after the long winter layup. The pilot announced the weather to be not too bad for our arrival in Inverness. We stepped off the plane into a howling wind with the rain blowing sideways. What an exciting start to the trip!
Over the next few days, with a huge amount of help from Tim & Willi, we spent every second finishing up the outstanding jobs that had to wait until the boat was back in the water and the new radar arch installed. Ritchie the welder appeared a couple of times with his very large Doberman, Logan, to put the finishing touches on the arch and the boys installed the solar panels and put the wind gen back in place.
Check new through hulls not leaking
Depth sounder activated
Mast head instruments fitted
Radar arch secured
Solar panels fitted
Wind gen re-installed
VHF radio replaced
Gas cylinders replaced
Ship stores replenished
Fold up bicycle recovered from winter storage
Main sail stack pack zip replaced and repairs done
Stow the sewing machine (first time it’s been on board but will be super handy)
House batteries replaced
Saturday 2nd May
Ready for departure through Canal. Sea lock available for entry at 10.45. Radioed ahead and spoke with the Clachnaharry loch keeper. He was very happy we had announced ourselves as the boat ahead of us didn’t and he was very keen to let them and us know that not radioing ahead was very poor etiquette! He was a super nice guy and responsible for the first two locks at Clachnaharry and the swinging railway bridge. Once through these we had a 45 minute wait until the next swing bridge opened and the four flights of locks at Muirtown are entered. The locking process is relatively smooth and requires one driver and two donkeys. This led to various comments about silly asses and who did the donkey work. We worked out a system which worked very well leading the boat through.
2- 4th May
10 swinging bridges, 29 locks and 38 miles of lochs including Loch Ness.
Wind, sun, rain, snow.
There is a pecking order in the locks: big vessels first, private yachts and motor vessels and then the rental boats (driven by people who have little to no experience) luckily for us we were big enough to accompany a very large ocean going fishing boat: Proud Seahorse; a sleek renovated motor cruiser: Asyrian (or Asprin as we all called it); and a small rental motor cruiser driven by an Australian couple who warmed to us eventually after they’d realised that we had to move them and another motor cruiser when we reached Fort Augustus because they had all tied up with 10 feet between each boat. Leaving enough room for us in pieces but not as a whole 47’ boat! Yachts definitely have a different approach to going along side a pontoon.
The first stretch of banks along the canal are filled with rhododendrons just waiting to bloom, by the end of May they will surely be out and quite spectacular. The rivers that run alongside the canal are raging torrents as water pours down off the mountains and keeps the lochs filled with the water that feeds the locks which are all gravity fed. The only mechanical aspect is the hydraulics for closing the gates. We all marveled at the engineering feat, with the canal being built in the early 1800s.
We arrived at the western end, Neptune’s Stairs, ready to make the final descent at 8.30am and first lock and by the time we reached the Corpach Basin it was close to 11.00 the tide was turning against us and wind howling leaving us tied up and waiting for the early morning tide the following day. The upside of this was that we were in the sight of Ben Nevis which kindly emerged from its cloudy veil and also the Ben Nevis Distillery. If we couldn’t make it to Oban that day then a few miles walk to the outskirts of Fort William and a distillery tour were worthy activities. Add to this Inverlochy Castle which is en route: we had a fab day in the sun and made friends with Aspyrian.
Among the highlights of the canal:
The lock keeper who awarded gold stars to all wearing lifejackets.
The Loch Ness monster (see photo)
Canoers reminding us of Algonquin Park
Ben Nevis emerging
5th – 14th May
Corpach – Oban
Ominous skies and blowing 30kn from NW meant that our ride to Oban was fast: a new speed of 13kn was measured by the new instruments. We followed Aspyrian to Oban Marina which is their home port. The marina is on Kerrera Island accessible by a ten minute ferry ride to Oban.
All for drinks on board Onegin with Simon and Debbie of Aspyrian.
As the weather and tides worked against us, Tim decided he would leave the boat and head back to Devon. Loaded him up with various boat parts: old anchor and dinghy we waved him off. Sorry that he couldn’t stay.
Willi, Geoff, Bel : Dinner on Aspyrian.
A great surprise and treat of paella made with locally caught fish; a huge thanks to Debbie for this amazing meal. Look her up http://www.rhynie.net/rhynie-woman/.
Oban - Jura
An early rise at 4am to catch the slack tide going through the Sound of Luing: tales of overfalls and whirlpools put the fear into our brave captain! It was flat calm with an occasional whirl because our timing was perfect! Rain, hailstones and sunshine brought an amazing rainbow just ahead of the Sound. A journey of approx. 35NM we arrived at the Jura Distillery, picked up a mooring and pumped up the dinghy for the first time. Tried to start the outboard (sadly Logan and James’s work last season hadn’t held out) so the choice was to row. A good way of warming up! We did a tour of the distillery and then a half hour hike to the town hall which was the only location with wifi.
Our next decision was whether to make the 40nm crossing to Northern Ireland or a short stop. The forecast was ideal for the journey to Ballycastle. Granny used to visit Ballycastle as a child with her grandfather who lived in Belfast! We were met by a delightful chap who took our lines and showed us around.
The big event in Ballycastle was Ireland Coastguard Games: where all coastguards in Ireland (North & south) send teams to take part. We hoped the seas were still manned as we’d never seen so many CGs in one place! This was our first chance for music- a couple of fiddles, guitar and flute were playing in one of the 13 local pubs! Lots of fun.
Between Jura and Ballycastle we had to make our decision about Atlantic coast or Irish Sea. Sadly the weather conditions which have ranged between gales to 2-3 forced our decision to go down the east coast.
Ballycastle – Bangor - Galway
40nm to Bangor, a great marina and highly recommended. Excellent facilities, 24 hour manned and reasonable access. This was a good stopping place for the next few days of foul weather.
We hired a car and headed out to the west. Sligo and Drumcliffe, where Willi’s great, great grandfather is buried in the same church yard as WB Yeats. We had the best chowder in Sligo in the pouring rain and drove down to Galway. If you’ve never been there- go. Its delightful; a small pretty town steeped in history. We enjoyed our first ever Galway Hookers (delicious ale and boats); pub music and an open mike session. Willi saw a guy walking along with a guitar case:
“where should we go for music tonight”
“the Rushing Duck”
“the Russian Dove?
“yes the Roisin Dubh”
It took us a while to work out which building we were meant to go to after walking round the block three times….
We heard some great music. The next day was glorious: sun and clouds but again super windy. We were very glad to be onshore.
Prepare for the next weather window to Dublin. It was a very windy ride, short chop waves on the nose but the forecast lightened through the day and we made it to Howth at 2am taking the last and seemingly smallest spot left in the marina. It was a welcome stop although very poorly buoyed, lucky for the sandy bottom at the harbor entrance and it being flat calm. The marina manager said in the morning when questioned over the access “come in daylight and it’s easy”.
Howth looked stunning but the crew decided being in the heart of Dublin would be more fun, so we motored in the channel with strict instructions from the VTS Dublin to stay close to the southern side of the channel. The container ships come constantly so there is loads of traffic.
We walked miles – into the center of Dublin, hooked up to an entertaining tour of Trinity College and the parliament building. A night in Temple Bar helped us find a great bar with a great band playing Irish music and covers. Loads of fun. Back to the boat by taxi, the wind was up again. It was like being in a drum overnight. The number of container ships that came in and out overnight added to the noise. So our challenge was to get to Dun Leary (there are multiple spellings and this is the phonetic one) and the Royal Irish YC in the morning where we had been offered a position on the club pontoon. Standing waves, 30kn breeze on the nose at the mouth of the harbour we made it slowly out at 1.5kn.
The RIYC is fabulous, we are very grateful to our friends Michael and Phyllis Boyd with whom we had dinner. It was great to catch up with them.
If wifi permits we will update more frequently.