Coast to Coast and A Bridge Not too Far

We bought our Swift 18 ‘Swift Decision’ just over two years ago and over this time we have towed her to various inland waterways, Norfolk Broads, Kielder, Loch Erne (NI) Lake District but the only sea trips we had done were the Kyles of Bute, which we had enjoyed so much we wanted to venture further.  A look at the charts showed us some beautiful cruising areas north of the Crinan Canal but also some rather worrying fast flowing currents around and between the islands for our ‘wee’ boat as it came to be known.  We noticed that we could avoid some of them and remain more sheltered by shortcutting between the Island of Seil and the mainland if we could navigate through Clachan Sound, the only problem was it dries out at low water and the tidal range is only 2.7m at Springs, further reading found dire warnings of rocks, weed, narrow channel and shallow bars and not least the Bridge Over the Atlantic (7m headroom) and two electric cables, which sounded like a good challenge for the Swift!.

So earlier this year we planned a ‘coast to coast’ trip from Craobh Haven on the west to Inverness on the east coast a distance of just under 100 nautical miles.

Timing for HWS we launched our boat at Craobh Haven Marina on Friday 13th July 2018 which was worrying Gina who is rather superstitious but it was all blue skies and a light SW breeze so we headed in great spirits towards Balvicar Bay and on up too our first mooring in Seil Sound just below the bridge arriving at 17.30. HW was at 18.30 and an investigation through the bridge to the North end of the Sound in the dinghy was called for but to our surprise at one hour before HW we met a strong ebb stream flowing south against us. We completed the survey and checked the depth over the bar at the north end with a makeshift lead line before returning at a much greater speed to find despite the ebb stream the water level at the bridge had risen another 6 inches!

Next morning HW was 07.11 so we got up at 05.00 and lowered the mast using the Robin specially fabricated ‘A’ frame and at 05.30 we dropped off the mooring and in the tranquil and calm misty morning we began motoring towards the bridge taking time to admire the brown deer which was running along the shoreline next to us. Again 1hr 20 mins before HW there was an ebb stream flowing fairly strongly against us for the 0.75nm length to the end of the Sound.  The depth sounder showed 1m below the boat and with our swing keel wound up we drew 12 inches, even so the rocky bottom was clearly visible not to mention all the long trailing weed. However all went well, nothing caught or grounded and we safely transited the Sound and swung round the headland motoring into Pulladobhrain Bay, one of the most beautiful anchorages on the West Coast of Scotland feeling rather elated.  It was only 10.00 so we had breakfast and set a course for Port Appin a distance of 16nm past Oban through the Firth of Lorn, we hoisted full sail and make good time with a F3 SW wind and arrived early afternoon picking up a mooring outside the Pier Hotel where we enjoyed a hot shower and a good meal.

Next morning we awoke to heavy rain and a thick Scottish mist which reduced visibility to less than 400 metres so we decided to switch on the VHF and get a weather report.

After a couple of hours wait per the forecast the rain eased but the mist did not clear so all trust was put into the little yellow portable Garmin Etrex GPS which we have had for donkeys years and Gina put a route in to Corran narrows a distance of 11.5nm with a plan B stop at Kentallen if the weather and visibility worsened.  In the event visibility improved to about 2 miles and the south westerly returned F2 so we unfurled the Genoa which added a knot to our motoring speed helping to offset the ebb current and we continued to Corran arriving perfectly timed to pass the ferry and go through the narrows at slack water into.

Our day just got better and better when we were soon joined by a dolphin family who played around the boat for some miles towards Fort William, which caused a great deal of excitement and a multitude of dolphin pictures.

The flood soon began increasing our speed towards Corpach Sea Loch and a steady 5.5 knots meant we had no problem arriving at the entrance to the Caledonian Canal with 10 minutes to spare before the last locking time. The day ended with us moored in Corpach basin on the Caledonian Canal so we treated ourselves to a taxi ride into Fort William for a good Indian meal. We knew the next couple of days were going to be relaxed and scenic along the Great Glen with spectacular views of Ben Nevis and the Highlands.
Along the canal’s 60 mile length there are 29 locks, 10 swing bridges and 4 aqueducts and next morning we began the transit with the formidable ‘Neptunes’ a staircase of 8 locks raising boats 70’ above sea level.

At each locking we chatted to boat crews from many different countries each with fascinating stories like the Swedish financier who ‘burned out’ 3 years ago and bought a 27’ boat and set off to sail around the world and now after 37,000 miles of circumnavigating he is finally returning home, it sort of put our little adventure through Clachan Sound into perspective! The first opportunity to hoist sail was the 7 mile length of Loch Lochy where with a following wind and goose winging we made 6.8 knots with one reef.

We stopped overnight at Laggan locks where we ate on the very interesting Eagle barge, a pub on the canal with many varieties of malt whisky and wall to wall memorabilia from big production movies and fantastic models of the Cutty Sark and Victory.
Next day we continued to Fort Augustus where we descended the 5 lock staircase and motored out of the canal into Loch Ness to the accompaniment of a lone Scottish piper kitted out in full tartan regalia, which added quite an atmosphere. Once in the formidable Loch Ness we hoisted the sails again with one reef and we set off rather briskly goose winging the 18nm towards Urquhart Castle our overnight stop.  The following wind and surf meant for a lively sail and this time a record, our max speed was 7.2knots the fastest we have ever made on our Swift 18!
There is a fantastic sheltered deep water harbour at Urquhart Bay where an overnight stop next to the castle means you can visit Drumnadrochit for all things Nessie and the Fiddlers Rest pub which does amazing food. The next day was very sadly our last as we reached Inverness and the slipway at Caley Cruisers.
We could not face the fact that this trip which we had been planning for some time had ended so instead of towing her back to her home ‘port’ in the field we towed the Swift back to the west coast where she remains at Arisaig Marine Boat yard near the Isle of Skye in readiness for another adventure. We had heard tales from some sailors we met at the pub in Mallaig of going through Kyle Rhea at 12 knots with an 8 knot current so I asked what control do you have? None came the reply, that’s the fun of it ! .....to be continued.


Robin and Gina Marsden
Swift Decision July 2018

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