Spring Sailing in Scotland

April 9th   

Brimble, our 28 foot sailing boat has seen us safely across the Atlantic, North Sea, the English Channel, the Norwegian Sea and many other waters, including the Caribbean and Artic.  She is a small or in estate agent speak 'bijoux' boat who was built to tackle heavy seas and bob along very happily.  Both home and transport, we love her to bits.  This year we had  wintered her in Inverness after bringing her back from the very north of Norway and the midnight sun.  Instead of sailing her around the north of the UK we decided to try a different kind of sailing and ventured to take her through the Caledonian canal.

The canal was the brain child of Thomas Telford in the 1800's and joins the Scottish lochs with canals including 29 locks so that vessels could safely carry their cargo from west to east and east to west.  History of the canal  We were travelling from Inverness on the east coast of Scotland to Oban on the west coat.

On arrival we had various chores to undertake but as she is a small boat we have to make sure we kept out of each others way.

Servicing the engine requires much
to be moved and dismantled

Who says our boat is too small?

Our penultimate night at Inverness marina kept me awake all night.  A gale came through, nothing unusual about that, especially in Scotland at this time of year, but for some reason the wind kept changing direction and so the boat would heel one way and then a few minutes later would lean the other way, it would tug on it's warps, the halyards were frapping against the mast, the cockpit cover was flapping wildly and the fenders were squeaking against the pontoon.  All this led to my inability to sleep and the howling of the wind and the pelting rain was as if it were inside the boat.  The next morning on discussion  with our friends I heard John tell them that he could have slept through the gale but he could not sleep through my constant commentary about all the aspects of the night.  I did blush a tad.

As with every new sailing season, it's a sensible idea to have a 'shake down sail'.  Here you check everything is working and has been put back correctly.  This years shake down was the best we have ever had, nothing went wrong, the weather was perfection itself and we were welcomed to the season by a cheeky Scottish seal who kept popping his head up at every opportunity.  The guillemot birds in their winter plumage were in abundance and everything felt great.

Cheeky Scottish seal

Inverness bridge and many guillemots

Returning back to the marina for the final night before making passage through the canal was not as easy as we had hoped.  By now the tide had turned and the current was picking up.  We were sailing alongside our good friends in their wooden boat, Thembi  (Tim built it himself) and we really struggled to make it past the north cardinal buoy and turn into the marina.  Half an hour later and we would not have made it.  Something always has to happen on the first sail of the season, right?

See the force of the current pushing on the north cardinal buoy

The following morning dawned and aware of the strong current from yesterday we were determined not to be caught out by the potential six knots.  We checked and double checked the tides, called up the harbour master on VHF to check the time we could enter the sea lock and made our way into the Caledonian Canal.  The stillness of the water bode well for the day.  What could go wrong?

Beauly Firth just outside the sea lock

Having made our way through the sea lock, motored through the canal and through a couple of more locks we entered Loch Ness, somewhere I have wanted to go since I was a little girl.  Of course I do not believe the stories of a Loch Ness monster, but I couldn't help but keep a sharp eye out and admit to having to look more than once at the shadows on the water.  Loch Ness is the deepest water in the UK and most of it is actually deeper than the North Sea.

Thembi making way ahead of us

The day and week saw a mixed bag of weather often turning quite quickly from one to another making for dramatic skies.

And then the sun came out

Fantastic architecture was to be found along the way

When the sun hid behind the clouds it became
quite chilly but the great sailing made up for it

Our first evening we decided to anchor in Loch Ness over night.  We do not have a mechanical chain for our anchor, so anything that we let out and generally you should let out a minimum of 3 times the depth of water, we have to pull back up by hand the next day.  We therefore, not surprisingly like to anchor in quite shallow water.  Not an easy feat in the deepest waters of the UK. 

Being ahead of Thembi we decided to sneak inwards to see where to anchor for the night.  We have a depth sounder which lets us know how much water is below the boat but it stays blank if the depth is over 100 meters, so as we approached the shore line having had a blank screen for most of the day we suddenly saw we had 30 meters below us.  Drawing 1.6m, meant we had more than our requirements and far too deep for us to anchor in, forget pulling up 90m of chain, we don't carry that much for a start!  Before you could even blink there was a large thud, the depth sounder was reading 1.2m.  We had gone aground in the deepest water of the UK. 

Thembi at anchor near to
 where we went aground
Quick as a flash we sprang to one side of the boat deck, leant out as far as we could so it looked like we were falling over the side of the boat backwards and then leapt to the other side of the boat and did the same thing on that side, leaning as far out as we could trying desperately to move the boat in a rocking motion from side to side.  John and I ran from one side to the other in quick succession together whilst our daughter held onto the tiller and suddenly we somehow managed to get our selves free.  My heart pounding  and palms sweating we motored away from the shore having also somehow in all of that called out to Thembi not to follow us into this shallow patch.  Having two boats stranded in the deepest water of the UK (have I mentioned that yet?) would have been completely disastrous!

Hamish (8) on Thembi laughed and said he thought we were going to fall off the boat as we were leaning out so far and that it must have been Nessie who had grounded us.  Tim, however thought it was a perfect 'get out of jail' manoeuvre he had ever seen, perfection he said.  Under my breath I know I muttered perfection would have been not to go aground.

The Caledonian Canal is well used by all types of boats from commercial vessels, private boats, not so many sailing ones, admittedly and many hire cruisers for holiday makers.  Many use the canal as a green gym as there is a tow path along the entire side of the canal and lochs, extremely well maintained.  Cyclists, walkers and runners are to be seen along the way.

Pathway along Loch Oich

Pathway along the canal

Through the canals themselves we could not sail as it was too narrow

Lots to see along the way
The highest point of the canals was 106 feet above sea level.  It felt very surreal having a sail boat so high above the sea.  We looked everywhere for a plaque to state the fact, thinking a photo of that with Brimble in would be fantastic, but none was to be found, although the lock keeper confirmed the height above sea level.

Looking down at Brimble moored up above sea level

The highest point of the canal
at 106 feet above sea level. 

Being desk bound most of the year sailing on a small boat means you are 'outside' nearly all the time, it's the tonic we need.  Nature and all the elements surround us all day and night.

The trees were covered in lichen

The gorse despite our high latitude was already flowering

Dawn and dusk were often spectacular

We even had the first BBQ of the year in March, not bad, eh?
Activities to stretch legs ashore are all important too

Each lock keeps cottage was beautifully tended,
we saw lawns cut, mole hills flattened
and weeds being dug.  All was well looked after.

Through the locks themselves we rafted up along side Thembi, the bigger boat and her lines were attached to the shore.  Two walkers, usually myself and someone from Thembi then walked those lines along the locks.  It was all very calm and made us all reflect on days and an era gone by.

Brimble and Thembi rafted up along the canal lock

Lock doors, filling up to raise the water level

Fort Augustus by Loch Ness

Winter/Spring sailing in all it's glory

Breath taking scenery

Close haul sailing

Dramatic Scotland

8 locks one after the other at Fort William in the shadow of Ben Nevis,
known as Neptune's Steps

Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK

Sailing towards Ben Nevis

Lighthouses are a necessity for navigation but a welcome beautiful sight too

Thembi sailing inside the islands towards Oban

Making way towards our final destination of Oban
Brimble's home for the next month
It is always hard leaving Brimble, especially as she has not been 'home' for three years but each mile we sail her from now brings her closer to us and it won't be long till we see her again.
♥  Scotland you were fantastic   ♥
We have another blog which is dedicated to sailing and there are posts about all the places we have been on our faithful boat, if you are interested, take a peak...


  1. Thank you for sharing your adventure, especially the photos. It looks so beautiful up there.

    1. Thanks Phil. Scotland has many faces its true

  2. Stunning photographs Selma. Thank you so much for sharing them. I can certainly see why you enjoy sailing. It's not something I've ever tried other than gentle boat trips in the Lakes. X

    1. It's a great family holiday Jules I love it

  3. Wow! You got some amazing photos. I would be sick as a dog with all that rocking. My stomach doesn't handle lurching very well.

    1. That's kind of you to say so Tamy. I do get a bit queasy usually but was ok this week x

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. Really enjoyed that, thank you. It must be quite difficult leaving Brimble somewhere strange and miles from home. x

    1. It really is Karen. I don't think we really get fully used to leaving her either. She's been away from home now for three years so we are excited to be bringing her closer home

  6. Wow, you are adventurous! Being grounded would have scared the heck out of me. Had no idea Loch Ness was that deep!

    1. It's my husband that's the adventurous one I tag along with him. I really do detest going aground and admit this was not our first time Janet.

  7. How fascinating. I enjoyed seeing some of what you saw and learning a bit about your sailing boat. We visited Loch Ness in the early 70's. That's interesting about it's depth. In 2006 we were in Oban so it was fun taking this journey with you without having to lean out over the boat!!

    1. Did you take the train ride south from Oban too Elken? That was really beautiful also. I loved that x

  8. What an amazing trip, not sure I would have been able to stand the rocking and lurching from side to side but the views are divine, what a delight.

    1. I'm often a bit sea sick usually starting with me being excessively tired but funnily enough I was ok this trip. Thank goodness

  9. That was a wonderful post of your journey. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  10. What a fantastic adventure! I'm not a sailor but have gone on a few sailing trips. Such a great experience.

    1. Jen, it was a great experience so very different to what we have done before on the boat. Where have you sailed?

  11. Wow, what a fantastic trip. I loved hearing all about it ans seeing the amazing photos,. Thank you so much,

    1. I'm really glad you enjoyed it Meredith x

  12. What a wonderful excursion. I loved coming sailing with you today. Thank you.


    1. Diana I enjoyed having you along for the ride x

  13. Thank you for sharing your adventure, especially the photos. It looks so beautiful up there.


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