Oban to the Crinan Canal to Inverkip

Vinni had I had learned all about tides and tidal streams when we took our Yachtmaster exams but it is a bit different when you are faced with it in reality – do it wrong and you can end up losing your boat. There is a narrow inlet between 2 headlands near the entrance to the Crinan Canal, our goal for today. Everyone says the Crinan canal is simply beautiful.


Small lighthouse in the middle of nowhere

We needed to hit that narrow part at “slack tide” meaning right when the tide is turning – then there is no tidal stream (projected there to be close to 7 knots when running fully).

One of the issues about sailing Scotland is that there are reefs and rocks everywhere. Whilst there are buoys marking the major lanes – these are for the big ships – most of the rest of the time we smaller boats have to take our chances.

Yes, they do have charts and we certainly have all the latest, but Scottish waters were charted in the 1880’s and back then they did this by rowing a boat and casting a line with a weight on the end.  This then told them t he depth and since the weight had a bit of parafin at the end, it brought up what kind of bottom that was down there.  Which sounds nice and exact, but they rowed the boat in a straight line and took soundings, then moved the boat over 100 meters and rowed a parallel line. They then assumed that if they had measured 10 meters before and 10 meters now – then all the water in between was also 10 meters.

Nobody has been back to make corrections since, so this can be quite sporting to sail around here.


By the way – it was raining

Vinni had I hit it right – passing the narrows at slack tide.  Unfortunately, on the way to these narrows we had to pass some other narrows and we had figured that a bit wrong.  We thought we would come through when the tide was running about 2 knots, but we got there faster than planned and the tide was running over 5 knots.

We were winding our way between rocks and islands when we got hit with the stream. Not only did we have it against us, it made whirlpools and suddenly it was coming from all directions. Entertaining to say the least.

By the way it was raining.

We did get through without incident, although we had a few tense minutes.

Finally we got to Crinan Canal basin, entered through the Sealock and could tie up at the pier with no tides, so streams and the local “Seafood Bar” right next door.  The mussels were good, but not quite as good as we had in Inverness.


so – how much idyllic can you stand?


The other end of Crinan Basin – look very carefully and you can see Vinni on the foredeck of Capri reading

By the way – it was raining.


As usual Vinni is served her tea in bed before getting up in the morning

Next morning we “locked up” and got into the canal proper. Uuuhh – this is one narrow canal. The lockkeeper told us to stay in the middle of the canal where the water was deeper. The “Watermaster” apparently had added extra water to the canal so we could get through with our 2.2 meter draught, but it was going to be tight.

By the way – it was raining

Things on the Crinan Canal haven’t changed in 200 years. The bridges across the canal are opened with winches operated by hand. The locks require that first the valves are opened by hand then the lock gates are opened by hand. This is very romantic, but very, very difficult when you are only 2 persons. One person has to stay on the boat, while the other one operates all the locks (which are heavy). Fortunately for us, there was some personnel about and they ran the locks for us

By the way – it was raining

At the 2nd lock the personnel announced we would have to wait for boat coming from behind. It was going to lock up with us since they run a very tight water conversation policy on the Crinan. Half an hour later. A Beneteau 46 footer showed up skippered by Mike who was not a very nice guy. The boat was a chartered boat with a charter skipper and 7 totally novice sailors (meaning they had no idea what they were doing on a boat). Since the boat wasn’t Mike’s he didn’t care much if it got hit or damaged in the locks. Putting our 40 footer and his 46 footer into a lock is a very tight squeeze indeed and require a lot of cooperation between the boats, especially when water is being pumped into the lock since that creates a lot of turbulence.

By the way – it was raining

We went through 7 locks, the atmosphere between our two boats getting more and more strained until we got to Cairn Barn, the midway point on the canal. Vinni and I decided to spend the night since we were not happy locking up with Mike. Fortunately, they continued on so we didn’t see them anymore.

Dinner was at the pub and while not very good it was filling and the beer was cold (and plentiful). The room was filled with sailors so it was a good crowd who talked over the tables.

By the way – it was raining.

Next morning we sailed off towards the last 4 locks. Beautiful scenery, lush and green.

By the way – it was raining

At the locks, we were told we had to wait for another boat to lock through with. 10 minutes later, Alistair showed up with his son Grant and 2 of Grant’s dentist friends. All of them were very pleasant company and Alistair had only been sailing 59 years or so, so he was beginning to get the routine. Grant had been sailing since he was in diapers so he also was getting the routine.  Both of them had been through the Crinan a multitude of times and it was all old hat to them. We went through the remaining locks easy, peasy. Alistair suggested we sail to Tarbert, where they were going and we readily agreed. Outside the locks we turned south and I hit the autopilot so I could help Vinni with the sails.

By the way – it was raining.

Whe I hit the button……………………


Nada! Nothing! NIx! Finito!

Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!

Not a good ting and the next thing I knew the chartplotter also died and now things were getting serious. We gave Capri full throttle and caught up to Alistair and asked if we could follow him.

He readily agreed and told us on the VHF that he would also call ahead to Tarbert harbor and reserve a space for us. 15 nautical miles later, Alistair led us into Tarbert, we docked and he docked across from us..

By the way- it was raining.

I quickly ran over with a bottle of wine to say ”thank you” and he immediately invited us over for a drink. It was close to 4 o’clock in the afternoon so the damned sun was over the yardarm somewhere in the world and we readily agreed.

Down in his very comfortable Moody 336, we had G&T’s stuck in our hands and before we finished those, two more. These turned into lots of G&Ts and in the great company that Alistair, Grant and his friends were, it became a thoroughly enjoyable evening. At 9 o’clock we needed to get something to eat. Everything was closed except the fish and chips place. We had fish and chips while one of them had Haggis (haggis for those who don’t know is a Scottish delicacy comprised of sheep innards that are chopped and then cooked in a sheep’s stomach)  I tasted it and it wasn’t bad, but maybe you have to be Scottish to enjoy it

By the way – it was raining.

Later, Vinni and I hit the sack. When we met Alistair the next morning, he admitted that they had continued with G&Ts for a couple of more hours. He looked surprisingly chipper. His crew didn’t though – they looked a bit hang-dog. But it was their last night on board – they had to go back to work the next day so they took the train to Glascow. Alistair waited for a woman he knows to come crew for him back to his home harbor. Our autopilot still wasn’t working well so he suggested we go to Kip marina and have a company called Boat Electronics take a look at it.

By the way – it was raining

One thought on “Oban to the Crinan Canal to Inverkip

  1. Glad you enjoyed Scotland in the rain – honestly, it’s not always like this – sometimes it snows! Hope you managed to get the electronics sorted out at Kip and have enjoyed the golf at Troon. Good luck for your onward trip – we will be following your progress with interest and hope to meet you again when you return to Scotland. Best wishes from Alasdair, Grant and crew of Saorsa.

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