Inverness, the Eastern End of the Caledonia Canal

Corpach Sea Lock


The first time I passed through the Caledonia Canal was in 1976 – East to West on my parent’s Salaminia II, a Camper & Nicholson 38 ketch.  My recollection and the pictures confirm that it was mostly dark and rainy with short spells of brilliant sunshine.  When we slipped the mooring lines in Oban for our West to East passage this time, it looked like authentic weather was in store for this transit as well.  But, in return, we could actually sail in a nice SSW-erly breeze blowing up the Firth of Lorne and then Loch Linnhe.   We hadn’t seen much when we arrived at the Corpach sea lock, the first lock of the Caladonia canal.   It took a while to get the fender boards out of the lazarette and installed over a long row of fenders on Kincsem’s port side.  We had heard that the canal walls are quite filthy and not kind to fenders.  Hence the boards.


So Annette was stationed at the bow to handle the bow line, Nicki at the stern to handle the stern line and off we went into the sealock.  This lock is the first of 29 locks of the canal.  The friendly lock keeper gave clear instructions and handed us temporary lines from 3 meters above the deck – avoiding the need to throw the lines up.  And the water flow into the lock was manageable – no problem for the line handlers.  So in just a few minutes, we were through the sea lock and told to tie up on the pontoon after it.  We were given a 8-9 o’clock start time for the next lock in Corpach, to be followed by the trip up “Neptune’s staircase”, a series of locks that get the boats up a significant portion of the elevation of Loch Lochy.

Waters rushing in!

The line handlers


The next morning the lock keeper came by the boat at 830 and told us to get going.  There were a couple of smaller boats that would enter the lock with us.   I told him that I had a problem:  Kincsem was running low on champagne and we had the Admiral’s birthday coming up.  He said no problem, pointed out that the next store was open and surely had champagne and gave us a bit of extra time.  Unfortunately, when I had made it to the store and secured the only two bottles of French bubbly they had in stock, I was told that alcohol is not for sale before 11 in Scotland.  Bummer.  So back to the boat and crank up the engine.  By now, the experienced crew knew what to expect and things went even more smoothly.  Timing was excellent as we witnessed the “Harry Potter” train – a historic steam train - crossing the bridge just below Neptune’s Staircase.

The Harry Potter train


Neptune’s Staircase is a major tourist attraction so we had plenty of opportunity to talk to numerous tourists from around the world while waiting for the locks to fill, the doors to open and close, and Kincsem being lifted above sea level by 2-3 meters a pop.  Had we sailed around Cape Horn or come through the Northwest Passage to get to Scotland from San Francisco?  Neither.  Isn’t Kincsem’s name the same as a famous Hungarian racehorse?   Yes.  Why were we speaking German if the boat’s flag was US?  Etc, etc.  Everyone was extremely friendly and I got a lot of compliments for having delegated the difficult task of handling the lines to the ladies while I was lounging in the cockpit out of the occasional rain and playing with the engine and the bow thruster.  On top of that, I was lucky that I was able to get back to the store by bike and secure the champagne after Kincsem had passed the last lock of the staircase!

Fully kitted out with crew gear!

Well deserved rest between locks!


A few miles past Neptune’s staircase is a swing bridge at Garelochy.  The bridge was not open and we were told to tie up at the waiting pontoon.  After an hour, we were getting a bit nervous since we had planned to anchor in an attractive bay in the next loch, Loch Lochy, for the night.  The friendly bridge keeper told us to be patient and stay put but a bit later confessed that the bridge was not working.  A mechanic was coming in the morning and we could expect to be on our way at 10 am.   This presented a bit of a logistical problem for me since the next day was the Admiral’s birthday.  Although I had now secured the necessary bottle of champagne and bought a birthday cake with candles for breakfast, the surroundings in front of the bridge were a bit less appealing than the anchorage at Glengarry Castle in Loch Oich I had planned on.  And, even more problematic was the need to get to a dinner reservation many locks and a couple of lochs after the bridge.

Waiting for the Garelochy bridge to be repaired


The next morning, 10 am came and went but we were on our way after lunch no problem!  I had told the bridge keeper that it was the Admiral’s birthday and the need to make Loch Oich in time for our dinner reservation.  That was duly noted and we got preferred treatment at all the locks and bridges! 

Birthday breakfast.  Note that I failed to shut off the rain!

We got to the anchorage with plenty of time to spare but once the anchor was down, the anchor winch quit working.  We had 75 meters of chain out – probably weighing over 200 kgs including the anchor, and the anchor winch was not working.  Interesting problem.  I had had the same thing happen about 4 years ago and then, oil had leaked from the gear box into the electric motor for the winch, preventing the motor from turning.  After a seal was replaced, the winch was as good as new. Now as then, oil was seeping out of the winch so I assumed we had the same problem again.   Luckily, now as then, the winch started working again after a ½ hour wait, making it likely that we could raise the anchor the next morning.   So we dinghied ashore for the birthday dinner at the Invergarry Inn, which was ½ hour’s walk away.  I had tried to get a reservation at Glengarry Castle Hotel right by the anchorage which looked fabulous, but they were only serving hotel guests that night. 


Anchorage in front of the Glengarry Hotel


Birthday dinner


The next morning the anchor came up without a problem!  More locks, more bridges, more lochs.  Also more tourists, particularly at Fort Augustus, at the West end of Loch Ness, where there is another series of locks.   But by now, we were going down, which is much easier since the water is not rushing into the lock with a lot of turbulence, but calmly leaving the lock.

Urquahair Castle in Loch Ness


Our passage through Loch Ness was uneventful.  Nessie did not show.  For the night, we anchored in Dores Bay in Loch Ness.  For the first time in many years I used the port side anchor and winch to avoid using the defective winch on the starboard side.  All was fine!  I even organized a repair of the defective winch with the help of Derek Douglas, the OCC port officer for Edinburgh.  If all went well, the winch would be repaired in Inverness in time for Kincsem’s scheduled departure.   The next day was our last in the canal and we tied up in Inverness Marina by mid day.  


What followed was another shore trip to Edinburgh.  See the pictures below.

Finally a distillery tour – Blair Athol in Pitlochry

Blair Athol Castle, including children's trainset from many moons ago

Pitlochry Palace Hotel

More whiskey


Last hikes in the rain


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