Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Crinan Canal not quite for me

It’s been 42 years since I first traversed the Crinan Canal, but on foot, as shall be explained.

In the late summer of 1971 I appointed myself Master and Commander of the good ship Gaudeamus, which I had purchased from Edinburgh University. I seem to remember that the Students Association had taken a leftwards turn (Broon was to become rector the following year) which resulted in yachts, even very small ones, being seen as playthings of the moneyed class and led to the fleet being sold. My selection of Gaudeamus from the first batch of two was mainly based on her name being preferable to the curious Igitur.

Although less than ten years old she was suffering from the constant hard use and lack of proper maintenance typical of club yachts, especially those made available to students. She had a lot of broken frames, was beginning to suffer from Boag Stem and her sails were exhausted. Blissfully ignorant of all this I saw her purchase as a way to expand the horizons westwards. A future as a cruising man lay ahead and the only obstacle to be overcome was the canal.

In late September Big Jim and I set off from Cove. We made good progress down the Firth of Clyde and through the Kyles with the intention of making Tarbert our first port of call. But exhaustion and darkness took over and we eventually anchored in Skate Hole, somehow getting in without hitting “the rock which covers at H.W.” according to the CCC Sailing Directions, from which this image is taken.  


After a rather uncomfortable night we woke to find ourselves in more or less the same spot, in retrospect surprising, given the lack of chain in our anchoring arrangements. We got underway and had a fast run down to Inverneill, where the parents of a university chum gave us breakfast and encouragement, then on to anchor in the shallows off Ardrishaig.

At this point a small element of realism entered our world. We had allowed ourselves just a week for our first West coast, had already spent longer than expected just getting to the canal and plainly the traverse would take longer than what was left of day two. The plan to explore a few islands began to look a little unrealistic. It seemed a good idea to do some serious investigations into what might lie ahead and these started off in a local hostelry, where we soon found such good company that we ended up staying the night.

The following day we walked the canal and spent a pleasant afternoon in the public bar at the Crinan Hotel, which was in those days a friendly place. We hitched a lift back to find Gaudeamus a few hundred yards nearer to Lochgilphead, pitching about in a South-westerly half gale, nasty muddy waves breaking over her bows. So we booked ourselves in to the pub for a second night, abandoned plans for the cruise and began to realise that the main focus would be on getting back to the Clyde.

We left after breakfast on day four, beating into short steep waves thrown up by the strong wind against tide. The little ship coped well, less so the rigid pram dinghy, which constantly filled so that we had to stop and bail it out every half hour or so.

Off Tarbert we passed a tiny plastic cruiser with three aboard, struggling a bit but seeming cheerful, the only other craft we saw all day.

Each long tack across Loch Fyne got us half a mile or so closer to Ardlamont Point, which we rounded as it was beginning to get dark. The wind had steadily freshened during the day, but now we had a lee in the West Kyle and flew down on a reach to Tighnabruaich, where we found a mooring. The hotel was full but we persuaded them to find us some space to doss in our sleeping bags. The talk in the bar was about the little cruiser, which had been lost an hour or so after we had passed her.

Severely chastened, weather-beaten and tired but a bit wiser, we had an uneventful day five spent reaching and running back home.  I haven’t seen Gaudeamus for many years but it’s good to know that she is still around and back again at Cove. Loch Longs are terrific boats and you can read about them here: Cove Sailing Club Big Jim is still around somewhere in the South of England. 


  1. Hope the cruiser's crew survived...

    Your evocative post reminds me of a mid-70s overnight from Tighnabruaich to Rhu aboard the Royal Clyde Yacht Club’s Loch Long OD, “Thistle”, with the "forepeak" stuffed full of soggy camping gear. We were grateful for the "leading lights" of the late Inverkip Power Station lum as we careered up the Firth on a dark and stormy night.

    Those Clyde Cruising Club plans were wonderful in pre-digital times; their hand-hewn origins seemed to make them more believable and understandable in the days long before any electronic aids. They also used to produce useful chartlet folios. I have a dream of cruising the west coast using my 1923 copy of the CCC Sailing Directions, enquiring where the daily steamer to Glasgow now departs from, where the telegraph office has moved to and the location of the nearest farm to buy milk.

    1. Sadly I don't think they all did. I remember Jim and I being pretty shocked at the time.

  2. Loved this post. I owned Igitur in 2003-2005. Raced her at cove. She was in fine fettle, regularly racing against Gaudeamus. Sold Igitur to Bruce the crew who's still got her I think.


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water