Smoke On The Water - Crinan Canal!


Crinan Canal Basin - Picture by Author

We left Oban on the 23rd of September and headed for the Crinan Canal. Sadly the winds were super light, variable 3 or less so we motored the familiar waters and marveled at the picturesque scenery.


Crinan Canal Basin - Picture by Author

The Crinan Canal between Crinan and Ardrishaig in Argyll and Bute in the west of Scotland is operated by Scottish Canals. The canal, which opened in 1801, takes its name from the village of Crinan at its western end. Approximately nine miles (14 km) long, the canal connects the village of Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp with the Sound of Jura, providing a navigable route between the Clyde and the Inner Hebrides, without the need for a long diversion around the Kintyre peninsula, and in particular the exposed Mull of Kintyre. There are 15 locks and 7 bridges on the Crinan Canal so in comparison to the Caledonian Canal it is a relative short passage.


Crinan Canal Loch No. 1 - Picture by Author

We had taken the opportunity some days earlier to visit this place whilst on route to Puilladobhrain and I am so glad we did as that allowed us both to understand the booking process and the Covid restrictions. As there was only Gary and I to take Sandpiper through the Crinan Canal, this being are first time and there being no volunteers to open any of the gates, we decided to hire a pilot. Hiring a pilot was way easier than I had anticipated. I simply sent a group text to 4 of the names in the Crinan Canal Skippers Guide and to my astonishment they all came back within a quarter of an hour. If I had realised that the professional pilots would be available and so keen, I may have bartered on price but I took the first offer with no questions asked. I also may have spoken to them all, paying more attention to what was on offer. (More on this later). Booking the canal licence and receiving our timed slot to transverse the canal was an on-line form and also a very easy process.


With our licence and pilot secured we decided to spend the night prior to departure moored in the tiny Crinan village mooring field at the courtesy of Crinan Boat Yard. The town looks out across Loch Crinan to Duntrune Castle and the village has a couple of lovely eateries and a grand hotel. The attraction to this place is evident by the number of well maintained traditional boats on the moorings outside the boat yard. The chandlery was well stocked and as we had arrived early afternoon we decided to treat our smokey engine to some new filters, something that we felt was due. Our engine had given us a few hairy moment over the last couple of months and so we set about giving her some well deserved TLC.


Traditional Boats in Crinan - Picture by author

Fitting the new filters was simple enough, bleeding the diesel system though the priming pump was a ball ache, as this is done by repetitively pushing a small lever with your thumb. Lets turn the starter motor over that will quicken the job up a bit, famous last words! I was happy to help and I turned the engine over as Gary opened the decompression lever. After a while the engine stopped turning over and with that the colour drained from Gary's face. On investigation, what had happened was the raw water cooling system had filled the exhaust with water to the point of coming back into the cylinders via the exhaust valves. As water does not compress the engine was hydro locked!


Gary immediately opened Nigel Calder's book on his tablet and I have to say Nigel and Gary are just geniuses as some how after a few hours we were back up and running. It involved draining the water from the exhaust hoses, opening the decompression lever and hand cranking the engine to pump the water from the cylinders. This soon made us realise that although engines are designed so they can be hand cranked, this proved to be difficult and exhausting. Therefore we would not like to rely on it in an emergency. Confident we had removed the water, we closed the decompression lever and started the engine. I am sure you can imagine I had all my fingers and toes crossed at this point, a few coughs and splutters later and the engine was running. She lives another day!

A twenty minute job he said! Well, that is how boat life goes and some five hours later we eventually sat down to our dinner with a beer and a stunning sunset!


Sunset at Crinan - Picture by author

The next morning we were up and standing at the chandlery door, waiting for them to open, we needed to change the oil just in case water had infiltrated the lubricant. We had spare oil on board but not sufficient for a full oil change. Back at the boat and only 20 minutes to go before our first loch, we were feeling the pressure and so we did the job in utter silence. I prepared the fenders, fender boards and mooring lines forward and aft. Although for a split second I forgot how to tie a bow line. Funny how that happens when you are feeling the pressure.


Five minutes prior to our booked canal entrance time, our pilot messaged me to say that the loch crew were ready for us, he checked our preferred mooring side and told us to proceed towards the loch. As we motored around, our pilot was standing on the loch side waving his hands in the air and I immediately thought, Oh no, what the hell does that mean?''. Actually it was simply our pilot making him-self known to us, I think I was a bit anxious at this moment.

The pilot was clearly a very knowledgeable man and in that I had no doubt. Gary and I assumed that a canal pilot would board Sandpiper and guide us through the process. We knew we would have full responsibility and would be in control of our own vessel but with the pilot on board we would be able to gather information of th