Crinan canal

We were moored up at the the North entrance to the Crinan canal. the basin at Crinan is a rather picturesque little spot with a restaurant and a hotel. The main thin that I was interested in while I was there was the laundrette facilities which I eventually found in the boat yard, behind a shed. While the washing was getting on with its job, I explored the nearby countryside and met lots of walkers that were doing the same. The washing soon had to be transferred to the dryer, but this time I went back to Salty Lass, to explore my other favourite past time and that is food. I got back just in time before a huge thunderstorm started to drop all its rain, right where we were moored with the Lass.

Once we had got the washing sorted, it was time to start our adventure down the canal. The first lock is manned as all the sluse gates are on hydraulics, so all we had to worry about was manoeuvring and not crushing the little frog who had entered the lock with us. As we motored along the canal, we noticed a man cycling beside us who was part of the canal staff, as we were motoring towards our first bridge, which had to be swung. As we got through this first obstacle, I chatted to the guy who had cycled to meet us. Apparently all of the staff who were manning the gates this year had lost weight except one. I could see why, as cycling, moving locks and other types of weight were all part and parcel of the job.

As we motored past a rather pretty house boat, I asked Beverley what she thought of the canal system. It was clear that she hated it. It is a good thing that we bought Salty Lass, rather than a canal boat. When we started our odyssey, we looked at several videos. Ones of people living in canal boats and ones of people is sailing boats and we had both agreed sailing was for us, the adventures just looked bigger. Sometimes our adventures are quite small, for example it felt like an adventure just sorting out the washing this morning because finding the washing machines was quite a treck, but you feel that you can have bigger adventures and that is important to us.

We passed several Bavaria yachts, so much so that we felt that we were in Bavaria city, when we came to some pedestrians Beverley speeded up just so that we could pass them. Soon we were at the first lock and one of the canal staff was on hand, so at each lock, he taught me a little bit more about what I needed to do to get Salty Lass through the gates, so the lessons he taught me were:-

  1. Sluse gates - Use the handle which is on the gates to raise the sluse to start, open the gates, let your boat in, close the gate, then close the sluse before you go to the next gate
  2. Speed of opening the sluse - When you are going up, as you open the top sluse, you need to open the sluses slowly so that the boat in the lock is not bouncing around the lock like a cork. I'm afraid that I did not pay attention to this lesson and at one time Beverley was having to deal with two much water gushing towards her. I soon realised my mistake and closed the sluse to slow down the flow of water.
  3. Look after you back - Your back is very precious so do not push with your arms, which transfers the pressure to your back, push with your legs. The other good thing about legs is that they are as strong as mens' legs, while your arms and back are much weaker.
  4. Look at the gates - When you look at the gates, sometimes you can see that one gate is on top of the other. If you see this then open that gate first. Basically which ever gate is closed last will be pressing on the gate that was closed first. Sometimes you can see which gate this is, but when you can't. Try both gates, one will be easier to open than the other.

Lessons that I learnt for myself were

  1. Look at the water - You can tell when the water is going through the sluses by looking at the top of the water, when there are ripples in the water then the water is still travelling from the lock to the canal, or the other way around if you are going up
  2. Wait - After the bubbles have stopped, wait just a little bit more to make sure that the water on either side of the gate is the same height. As a lock opener your job is going to be harder is you are trying to push the water too.

While I was learning how to open locks, Beverley was learning all about the ropes and how to manage the ropes single handed. Initially she had one of our spring ropes as this had the length to go from the side of the lock to the cleat and then down the boat, But these ropes had no slip in them so were soon abandoned. Next she tied two of our mooring ropes tide together to make a single length. Our mooring ropes are 12mm in diameter and this rope popped out of the winch which is designed for 10mm. So in the end she had a 12mm mooring rope running from the side of the lock along the side of the yacht, tied to a 10mm rope which went through the winch. The other thing that Beverley was learning was all about the position of the ropes relative to the yacht. The canal staff insisted on tying the ropes well back of the yacht, but although this gave Beverley forward and backward control, it was very difficult to control sidewards motion and this is needed especially when somebody, namely me opens the sluse gates fare too quickly.

By the time we had learnt all our lessons and got Salty Lass to the top of the canal we were tired out, but there is a pub not too far from the top, so we dressed ourselves up and walked down to the pub, looking at one of the locks which also contained a swing bridge as well as the lock itself, so it looked like we would have plenty to keep us occupied as we went down the lock system. We soon found out that the pub was a hotel, so we couldn't get a meal there, so it was a walk back to Salty Lass, where we had a pasta dish, made from mushrooms, pasta, onions and a little bit of chorizo. We had the pasta with a glass of wine and some garlic bread, much appreciated. That night we were having problems with the midges until I remembered that we had tee tree oil on board. As soon as we soaked a few tissues and placed the soaked tissues around Salty Lass, all the midges disappeared and we had a much better time.

The next day, we thought we had a problem because it was Sunday and the canal is only manned in high season on a Sunday. However, we soon found the canal staff at the lock that also contained the swing bridge and they showed is where they had put the keys to the locks. They were all on the far side of the footpath that we had walked down and were on the back of the locks, so look at all sides of the lock, when looking for the keys. There are four places where the keys can be stored, so look at them all. Once we had found the keys, it was time to put into practice all the things I had learnt on the up set of locks.

It was a real struggle opening the first lock, but that was because I had forgotten lesson 4, look at the gates and it was clear that I was trying to open the wrong gate. I found it amusing as I asked our watchers to help me, I knew that really they couldn't help but I felt that I was asking them for moral support. It must of worked because I did get the gate open in the end.

Once I had got the lock open, I went back to Salty Lass to check that she had got the lines ready on the Lass. So she told me all that she had learnt, so that other people know what to do. We got through the next few locks quite well. If you are on the lock side like I was, expect a lot of walking. For example I would open the gate where Beverley and Salty Lass was. Go down to the next lock and prep that, come back to salty lass, let Beverley off, close the gate and the sluses them overtake Salty Lass so that I was on the lock sides ready for her to give me the lines. I managed to get help on one lock and another was set for me by boats coming out so I didn't do too badly. Also on the lock with the bridge on I was able to get on to Salty lass to continue down the canal.

We had gone through a bridge and we were just coming to a manned lock that also had a bridge right through the lock when a motor boat speeded past us and moored up port side. We had got our lines set for port side, so there was a mad rush on deck to move the lines from port to starboard. There was a lot of cursing going on from both of us especially as we did not notice that the line that I had handed to the canal personal had dropped into the water. It was at this point that Beverley decided that she was never going to do a canal again in her life.

Luckily it was not much further and we could see the sea, which meant only one thing our escape from the canal system was soon upon us.