Smithereen East to West through the Forth & Clyde and Crinan Canals

Smithereen is now safely moored at Barcaldine, Loch Creran after transits of the Forth & Clyde and Crinan Canals.

She was lifted back into the water on Saturday 21st April and I soon discovered what I thought was a leaking exhaust hose going to the Vetus water trap, the hose was in fact perished. As there was no hose available that day it was a couple of days later before I was able to get the right part and fit it. Unfortunately when I started the engine there was still a leak from the same spot. Removal showed that in fact the water trap had a hairline split in it right under the end of the hose. After an abortive fifty mile round trip from home to Port Edgar who had insisted they had the correct item in stock, but in fact it was nothing like it, I repaired the split myself with fibreglass matting. All was well once it was re-fitted and the boat was now ready to go.

Luckily I moved her to Port Edgar last Tuesday before the forecast strong Easterly winds set in. As we all know the Firth of Forth can be a bit bumpy when it is from the east and the conditions above Port Edgar are generally calmer. It turned out that if I had waited until Wednesday I would not have been able to get out of Granton Harbour because of the conditions. Wednesdays trip took us up to the Forth & Clyde Canal at Grangemouth and it was quite exciting as the tide, instead of being a Neap turned into the equivalent of a Spring because of the pressure and strong tidal surge up the Forth caused by the wind direction. Height restrictions make it necessary to remove the mast and I had done this before leaving Granton. The entrance to the canal is up the tidal river Carron with both depth and height restrictions. Luckily I had allowed myself plenty of time for the passage and by arriving early managed to get to the canal entrance with about ten minutes to spare before the height constraints would have stopped me. The Forth & Clyde Canal is about thirty-seven miles long and connects the Firth of Forth to The River Clyde.

With Stuart Fowler and Kevin McKinlay my nephew as crew, we set off from Grangemouth on Friday morning at 8.30am and passing through Falkirk ,

Passing through Falkirk

arrived at Kirkintilloch, which is about halfway through, by about 4pm. We had a few wee touches on the way and one grounding that required the efforts of the canal staff to get us off and the need to power through scraping the bottom. The advertised depth of the canal is 1.8 metres (Smithereen draws 1.5 metres in salt water), however there are a few places where it is less than this in isolated patches. We set of at 7.30am on Saturday morning with ice on the decks and the sun shining.


Waiting for us at Maryhill at 9am were three BW staff who accompanied us all the way to Bowling. We arrived at Bowling, the western end of the canal, at about 4pm where we were joined by Brian Robertson who would replace Stuart for the rest of the trip. With the Lock Keeper manning the crane we had the mast up soon after 5pm. By 9.30pm with only a short break for a meal, we had the mast set-up and the sails bent on.

Sunday morning dawned bright but cold and I was glad I had packed a hot water bottle – old age does not come easily. My meticulous planning had not included getting the time of HW correct unfortunately. The latest we could get out the Sealock was 8am, unfortunately the canal does not open till 8am. However and luckily for me, the very obliging Lock Keeper, Alex, had agreed the night before to start work early and we were in the Sealock by 7.30 and out by 7.40. I will be writing to BWS to ask them to pass on my thanks to all their staff that helped us through. The cost of the transit was £45 and we did not have to do a thing other than throw them our ropes.

We motored ‘doon the water’  (the Clyde) and around Cloch Lighthouse where we hoisted sail. We then had a cracking sail in the sunshine through the East Kyle (Kyles of Bute) and through the Burnt Isles. As usually happens the wind died in the West Kyle and we had to start the engine to keep to schedule if we wanted to reach Ardrishaig, the eastern end of the Crinan Canal, in time for a pub meal. Within two minutes of starting the engine the automatic bilge pump kicked in and I found we had a burst hose on the engine – over maintenance is a terrible thing! Luckily it was a simple repair and we were underway again within ten minutes. Thanks goodness for automatic bilge pumps that discharge into the cockpit and gives you a warning of water in the bilge (and wet feet). We were soon sailing again off Kaimes and did so until the fluky Loch Fyne wind kicked in north of Tarbert. The last six miles was covered under engine. Sunday night was spent on the holding pontoon outside the Crinan Canal at Ardrishaig.

Monday morning was dull and it had rained during the night. However by midday the sun was breaking through. After lock 4 we had the canal to ourselves – westbound at least. Two other boats were heading east as well as the Puffer Vic 32.

My crew of Kevin and Brian did sterling work opening and closing the locks while I had the easy job onboard. We reached Crinan by about 2.30pm and were locked out just before 5pm along with a very large Halberg Rassy (50ft at least). We decided to head for Croabh Haven Marina and set off with a reef in the main and the jib rolled to a number three as the wind had been gusting well over twenty knots at Crinan. We did feel a bit silly when about two miles out we were sitting in six knots of wind in full wet gear and lifejackets with the sun beating down. Once through the Dorus Mhor we had a fine reach to Croabh arriving at 7pm. The evening was spent in the pub looking out over a clear sky and brilliant scenery – the scenery was not too bad in the pub either.

Tuesday dawned clear and quite warm with the promise of some good sailing. A new boathook was purchased to replace the one that had disintegrated through corrosion and the new dodgers purchased this season were fitted – after all we were now in cruising mode. We went north through the Cuan Sound, normally a very lively passage because of the strong tides. Having promised Brian some excitement going through with the tide, it was an anti climax as there was virtually no tide – very small neaps. We anchored in Puilladobhrain in the early afternoon and had lunch in the cockpit accompanied by a bottle of wine and lashings of Sun Tan lotion.


We think the temperature was at least 20 degrees all afternoon and well into the evening. Meanwhile the east coast did not even reach ten degrees that day.

Wednesday again dawned warm and sunny and in fact we were sat in the cockpit at 8.30am having breakfast, it was so warm.


Unfortunately there was little wind, which meant we had to motor north through the Sound of Kerrera and up the Lynn of Lorne. On the way we met Rumbuster who was out for a sail from Loch Creran where she is now based. After a quick chat we arrived at the loading pontoon at Barcaldine at 2pm. The moorings area is a bit noisy as the yard is a working factory site involved in the manufacture of fish farm equipment. However it is a beautiful area and I’m looking forward to spending many happy hours up there. I was interested to see another Seamaster 925 Te Bheag on a mooring.

My thanks must go to my friends and fellow club members who helped to get the boat ready and their help with the delivery, Smithereen is now ready to cruise one of the most beautiful areas of the UK, if not the whole of Europe.

Granton to Port Edgar – TW & John Spencely
Port Edgar to Grangemouth – TW, JS & Graham Mitchell
Grangemouth to Bowling – TW, SF & K McK
Bowling to Barcaldine – TW, KcK & BR

Tom Wilson

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