Cornwall to Scotland days 40 to 42
|14/08/2011||Filled under Caledonian, Canal, Scotland|
The gloaming in Burghead, a west facing harbour on the east coast of Scotland.
Day 40 – Burghead Harbour gives us a superb night’s sleep in total peace. No traffic noise, no grinding of fenders nor squeaking of warps, no wind to rattle the halliards, just peace until the gulls start laughing in the early hours. But this doesn’t matter as we are up at half past five and away by six before the sun has even got out of bed properly.
Six am also coincides with low water and, as every Burghead fisherman will know, there is not a great depth of water outside the harbour at this time. We had thought to creep out quietly so nobody would notice but there is one local man up and about and anxious for our safety even at this hour.
“You’d be better leaving it a half oor as there’s nae much water ootside.”
There is little we can do to reassure him other than to confess that catamarans don’t need more than a thimbleful of water to keep them afloat. Whether he believes this or not we cannot tell but he wishes us a safe journey anyway and we carry on regardless.
Of course he turns out to be correct about the lack of depth just outside the harbour but Cirrus takes all this in her stride and stylishly slides out with just inches under her keels. The man’s presence at such an early hour and his concern for us touches us deeply just the same, confirming our warm thoughts about Burghead.
Just outside the sails go up and we begin the final twenty seven mile passage to Clachnaharry lock, the start of the Caledonian Canal. The sea is as smooth as it gets, just a slight roll of swell left over from yesterday, and the sky surpasses itself providing us with an ever-changing drama that no camera can do justice to.
Lighter wind than expected means we have to use our engine for a time since our arrival at the Canal entrance must coincide with high tide but within a few hours we are moving into the narrow channel at the head of the Moray Firth, with Fort George on our left and Chanonry Point to the right. It is still early but standing on the beach here is a large group of people, dolphin watchers. This place is famous for its dolphins, big ones, hungry ones. They congregate here for the salmon which pass by en route to their spawning grounds upstream, the fish being forced to pass through the narrows right under the noses of their predators. The fish bring the dolphins, the dolphins bring the people.
We, of course, are just passing by but nevertheless our boat gives us a grandstand view. All around us in the water are these magnificent creatures, fins rising to the surface here and there, difficult to spot as so often we are looking the wrong way as they broach. A group of three beasts surface to breathe just feet away from us and then suddenly there is a big disturbance as one hurls itself out clean of the water, its whole body visible just for a second before diving cleanly, disappearing from view. The watchers on the shore go green with envy at us being so close to the action while we simply drift along serenely under sail, silent save for the ripples in our wake.
We pass beneath Kessock Bridge (and an ‘Independence Day’ sky) to arrive at Clachnaharry to find the lock open and a welcome from the same man as when we arrived here two years ago (he remembers the boat). In the interval he has charity-shaved both his beard and his head hair, he admits coyly, but he is as talkative as ever, keen to explain the workings of the canal we are about to pass through. Little changes here though. The canal water is fresh but still a rich brown colour as the whole system is fed from peat-enriched streams which drain the mountainous countryside. We berth to a pontoon after the first lock lifts us three metres above the sea. Tomorrow we will rise higher, locking up towards the level of Loch Ness.
Day 41 – Having made the transition from salt to fresh water there are several boat-related consequences that we need to bear in mind. Firstly, fresh water is less buoyant than salt, meaning that Cirrus now sits lower in the water. I am intrigued to see whether the difference is noticeable to the eye so I peer beneath the stern to check the water level against our nacelle, a known load line. The stern just kisses the water now whereas in salt it is just clear of the water. So that proves that theory then. It is always comforting when science and reality actually agree on something.
Floating lower in the water means that our keels will be closer to the bottom but we decide that once we reach Loch Ness tomorrow this will be of no significance. The chart shows that this loch has depths of two hundred metres, something even our new echo sounder won’t be able to tells us about as the numbers only go up to ninety-nine.
What is also happening down beneath us, I sincerely hope, is that any salt-dependent weed or crustacean living on Cirrus’ bottom will turn up its toes and die, leaving us lovely and clean again. We may well acquire some new wildlife before we reach Corpach at the western end of the canal but once we transition into salt again, this too will pass away. In theory.
As we move inland across the country the scenery becomes more dramatic and the vegetation more luxuriously green. Suddenly we are in the heart of the Highlands, a place we have sailed the length of the country for, the place where we have made our home. To our eyes it all just looks right, natural, big and beautiful.
So why did we choose to sail the long way around Britain from Cornwall to the west coast of Scotland? Familiarity is the main reason, familiarity with the harbours and anchorages on the east coast which has given us most of our sailing adventures in the past. This brings us a sense of comfort and also one of nostalgia. We started our retirement by exploring this side of the country and fell for the charm of its rugged little ports, the muddy creeks of the south and the cold clear waters further north. It has lost none of this charm since our first circumnavigation, indeed if anything we like it more than ever now.