The Crinan Canal

There is something remarkable about the Crinan Canal. It was built between 1793-1801 with further improvements made in 1816 and a new larger sea lock installed between 1930-1932. Its route across the neck of the Kintyre Penisular saves a distance of 80 miles and avoids the treacherous seas off the Mull of Kintyre.

Crinan Canal MapIMG_0815

200 years ago the canal was a thriving industrial transport route for puffers – steam cargo boats that moved coal, furniture and farm produce up and down the canal.


Puffers at Crinan in the mid 20th centuryIMG_0889

The picture above shows two puffers. Vic 32 is still operating today – preserved as a tourist attraction and Auld Reekie which is being restored in the boatyard. I came across her the evening we arrived in Crinan and tied up against the harbour wall in the Crinan Basin. After eating at the Crinan Hotel’s Fish Bar there promised to be a wonderful sunset. Walking round the headland after our meal I came across the boatyard and, as I passed through the yard, met another photographer keen to catch the sunset. He was English and had lived in Scotland and worked in the Crinan Boatyard since 1960. He’d been working on refurbishing Auld Reekie – a welder by trade and in the picture below you can see evidence of new boilerplate welded skillfully to replace a rusted bulkhead on her starboard side.

The Auld Reekie being refurbished in the Crinan boatyard IMG_0866

Sunset from the boatyard at CrinanIMG_0872The engineering of the locks was fascinating. There were 15 in all and 7 bridges – the majority were swing bridges but one was a cantilever bridge. They were all kept in fantastic condition by the lock staff filling their time between boats by re-painting the locks and surrounding fencing in the characteristic black and white colours.

Leaving the sea lock through the swing bridge at ArdrishaigIMG_0758

Travelling uphill through the locks was most difficult to manage. The pilot guide recommended having at least four crew and a minimum of six fenders – preferably eight. As there were just two of us, we used The Yot Spot ( – 01546 602777) who provided crew for managing the shore side – operating the lock gates and sluices. Passing through the eight ascending locks there is a lot of turbulence when the sluices are opened to let water into the lock. You need crew at each end of the boat preventing it from skewing and bashing into neighbouring boats.

View from our mooring at Cairnbaan where we stayed the nightIMG_0791


It is always interesting to talk to other sailors you are paired with going through the locks. Garaidh, pronounced gæri, was returning to Banff in his yacht Bella (and with his dog Darcy) through the Caledonian Canal and got us excited about doing the same journey in September when we return to the boat after a break.

Going downhill towards Loch Crinan was much easier than going up, as water was let out of the lock and there was no turbulence inside. Keeping your lines loose and letting out the wharfs as the level rapidly lowered was essential. The lock operators gleefully told warning stories of boats getting hung up by a carelessly knotted mooring wharf and of irresponsible sailors leaving sluice gates open and the whole canal draining dry – not a popular outcome.

View across country to the sea from the highest point on the canalIMG_0834

Impressions – mine were that it was very strange motoring a sailing boat through the countryside when you are so used to seeing vast expanses of sea. Occasionally I was looking down on cars on a road across a field imagining them looking up in the opposite direction and wondering how a yacht was managing to sail across a field!

Rosamund loved the peace, the wildlife, and the picturesque nature of the trip. Even when with Garaidh we were held up for half an hour at a swing bridge as the lock keeper was at lunch – she thought – “that’s OK, “ and we rafted up against Bella and had a relaxed cup of tea and some lovely oatcakes rustled up by Garaidh at a moments notice.

Bella fae Banff leaving Lock 11 once the swing bridge was opened when the lock keeper returned after his lunch. IMG_0833

Earlier I’d met the owner of another Hunter Legend called Ulva from Ardrossen. He was on the first leg of a round Britain trip hoping to get back to Ardrossen by July. He was starting a blog ( which we now read with interest as they are forging ahead to some of the places we may visit.

Ulva going through Lock 2 near the beginning of their round Britain adventureIMG_0751

Waking up in the Crinan basin was wonderful. The water was like a mirror with perfect reflections. As we left through the sea lock, Jenny, the lockkeeper, had to break away from her painting of the locks to operate the locks hydraulically. The first hydraulic lock I’d seen. We were now heading for the western isles, but first a visit to Ardfern.

Crinan Basin at dawn from Milo – mirror images.IMG_0882






3 thoughts on “The Crinan Canal

  1. Chris Ponsford

    We are following your progress with great admiration. Glad to see the weather has settled down. Well done Ros in the food department: roast chicken to keep you all warm and then luxurious lobster. Are you going to sail all round Britain?

    Here in Turkey the water and air temperature are both about 20C plus fair winds. Peter and Chris


  2. iansutherland455 Post author

    Envious of your water temperature – ours was 9C when we arrived and has now risen to the dizzy heights of 11.6C. We do not think we’ll go round Britain, but we do want to go to the Hebrides first and then we’ll possibly go through the Caledonian canal and eventually to Wick – so we will have sailed from Land’s End to John O’Groats and maybe even to the Orkney’s – but not this year. Tomorrow we’re hiring a car on Mull and driving to Iona. The next days will depend on the winds. I&R


  3. Laurie

    Ian Am delighted to get your latest news and glad you are underway again. I am planning to leave Newton Ferrers on Sunday and hopefully make Milford Haven in one go before deciding which way to go up the Irish Sea and then on towards Oban where I will change crews around 4/5th of June. Georgie, my wife is coming up then for a couple of weeks when I expect we will just potter inside Mull and maybe the Small isles. Then my elder son and his wife will join and I hope to get to the Outer Isles for a couple of weeks before changing crew again in Oban for the passage back. So quite a lot of sailing planned in a relatively short time – but other divisions of the family want Siskin for their holidays later on. I don’t have on board the technology you must have ( i.e. computer links) but if you send me your phone number we can maybe exchange texts occasionally just in case our tracks cross? My phone number is 07815862253. Regards Laurie



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