After returning to the UK on board Moana, the Goodwin family were determined to find and explore the best sailing destinations that Britain has to offer. A summer adventure taking them up the east coast of England into Inverness, through the Caledonian Canal and onto the west waters of Scotland left them blown away by the hidden gems and undiscovered beauty of the Scottish Highlands. We caught up with Steve, Jo and their son Freddie, to talk about the first leg of their journey from Ipswich to the Corpach Sea Basin, and to hear about what made it so special.
WITH LUSH GREEN MOUNTAINOUS COUNTRYSIDE, CRYSTAL WATERS AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRAVERSE THE COUNTRY EAST TO WEST VIA THE CALEDONIAN CANAL – SCOTLAND IS A LESSER-KNOWN SAILING GEM THAT’S RIGHT ON OUR DOORSTEP. OYSTER 56, MOANA, SAILED OVER 500NM FROM IPSWICH TO THE CORPACH SEA BASIN, DISCOVERING THE BEST OF BRITISH WATERS ALONG THE WAY.
In 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions loosened their grip across Europe and beyond, we were ready to get back out sailing, this time in search of a home refuge to continue our adventures. A late summertime trip bought us north from Gibraltar, sailing via the Algarve, the Portuguese West Coast, Galicia, across the Bay of Biscay and ending in home waters. Our final stop was a familiar berth at Oyster’s Ipswich home in Fox’s Marina for the winter break, which gave us some time to map out our next route and Moana some well-deserved TLC.
Our plan for 2021? Prepare and provision for a trip up the east coast to Inverness, through the Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen and then out to the Western Isles of Scotland. The reason? We wanted to explore the best that British waters had to offer and discover the hidden gem sailing spots in a home summer trip that, as it transpires, we’d never forget.
With our system and safety gear checks done, a sail refit and all routine maintenance completed over the winter, June 2021 saw us back in the water after six months ‘on the hard’. We began getting ready for the next voyage – setting sail across the British Isles throughout the summer.
With both yacht and crew fuelled and watered, we set sail into the Orwell from Fox’s Marina on the morning ebb. Provisioned with homemade lasagne, stew and fruitcake, we gave a quick wave to the then-new Oyster 885-10 Achenar, before turning north along the Suffolk and Norfolk coastline.
We were lucky to have the tide and wind in our favour all the way up to Great Yarmouth and were well into the North Sea by nightfall. We continued to sail on a beam reach into the first night and the following day, but unfortunately, it wasn’t all plain sailing.
On the second night, a Force 7 blew through after midnight which meant we had to close-haul and motor sail on a port tack until morning – it was a tough night in the port berth with the heavy North Sea breakers on the hull. Moana, as always, took it all in her stride, leaving us all feeling dry, safe and warm throughout.
Passing Rattray Head and Fraserburgh, the wind backed and died down. The swell subsided in the lee of the coast and it was smooth sailing into the dawn with a beautiful sunrise on our stern to mark our approach to Fortrose. Heading under the Kessock Bridge, we took a sharp intake of breath - even though we had almost five metres of air draft clearance, it never looks like enough on the final approach!
This was the final landmark before the 200-year-old Caledonian Canal. Gliding into the Inverness Marina we were already preparing for what came next…. 60 miles of sailing through the breathtaking beauty of the Great Glen.
The trip was already shaping up to be unforgettable, and as friends and family joined us aboard Moana for the week, we took our time to enjoy everything that Inverness had to offer. A trip to Black Isle for gin tasting at our friend Ed’s ‘micro-distillery’, a visit to Glenmorangie for whisky tasting and plenty of pitstops along the way to line our stomachs with haggis sausage rolls and venison steaks. We promised ourselves that it wasn’t going to be all food and drink, but it was apparent that Scotland was going to be something extraordinary.
Excursions ticked off, it was time to get moving. With high tide approaching, we entered the canal under clear blue skies while enjoying an unusually extended Scottish heatwave.
A short hop from Inverness Marina, we soon passed through Clachnaharry Sea Lock and Swing Bridge, the entryway to the Caledonian Canal, to spend our first night in the shelter of the Muirtown Basin. The following morning, we made our way to the Muirtown ‘Ladder’ of four locks and into the sunshine overlooking Inverness.
See the gallery below to follow the route from start to finish.
Travelling from east to west, Moana entered the Caledonian Canal in Inverness and exited at Corpach. Here are some of the route highlights.
As Loch Ness opened up before us, it was truly awe-inspiring, and we reached a peaceful anchorage under the shadow of Urquhart Castle.
Trading the salty waters of the North Sea for the freshwater of Loch Ness was both wonderful and a little bizarre. After four years of bluewater, Caribbean and Mediterranean sailing on Moana, it felt strange to be under sail in fresh water in a 17.5m yacht, with a draft of nearly 2.5m!
We approached and passed Fort Augustus, and then headed swiftly into another stunning stretch of canal that lead into the wooded, shallow and atmospheric Loch Oich.
Anchored in the shelter of a wooded bay, we were completely secluded as we took in the beauty of the Highlands. We were still pinching ourselves in the morning to remind ourselves it was real, before meandering onwards to the pontoon above the locks at Laggan, the gateway to Loch Lochy.
By the time we reached the reception pontoons at Gairlochy, we had jaw-dropping views of the mountains towering above Fort William, and the snow-filled gulleys of Ben Nevis.
The still evening air made for perfect barbeque weather, so we packed up the RIB and set off back into the loch to find a secluded beachside spot, lighting our campfire, grilling our venison and cracking open a cold beer or two.
With only one week spent in Scotland, it seemed to be getting better and better, and we all knew that some of our family’s best memories were being made and shared in these moments.
The final leg of the Canal to Corpach was equally as tranquil and beautiful as we’d come to expect. Just prior to Corpach came the iconic Banavie Locks (perhaps better known as Neptune’s Staircase), a sequence of eight locks in series. Here the water level dropped over 20m (75 feet) to the final stretch of the canal into Corpach Sea Basin and then back to the sea into Loch Linnhe. It is an incredible feat of Victorian engineering and fascinating to pass through.
After well over an hour of descending the Staircase, we entered the final lock to the Sea Basin. Once there we had time to relax, say goodbye to friends, reflect on our journey through the Canal and provision up ready for re-entry into the salty, tidal waters of the West Coast.
It was an unforgettable experience that took us across the beautiful Highlands and gave us a fabulous introduction to sailing in Scotland. With the Scottish west coast opening out before us, we busied ourselves planning the second leg of our adventure - a journey into the Northern Atlantic and the Hebrides. We all agreed that if this was just the beginning we couldn’t wait to see where Moana takes us next, and we were not disappointed. What a privilege.
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