09 July 2003
On the weekend of 17-19 May 2003, E Major, sail no. E233, (owner Angus Stewart) made the first reported E-Boat transit of the re-opened Forth and Clyde Canal. The Forth and Clyde Canal connects Scotland's east and west coasts from Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth to Bowling on the Firth of Clyde.
There was a moment of drama at Lock 13 Falkirk on 17 May when the cill washed out from under the downhill lock gates. Despite the best efforts of canal staff who opened the sluices in the next three uphill locks to try and flood Lock 13, the water kept rushing out as fast as it poured in and it proved impossible to get the level up. E Major had to return to Grangemouth basin. The passage was attempted again on 18 May - successfully this time with the assistance of a mobile crane brought in specially by British Waterways [see pictures].
Because of fixed overhead obstructions the mast has to be unstepped. Masts can be raised and lowered conveniently at Port Edgar Marina on the Forth and at Bowling Basin on the Clyde, where British Waterways have a crane. In the canal the official water-draught restriction is 6 feet (1.83 metres) which should accommodate E-Boats with the keel fully locked down at 4 feet 6 inches but if you can support the keel in a half-down position that would be preferable. Remember that the rudder may touch bottom too and is better unlocked if practicable (depending on your arrangement). E-Boat stanchions extend outboard and it is advisable to have substantial fenders to prevent damage against lock walls. On this transit E Major's large inflatable Avon fenders [see pictures] which double as secondary buoyancy in the forecabin were used.
The approach to the Grangemouth sea lock is via the River Carron which dries at LW. Because of very limited headroom under fixed obstructions at HW the tide window for entering and leaving the canal may be restricted to as little as 2 hours. Check with British Waterways at the Grangemouth sea lock - and also (from experience) double check with the tide tables. The Bowling sea lock is also tide-dependent. Again check with British Waterways at Bowling.
The canal is 35 land miles long. There are 39 locks - from East to West 20 up and 19 down. The "Summit Pound" between up and down is 15 miles of unlocked waterway. Transit time is said to be not less than 21 hours i.e. two days within canal opening hours 0800 to 2000 but may take longer depending on traffic, staff availability and operational problems. On this transit all locks were operated by British Waterways staff, a team for each section, travelling the tow-path by van. If time runs out there are secure visitor moorings where boats can be tied up unattended at Grangemouth and Bowling basins and at Auchinstarry Depot on the Summit Pound. The transit licence for an E-Boat is £35.
Excellent "Skipper's Guides" for this and other Scottish canals are available at www.scottishcanals.co.uk
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