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Early July 2014, Tarbert Seafood Festival and the Crinan Canal

Fresh salmon before cooking at the Seafood festival.There was plenty to entertain in Tarbert while we waited for the "next day delivery" of our new camera, because it was the weekend of the "Seafood Festival". The whole of the main street around the harbour was lined with the mini marquees that you find in a farmers market. These were trying to tempt us to buy anything from plastic cups of langoustines, and cullen skink, to fancy soaps, or fine art prints of local scenes. In the end we succumbed to a bowl of paella from the barge-restaurant moored in the harbour, with the choice being swayed by the fact that it was the only place in town that had real ale on tap from the local Fyne Ales brewery. In the afternoon, a chef (right) gave a cookery demonstration in the harbour fish market. Seafood before cookingThe seafood was provided by local merchants, and ranged from mussels, scallops and langoustines to a whole salmon, sea bass and kippers. He did an excellent demonstration, especially because he only had an ancient two-ring camping stove and a gas barbeque to work with. For some reason the audience was quite small, so there were plenty of tasters to go around meaning we did not need any dinner.

The main event of the second day was an afternoon of music described as "Beer on the Pier". This was a bit of a misnomer because there was no real ale in sight, just bottles of commercial lagers and ciders which can be had from the local supermarket at any time. As we could hear the music perfectly well from where Innisfree was moored, we sat in the cockpit to enjoy the music with some proper beer left from our visit to Islay.

The new camera was delivered on Monday afternoon, so we set off for the Crinan canal sea lock at Ardrishaig (below left). The canal is nine miles long with 15 locks and cuts out an 80 mile trip around the treacherous Mull of Kintyre. It was completed in 1801, though had some design faults which were fixed by Thomas Telford in 1816. All but three of the locks are do-it-yourself, requiring considerable effort to wind open the sluices and push open the gates. Ideally you need four people, one on the boat, one to catch and release the lines, one to set up the next lock and one to close the previous lock. We were therefore very glad to see another yacht heading to the sea lock at the same time as us. They also had two on board so making things much easier.

Ardrishaig sea lock, and Cairnbaan

All went smoothly until we were leaving lock #4. We were slowly motoring out where there was a loud clunk and the engine stalled. Thankfully we had enough momentum to drift onto a moored boat and from there we could warp Innisfree into a gap on the pontoon. It was very obvious what the problem was - a large tough nylon builders bag had wrapped itself tightly around the propeller. We called the harbour master to explain why we were moored in a private berth and asked if he had a contact number for a diver in case one was needed. He explained that due to a diver fatality some time ago when a sluice was open unexpectedly, they were only allowed a full 5-man dive team in the canal - a very expensive option. If we could not fix it ourselves, the only other option was to try and get a tow back out to sea and get a diver there. This spurred us on as we tried to remove the mess with boat hooks and the bread knife. We were not having much success when the harbour master returned with a long handled pruning saw from his garden shed. This was much more effective, and with the help of the crew from another yacht who had tied up nearby for the night it was all cleared after 3 hours of effort. The process was not helped by the dark brown peaty colour of the canal water making visibility poor. It made an impressive sight when it was all laid out on the canal bank (above right) and it was not surprising that our rope cutters could not cope.

cup and ring marked stonesThe following morning we made our way up to Cairnbaan which had been our intended destination the night before. This area is at the southern end of Kilmartin glen (see Late May) and is the location of impressive prehistoric cup and ring mark rocks (left). Their purpose is not known, but it is thought that they were created by Picts during ritual ceremonies, perhaps to depict and communicate with gods and ancestors.

Beaver activityOn the next day we caught the bus to Barnluasgan, the centre of the braver reintroduction program in Knapdale. It is an interesting landscape with long parallel steep narrow ridges covered in native woods. Between the ridges are freshwater and sea lochs. It is at the fresh water lochs that the beavers are being released. The recommended location was a bit disappointing, with no fresh activity visible from the footpath. However we had decided to walk back to Cairnbaan and the less popular route took us passed another beaver loch where the lodge was clearly visible from the track (see More Pictures) and, all along the shore there were freshly felled trees (see right and More Pictures). We stopped for lunch in a fantastic spot. It was high above the canal at Dunardry with a stunning 300° view taking in Jura to the south west, the whole of the Kilmartin Glen, and round to nearly to Lochgilphead on Loch Fyne (see More Pictures). It was not just the view, the sun was shining and there was just enough breeze to keep us cool and drive the midges away, there was also a nice wooden bench on which to sit and eat our lunch. Then to top it all, the hillside was covered in ripe blueberries for our dessert.

Clyde Puffer Vic32

From Cairnbaan we teamed up with another yacht with two on board and very efficiently traversed the rest of the locks. The canal is very picturesque as is contours around the foot of the steep hills around Crinan. It gets narrow and at times it feels as if the trees are brushing both sides of the boat, so we were glad that we met nothing coming the other way.

Crinan is the home to the Clyde Puffer Vic32 (left) that was in steam and giving passenger trips around the bay. We only lingered to take photographs before heading on to Ardfern. The purpose of this visit was to get a haul out to make sure there was no damage to our propeller and rope cutters. The marina at Ardfern has a very fancy travel hoist with six independently controlled arms that can move in, out, up or down to cater for all underwater shapes of boat. Thankfully there was no damage, so we are planning to head off to Craighouse on Jura as our next port of call.